As a Jew who grew up in an interfaith Jewish-Christian household, I have seen surprisingly few Christmas movies. Every year on Thanksgiving, my family watches “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “The Grinch” (the original), and for the past 24 years of my life, that’s basically been about it — until this year.
Last spring, my girlfriend and I moved in together, and this year marks our first holiday season as a family. It’s been fun and exciting blending our holiday traditions together. My girlfriend is a Jew from a secular background — and watching Christmas movies together is absolutely part of the equation.
Now, I realize the forthcoming observation might seem silly. But I genuinely did not expect to see so many Jewish actors in Christmas movies! So, in honor of my Jewpiphany, I’ve curated a non-comprehensive list of Jews in Christmas movies:
in “Home Alone” (1990)
Whenever I hear anyone talk about “Home Alone” or its sequel, it’s always Joe Pesci this or Macaulay Culkin that. (And yeah, OK, they’re good too.) But let’s give Daniel Stern some love for his role as Marv, the dense, thieving sidekick to Pesci’s Harry!
Whenever Marv is on-screen, I know I’m in for treat. Not only does he get some of the best jokes of any of the movies, but also Stern’s sharp comedic timing and slapstick physicality take Marv to a whole new level. Plus, in “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” upon opening a trunk full of cash, Marv has the line, “Happy Hanukkah, Marv!” So Marv is Jewish, which makes me love him even more.
in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1994)
If you don’t like Mara Wilson, I don’t know what to tell you. Even though she is no longer a child and has mostly retired from acting, she is the quintessential child actor in my mind. (And of course, extremely cute and talented.)
So Mara Wilson as Susan in the 1994 remake of “Miracle on 34th Street” makes perfect sense. If you’re unfamiliar, “Miracle on 34th Street” tells the story of Dorey Walker, special events director at Cole’s Department Store, her daughter Susan, boyfriend Bryan and a jolly old man named Kris Kringle. Kris, whom Dorey had recently hired as the new Santa Claus at Cole’s, has lots of children believing he’s the real Santa Claus and, due to unfair circumstances, has to prove it in court.
All Mara had to do was be her wide-eyed, adorable self. But instead, she plays Susan with an emotionally intelligent depth beyond her years, and it’s an absolute treat to watch.
in “The Santa Clause” (1994)
As a child in the early aughts, I remember seeing commercials for “The Santa Clause” on old VHS tapes almost constantly. The trailer puts the majority of the focus on decidedly not Jewish actor Tim Allen, so I had no idea there was a Jew in the film until recently — what a fun surprise! Then, I realized the film cast David Krumholtz as Bernard the Head Elf — less of a fun surprise.
Don’t get me wrong, I think David Krumholtz is fantastic (who can forget his performance in “10 Things I Hate About You”). But casting a Jew as an elf feels just a skosh antisemitic (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just look at the elves in “Harry Potter”).
However, watching the film, I found myself willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The elf costuming for Bernard — a hint of pointed ears, yarn-like strands of brown hair and no emphasis on Krumholtz’s nose — are benign and pretty tame for an elf character. Also, Krumholtz gives a very fun performance and even gets to explain the title of the film. You love to see it!
in “Elf” (2003)
Though Zooey wasn’t Jewish when “Elf” was filmed, she is now, so it makes the list! (She converted around 2015.)
Zooey plays the role of Jovie, an employee at Gimbel’s Department Store who befriends Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) as he tries to find his family and adjust to the human world. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that Jovie will be Buddy’s romantic interest, but thankfully, Jovie is given slightly more to do than just be a pretty face. Actually, Jovie is one of the first characters to show empathy towards Buddy’s elven quirks and lack of ability to read social cues. And to top it off, she plays a key role in saving Christmas.
Bonus: James Caan plays Buddy’s birth father Walter Hobbs and Ed Asner (may his memory be a blessing) has a few key scenes as Santa! As a Jewish viewer, it is extremely pleasing for me to see a Jew play Kris Kringle himself. Plus, I’m fairly certain Asner, who was 5’7″, was given something to stand on in scenes with Ferrell, who is 6’3″. I find this hilarious.
in “The Holiday” (2006)
Jewish filmmaking queen Nancy Meyers did us all a huge service in this movie: making Jack Black a romantic lead. To be sure, Jack brings his usual hilarity to the role of Miles Dumont, a Hollywood film composer who meets and falls for British columnist Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) after she does a holiday house swap with his colleague Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz). But the level of charm and attractiveness he puts into Miles really took my breath away. In a scene where Miles plays a few piano compositions for Iris, Black has the line, “I also wrote one that sounds like you. Iris, if you were a melody. . . I used only the good notes.”
His line delivery, in combination with his tender piano playing and the way he looks at Kate Winslet, left me feeling giddy with butterflies.
What an American treasure. Dear filmmakers, please make Jack Black a love interest more often!!
in “All Is Bright” (2013)
Sexiest Man Alive Paul Rudd is well known for sillier, comedic roles, so I was pretty thrown to see him playing the somewhat gritty, ex-con Rene in “All Is Bright.” Despite my initial reaction, however, I found that grittiness was what most endeared the character to me.
In “All Is Bright,” Dennis (Paul Giamatti) is paroled from prison and takes a job selling Christmas trees with his friend Rene in order to buy his daughter a piano. Let me spoil this for you: The movie isn’t great. It’s a weird mixture of serious musings on the nature of men and comedic set-pieces that don’t fit the previous tone. That said, Paul Rudd acts the HELL out of his role, and you get to see him wear an earring. But truly, I don’t think I’d recommend this one. Perhaps instead check out any of the one million other movies Paul Rudd is in.
in “Carol” (2015)
The thing about “Carol” is that it’s a Christmas movie. Granted, Christmas is a subplot within the film’s larger narrative of the lesbian romance between fresh-faced counter girl Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and elegant almost-divorcée Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). But its general ambiance of 1950s holiday cheer makes it a Christmas movie, nonetheless. And before you ask, yes, this is a hill I’m willing to die on.
Very nice Italian-Jewish boy and actor John Magaro plays Dannie McElroy, the only good man in the entire film. Though there’s a weird moment early on in which Dannie kisses Therese, the character redeems himself by respecting Therese, being supportive of her photography and helping her get a job at The New York Times. Unfortunately, Dannie has no more than three scenes in the entire film. But the character makes an impact as a foil to Therese’s boyfriend Richard who, in short, sucks big time.
Bonus: Carrie Brownstein makes the tiniest cameo as a girl at a party who briefly chats with Therese and might also be gay.
Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lizzy Caplan
in “The Night Before” (2015)
So, cards on the table, I have not seen this movie yet. Before watching the trailer, I had little interest because it seems like a movie about a bunch of dudes being dudes. But after watching the trailer, I’m convinced.
“The Night Before” tells the story of friends Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac Greenberg (Seth Rogen) and Chris Roberts (Anthony Mackie), who vow to spend every Christmas Eve together so Ethan, whose parents died tragically, doesn’t have to be alone. Fast-forward a decade and Chris is now a famous athlete and the friends decide to end the tradition with one final blowout Christmas Eve together. As you can imagine, plenty of hijnks ensue, including Ethan bumping into his ex-girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan) and an extremely high Isaac getting freaked out by Jesus on a cross.
That scene alone looks absolutely hilarious and I truly can’t wait to watch the film this holiday season.
in “A Bad Moms Christmas” (2017)
OK, I love the concept behind “A Bad Moms Christmas.” Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) play hard-working moms getting ready for Christmas — who also have to deal with the added pressure of being around their own mothers. It’s important to recognize that mothers and women are often overworked and under-appreciated during the holiday season, and also adding in the dynamic of the sometimes complicated relationship between mothers and daughters is great. I think going into the movie with this positive attitude helped, because the execution of that idea is less than flawless.
I will give credit where credit is due, however, because Mila Kunis (and her cohort) are all incredibly talented and skilled comedic actresses who punch up the script with their performances.
in “The Holiday Calendar” (2018)
If I weren’t Jewish, I would absolutely get myself an advent calendar. I don’t particularly believe in God, but who doesn’t love secret little treats?!
So I was intrigued when I came upon “The Holiday Calendar,” a Netflix movie about a struggling photographer named Abby (Kat Graham) who receives an advent calendar from her grandfather (Ron Cephas-Jones). Soon, the advent calendar starts predicting her future and entangles her in a love triangle with old friend Josh (Quincy Brown) and new guy Ty (Ethan Peck), and helps her achieve her dream of opening a photography studio.
The premise is a bit corny, I grant you, but Kat Graham gives a fun performance that has me deeply invested in Abby’s future. Plus, it’s really great to see a mainstream Christmas romcom that isn’t just about white people being white.
in “Happiest Season” (2020)
“Happiest Season” is one of the most frustrating movies I have ever watched, Christmas or otherwise. Why does Harper (Mackenzie Davis) invite Abby (Kristen Stewart) home with her for the holidays, only to force Abby to pretend to be her roommate?! Why does Abby’s sister Sloane (Alison Brie) think it’s OK to out her sister in front of the entire community?!! Why does Abby ultimately forgive Harper’s harmful pattern of behavior and end up with her instead of with Harper’s hot and nice ex-girlfriend Riley (Aubrey Plaza)?!?
However, in between my screams of frustration, I absolutely fell in love with Dan Levy‘s character, John. John is Abby’s gay best friend and offers to petsit the animals Abby was going to care for before Harper suddenly invited her to Christmas. When we first meet John, Abby is giving him the pet care instructions. The next time we hear from him, he is on the phone with Abby while simultaneously cleaning dead fish out of a very large fish tank. Then, Abby calls him again while John is at a pet store in, you guessed, the aquatic section.
As we all know from “Schitt’s Creek,” Dan Levy’s comedic timing is artful and he absolutely brings this to the role. The only part of the character I didn’t find believable is when John shows up at Harper’s family home to comfort Abby. As they talk about coming out, Dan Levy as John says, “My dad kicked me out of the house and didn’t talk to me for 13 years after I told him.”
At which point I screamed, “Eugene Levy, no!” at my computer screen.
But otherwise, Dan Levy is perfect in this film and even though I disagree with a lot of plot choices, I’d still recommend it for his performance.
in “The Christmas Set-Up” (2020)
“The Christmas Set-Up” may very well be the perfect Christmas movie. For starters, it features a queer couple, Hugo and Spencer, sans any “gay trauma porn.” And to top it all off, “The Christmas Set-Up” boasts the iconic Fran Drescher as Hugo’s mom, Kate.
As Alma editor Molly Tolsky wrote in 2020:
“I probably don’t have to tell you that Fran Drescher is Jewish. It’s kind of her whole personality. She played one of the most iconic Jewish characters, Fran Fine, on ‘The Nanny’ (and is the reason the character remained Jewish, after sponsors suggested she should be Italian instead). In many ways, Fran Fine was a walking stereotype of an Ashkenazi New York Jew: She loves shopping, is incredibly close to her mother, and has the chutzpah to be unabashedly herself at all times. (Also, the fashion. Oh, the fashion.) With her exaggerated New York accent and nasally (some might say whiny) voice, it’s hard to separate Fran Drescher from her Jewish identity.
And that wasn’t lost on the folks responsible for ‘The Christmas Setup.’ Unlike most Lifetime movies, ‘The Christmas Setup’ is clearly in on the ironic fun — in this case, of having such a quintessentially Jewish woman play a character who’s literally responsible for her neighborhood’s Christmas festivities. The very first line of dialogue we hear from Kate, as her New York-based lawyer son arrives at her Milwaukee home for the holidays, is, ‘Hugo, you look so skinny!!!!’ If that isn’t the stereotypical Jewish mother greeting, I don’t know what is.”
So yeah. Go watch this, or any of the other Jewy Christmas movies listed above, right now. Merry Jewish!!