festive television: the o.c. and chrismukkah
When Christmas rolls around each year, my mind inevitably drifts to a magical place of woolly reindeer jumpers, lavish office parties, Death Cab for Cutie, Chinese food and a good dose of family drama… a place known, of course, as The O.C.. Is there a better television show to revisit at Christmas? I think not. While 2013 marked ten years since the first episode aired, Seth Cohen’s “super-holiday” and all its trimmings will never get old.
What made the Christmas episodes of The O.C. so special? After all, many US and UK television shows have Christmas installments that feature equal amounts of Northern Hemisphere holiday goodness— and lots are not set in California, so they actually feature snow! But the reason The O.C. has such memorable Christmas episodes is surely the inimitable Seth Cohen (played by Adam Brody). He made ‘nerd’ into a synonym for cool and introduced many unsuspecting teens to indie music, but one of the best aspects of his character was his excitement about Chrismukkah. As a child of a Jewish father and Christian mother, Seth combined the best of two traditions to create Chrismukkah. In his words, ‘eight days of presents, followed by one day of many presents’. There was no discussion of what the holidays might mean in religious terms, but it was certainly always about more than presents.
For Seth, Chrismukkah was the best time of year. Candy canes, menorahs, egg nog and latkes all combined to make something quite special. For us mere mortals viewing the show (stuck in the real world, sigh), Chrismukkah on The O.C. presented something of a fantasy of what the festive season could be like. Seth’s Christmas jumpers, Marissa’s sparkly party dresses, Summer shopping for the perfect tree and the fancy decorations all over the Cohen family McMansion made it all seem so perfect. For those of us who have never experienced a Northern Hemisphere December, we can do so through shows like The O.C.—if only for forty minutes.
Beneath the sparkling surface, though, there was always plenty of holiday misery. As Ryan puts it in the first season, ‘holidays make what’s bad even worse’. The serious side to Chrismukkah on The O.C. included Marissa shoplifting Christmas presents and skulling vodka alone in the bathroom at a Christmas party, Ryan reliving painful memories from his childhood and Caleb revealing his secret daughter to the family right before dinner. The show captured the loneliness and dissatisfaction that can come with big holidays just as well as it captured the fantasy of Christmas with all the trimmings.
Of course, it was a teen soap, and whatever drama was plaguing the characters was usually resolved at the end of the episode. Ultimately, Chrismukkah was about including everyone and welcoming outsiders into the family—who could deny the warm fuzzy feelings that ensue when watching Ryan hang up his Christmas stocking on the Cohen family mantlepiece? Or when Summer resolves to decorate Lindsay’s house to cheer her up after she finds out Caleb is her Dad? Everyone could be part of Chrismukkah, no matter their family or background. Seth Cohen said it best: ‘Hey, dip a toe in the Christmukkah pool. There’s room for all of us’.