Hollywood Flashback: When 'The O.C.' Coined the Holiday Term "Chrismukkah"
The concept of combining Christmas with Hanukkah was first introduced onscreen in an episode of Fox's teen series. Says writer-producer Stephanie Savage today, "It's about inclusiveness. We were surprised by how many people told us this is how they celebrated but didn't have a name for it."
With Hanukkah beginning on Christmas Eve, 2016 is the ideal year to embrace “Chrismukkah” — the concept of merging Christmas and Hanukkah, first brought to the world in a 2003 episode of Fox’s The O.C. The idea was put forward by the Seth Cohen character (Adam Brody), the son of a Christian mother and Jewish father, who decides the world needs “the greatest superholiday known to mankind, drawing the best of what Christianity and Judaism have to offer.”
In his view, much of the benefit is material. He notes there will be “eight days of presents, followed by one day of many presents.” (This year, that would be reversed.) “The show’s concept was: If you’re a young Jewish man living in Orange County with a WASPy mother, how do you celebrate your heritage while taking advantage of all the gifts you can get by combining both holidays?” says series creator Josh Schwartz. For the Cohens, it meant having both a Christmas tree and a menorah, eating Chinese takeout and watching It’s a Wonderful Life and Fiddler on the Roof.
Though the Chrismukkah idea was presented lightheartedly, it did strike a cultural nerve: It is estimated that of the 5.4 million Jews in the U.S., one-third of those married have a non-Jewish spouse. “For the intermarried couples I know, how to handle the holidays is the most serious religious disagreement they have,” says Rabbi Sheldon Pennes of Temple B’nai Emet in Los Angeles. “They don’t argue about the Sabbath or kosher food, but they do argue over having a Christmas tree.”
In 2004, New York’s Catholic League and its Board of Rabbis joined the debate, saying the hybrid insults “both of us simultaneously.” But for O.C. writer-producer Stephanie Savage, “it’s about inclusiveness. We were surprised after the episode aired by how many people told us this is how they celebrated but didn’t have a name for it.”
This story first appeared in the Jan. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.