The new Disney Junior show “Firebuds,” which premiered this September, stars Bo Bayani, a Jewish Filipino aspiring firefighter, voiced by Declan Whaley, as the leader of a crew of kids and their animatronic service car pals.
The show was created by Craig Gerber, who brought us the first Jewish Disney princess in his show “Elena of Avalor.” In a new episode that premiered this week, “Firebuds,” and specifically Bo and his family, celebrates Hanukkah in a really authentic and sweet way.
In the episode, titled “Hanukkah Hullabaloo/The Christmas Car-Sled Race Bill,” Bo and his friends Vivian, Jayden, Flash (an animatronic firetruck, which, let’s face it, we could all use on Hanukkah), Piston (an animatronic police car) and Axl (an ambulance) talk about Christmas decorations around their town, Gearbox Grove.
Yet, when they ask Bo about the decorations on his house, he tells his friends that “because my dad is Catholic and my mom is Jewish, we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, but Hanukkah comes before Christmas this year so our Christmas decorations aren’t up yet.”
When they ask him why his house doesn’t have any Hanukkah decorations, he shares that his mom never puts them up. Bo’s mom Beth Bayani, voiced by IRL Jewish mom Melissa Rauch (of “Big Bang Theory” fame) later tells Bo and his friends that “some people decorate for Hanukkah but my family never did.”
Instead, Bo’s mom, Beth, fries up latkes for the first night of Hanukkah. She shares them with the kids and even lets the cars partake in the oil.
As his friends enjoy what Jayden calls “fried potato-y goodness,” Beth tells the kids all about Hanukkah. She tells them the story of the miracle of the oil, and shows the kids and cars her hanukkiyah (she uses the Hebrew word instead of menorah) as she pipes jelly into sufganiyot, traditional Hanukkah jelly donuts, and tells them all about playing dreidel and gelt.
“That’s a lot of opens flames,” Piston says when she tells them about lighting all the candles on the menorah — to which Beth replies with an important fire safety Hanukkah tip: “We never leave them unattended.”
“Hanukkah sounds like a very special holiday,” Vivian tells Bo.
“I just wish I could share its specialness with everyone,” he responds. It’s then that Flash offers to decorate the Bayani family house for Hanukkah together — which Bo gets really excited about. Bo clearly loves his mom and wants to please her by elevating this holiday that means so much to her.
His first round of decorations don’t get an over-enthused response from Beth, so he decides to go even bigger and make “the biggest, brightest most Hanukkah-est holiday display” that Gearbox Grove has ever seen.
He then sings a song called “Hanukkah Is Here,” in which he sings about making his decorations “bright enough to see from space.” But Bo goes a little overboard, and a giant inflatable dreidel flies away and wrecks havoc through the town.
As Bo laments with his mom about his failed attempt at decorating, she tells him “I don’t need a bunch of decorations to make Hanukkah feel special” and the two go back home, where Beth and Bo share the first Hanukkah candle lighting together. Beth says the blessing in clearly enunciated Hebrew and the two safely light the flames.
Bo’s dad looks lovingly at his wife and son as they share this tradition and Bo concedes: “You’re right, Mom, this does feel pretty special.”
“Everyone has their own unique way to celebrate their holiday, whether it’s Kwanzaa, Christmas or Hanukkah,” Beth says as the first half of the episode comes to a close, as Bo, his mother and father stand at the window with the menorah shinning out of it.
The other half of the episode focuses on Christmas, and it’s all about the parol, a Philipino star lantern that’s used as a decoration on Christmas. In the episode, Bo tries to get his dad, fire chief Bill (voiced by Lou Diamond Phillips) one for Christmas.
I love the way this show celebrates both Bo’s parents’ faiths and traditions in such a meaningful and informed way. It’s so nice to have this representation of a multi-faith modern Jewish household on TV — and all the Jewish details are so spot on.
What Bo feels about Hanukkah in this episode is so relatable — for a lot of Jewish kids, this can be the season for Christmas envy, when we see that our holiday just doesn’t go as big and as bright and as overwhelmingly loud as Christmas. And even though Bo celebrates both, you can see that he feels bad that this holiday that is so precious to his mom and to him doesn’t get to take center stage.
This year, we’ve seen an onslaught of Hanukkah merch and lots of exciting new decorations (I for one am a little obsessed with this giant inflatable dreidel-loving dinosaur). But most of us, just like Bo’s mom, didn’t grow up with lots of gigantic Hanukkah props on our front lawn.
This episode serves as a lovely reminder that the most important piece of Hanukkah decor you can find is just a menorah at your window sill. Just don’t leave it unattended.