When it comes to the Festival of Lights, there is no shortage of gift schmaltz. What qualifies as kitsch? From the excellent to the terrible, kitsch that doesn’t know it’s kitsch automatically draws attention. Instead of kvetching “Bah, humbug,” we’ve opted to offer our recommendations for the kitschiest of the kitsch this holiday season. To fully embrace the spirit of schlock, we’re adopting a candle-rating system, linking gifts to each night in ascending order until the kitsch glows in full eight-candle regalia.
And should you find these items irresistible for the loved ones on your shopping list, we’ve simplified letting go of your gelt by including prices (sans shipping) and all the relevant ordering information. (Phone numbers are provided if available.)
Our first candle contender is a wire garland with blue-and-silver dreidels and Jewish stars. Garland? Who ever heard of Hanukkah garland? And if the item itself weren’t bad enough, the online description at PlumParty.com definitely qualifies: “Where would you not put this? That is the more reasonable question when contemplating the decoration of any interior for the celebration of Hanukkah. It glimmers, it shines, it makes us remember what the holiday is even about, the celebration of the oil burning for eight nights when it should not have lasted past night one. Just think of this garland as a miraculous offspring of the blessed oil, only this will never be a concern as a fire hazard.” PlumParty.com, (800) 227-0314, $5.
The idea of scrubbing away Christmas envy with laundry-like soap earns Ultra Happy Hanukkah Body Detergent the third candle. If your loved ones need still more pampering, there’s an entire line: body wash, bar soap, lotion and sponge in a zip-up case. Bariff Shop for Judaica at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, Bariff.org, (888) 322-1740, $20.
Giving dreidels and menorahs a tasteless new purpose, Shepsil Scheinberg’s Hanukkah Tic Tac Toe board takes the second candle. Like a chess set, stand-up dreidels and menorahs vie for supremacy amid candles and faux gelt. Such a hit, don’t be surprised if it’s sold out. Judaism.com, (800) JUDAISM, $17.
Chabad and Jerry Stiller joined up for this fifth candle doozy: Latke Larry, billed as the world’s “first Hanukkah action gift.” Plush, 7-inch Larry shakes his tuchis as he sings a cheesy ditty about the holiday, to the tune of “Maoz Tzur.” First he commands you to “eat my chow.” Then he scolds, “Stop eating my latkes.” Never mind the contradictory message. This friend to “play with and chew on, too!” is redeemed by dedicating proceeds to Chabad’s Friendship Circle, which assists children with special needs. LatkeLarry.com, (888) LATKE-LARRY, $18.
We didn’t believe it until we ate it. Scoring candle number four is Ruthie & Gussie’s “kvetch-proof” Latke Gram. Imagine a frozen care package from Bubbe, with two kinds of ready-made batter, apple sauce and sour cream, all certified kosher. To be honest, we did kvetch a bit. The batter didn’t taste like Mom’s, and we preferred the sweet potato batter to the traditional. But hey, this is one super-fast way to cook up dinner. And we loved the bonus dreidel (included with delivery) for those mindless frying moments. Kosher.com, (866) 567-4379, $28.
The big eighth candle winner is a pair of Magen David holographic spectacles. This two-buck bargain has a purity and genius of its own, simultaneously defining and transcending kitsch by turning your friends’ Christmas lights into Jewish stars. It’s the best revenge for those eat-your-heart-out Christmases when goyim take over the neighborhood. Bariff Shop, Bariff.org, (888) 322-1740, $2.
Wham! Bam! Manhattan writer and graphic designer Alan Oirich earns the sixth candle with his original comic book, “The Amnesia Countdown.” Superhero Menorah Man, with eight flame-shooting arms, battles a legion of criminal androids bent on destroying Jewish memories with a robot missile loaded with a Forget-Me-Chip. Oirich dreamed up Menorah Man and his fellow kosher crusaders — Magen David and his impenetrable shield; Dreidel Maidel, who causes matter to spin at incredible speeds — when he was just 8 years old. (Pictured above: Shabbat Queen) Bariff Shop, Bariff.org, (888) 322-1740, $4.
Snagging the seventh candle is “Bagels and Bongos,” a CD re-release by Reboot Stereophonic of a long-lost lounge classic by the Irving Fields Trio. The title, album cover and content are to live for, blending “melodies of [Fields’s] Lower East Side youth with the rhythms of the cha-cha, mambo, and meringue.” Get ready for “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” “Havanna Negila” [sic] and other danceable faves. No wonder it sold 2 million copies in 1959. ChosenCouture.com, $17.
“Offensive Mention” goes to designer Sarah Lefton of Jewish Fashion Conspiracy for her “miracle panties” that read: “A great miracle happened here.” Jewcy.com, $15.
Lisa Alcalay Klug, former staff writer for The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times, has contributed to The New York Times, The Jerusalem Post and other publications.