TV shows can’t get much more Jewish than The Goldbergs, but especially early on in the long-running series, Judaism and especially its attendant holidays rarely factored into the storytelling. That changed in 2015 with the 10th episode of season three, which, ironically enough was titled “A Christmas Story.”
That title actually made perfect sense. There’s really not much for Jews to do on Chanukah except light the menorah, recite the prayers and exchange gifts. It’s all about tradition and honoring the Festival of Lights, and being with family. But – and it’s mega but – there are eight nights of it. The process, even for some of the most observant folks, becomes repetitive, and kids will tell you in no uncertain terms that the gifts tend to get junkier and junkier, and progressively less expensive, too, devolving to underwear and toothbrushes and decks of cards.
Anyway, to pump up her family’s excitement about Chanukah, Beverly Goldberg (Wendi McLendon-Covey) sets about making the holiday more Christmas-y, buying a Chanukah bush (“a festive topiary”), Chanukah socks, and blue and white sweaters, and dubbing the occasion Super Chanukah. All the gifts will be handed out on night eight. And instead of candy canes, she presents blue Chanukah J’s (as in blue, upside-down candy canes, with the J representing the word Jew?). Meanwhile, since they’re home from school for the holiday break, brothers Barry (Troy Gentile) and Adam (Sean Giambrone) try to spend some time hanging out and watching the holiday classic, A Christmas Story. However, the presence on the couch of Barry’s girlfriend, Lainey (A.J. Michalka) results in (spoiler warning) a triple dog dare and them getting their tongues stuck on a frozen pole, a la Flick in the flick. And then there’s poor, ever-grumpy Murray (Jeff Garland), Beverly’s husband and the kids’ dad, who reluctantly agrees to play Santa for the neighbors.
As often occurs on The Goldbergs, well-meaning Bev goes over the top. Before she does, though, she scores points by lighting the outside of the house in white and blue. And Erica (Hayley Orrantia) loves her guitar: “Oh my God, it’s like I gave you a list of stuff I wanted… and you actually bought it!” Enter Pops (George Segal), who loses his mind, first at Neil Diamond singing a Christmas song, and then at the tree and then at, well, everything Bev has whipped up. “Trading in your family tradition is not being good at family,” he harrumphs. “I mean, what’s next, Santa Claus?” And who walks in but an angry Murray, who’s just ho-ho-ho-ed as Santa for the neighbors.
Later, disgusted by the whole thing, Pops stomps in wearing a blue and white Santa suit and sporting a massive chai necklace. He announces to Bev – his daughter — that he’s Chanu-Claus, and is “mashing two words together that make one offensive one, just like you do.” It all goes up in flames, literally, before Pops bestows upon Bev some loving, fatherly advice. And then everyone – the Goldbergs, the neighbors, and Lainey – head out for the ultimate Jews-on-Christmas activity: chowing down on Chinese food.
“A Christmas Story,” interestingly, isn’t prime Goldbergs. It’s good, fun, sweet, amusing Goldbergs. What makes the episode special, though, is that the show embraces its Jewishness in tandem with the characters, and the audience at home need not be Jewish to understand the story or relate to the Goldbergs’ experience. As Pops aptly puts it: “Part of being good at family is knowing where you came from.”
Now, let’s cue some Neil Diamond crooning “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
You can stream The Goldbergs on Hulu.