Filled with holiday spirit, I’m re-running my Chanukah/Christmas post from 2009, one of my favorites. It’s my gift to my new readers who’ve never seen it and it’s my my gift to me, as I’m feeling pretty lazy at the moment. For everyone else, I apologize and hope your friends and family took care of you.
Let’s face it, Chanukah is a really lackluster Christmas substitute. For one thing, very few of us can even pronounce “Chanukah.” While both holidays start with the same two letters, their “Chr” sounds like “Cr” but our “Ch” sounds like a cat getting rid of a hairball. Nobody in my family knew exactly how far to go with their “Ch.” One aunt got so enthusiastic with her “chhhh” that she chhh-ocked a loogey right into the Kugel.
While Christians had scientific evidence that Jesus was born on December 25th, even though that date had been a pagan celebration centuries before his B-day, Chanukah was based on a totally made-up event: Judah Maccabee’s alleged candle miracle. In case you haven’t heard, this myth was invented hundreds of years after Mr. Maccabee was pushing up the daisies. Even my esteemed Rabbi, Manfred Swarsensky, more or less admitted to me that we picked our holiday out of a hat. I’m sure we Jews would have turned Yom Kippur into a high-flying jubilee if it was in December.
No, Purim is the real gift-giving holiday for Jews, but it comes near Easter, when there are less sales. From a kid’s point of view, Purim kicked Chanukah’s ass. For my goy readers, on Purim you get these noise-makers called gragers that you swing around during the Purim service, every time the rabbi says “Haman” (the Dick Cheney in the Purim backstory). Of course my good friend Mark Harris would pretend he heard wrong and swung his grager every time Rabbi S. said “Esther,” which was a lot. This became contagious, and before too long, we were all giggly, and the Temple was filled with grager-delic pandemonium. As punishment for our horseplay, Swarsensky made us all stay late in Bar Mitzvah class and miss “Batman.”
But as much as I love Purim, I know it wouldn’t have held up against Christmas any more than Chanukah because it has no tree. Many of my fellow Hebrews coped with tree-envy by getting what they called a “Chanukah Bush.” For me that was like a bad toupee… who did they think they were fooling? Just show me one bush that looks like that…it’s a tree. And if you want to do anything Chanukah-related with it, you should buy nine and use one to set the rest ablaze.
If we had had a Chanukah Bush at our house I know it would have been lame. We would’ve trimmed it with all these Jewish chatchkes, little Menorahs, and six-pointed stars. That’s like putting Billy Graham’s picture under the Mezuzah on the door. If you’re going to have a Christmas Tree, don’t pussy out: go to K-Mart, get some Angels, Rudolphs and Frosties, and be done with it. Snowflakes would be nice. Snowflakes are non-denominational.
But the thing that gives most Chanukah-boosters an inferiority complex is our pathetic holiday music. There are a lot of good Yid musicians, but I guess that they couldn’t get worked up enough about Chanukah, aside from Adam Sandler. The Christians had all the best songwriters, like Irving Berlin. They had Mel Torme singing “The Christmas Song,” we had Allen Sherman singing a parody of “I Have a Little Dreidel.”
But don’t get me started on Dreidels. Am I the only one who thinks this is the dumbest game ever invented? You spin a four-sided top that has the first letters of the Hebrew alphabet on it. And then? How do you win? How do you lose? The game was too damned existential for me. Why was I was spinning the Dreidel? To learn how to spin a top better? That’s not exactly Monopoly. And in any case I had Dreidel-spinning mastered by the time I was five. Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing anybody over five engrossed in a scintillating game of Dreidel. Perhaps that’s why there are Chess tournaments, but no Dreidel tournaments.
So this year I was planning to celebrate Christmas the way Jews have done since ancient times—going to a Chinese restaurant. But my wife—the former Melissa Goldberg—is dragging me out for a hearty Christmas dinner with friends. Bah humbug, I say. I sure as hell hope that the occasion isn’t too jolly or merry or overloaded with a surfeit of good tidings. I don’t like to have Christmas shoved in my face.
But I am bringing my guitar and my Reader’s Digest book of Christmas carols. I sing Christmas carols all year round, not just because they are so beautiful, but also because so many of them are about people who can’t make it home for Christmas. I can relate to that. The only one I refuse to do is “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I can’t get through that one without busting out bawling. The song is a wholesome Norman Rockwell portrait of a little kid who comes downstairs and is so sweet and naive that he doesn’t know what the f*ck is going on. I grew up in the Midwest and there was a time when I actually was like that kid, until I got to be nine and started getting neurotic. But little kids today will never have the opportunity to ever experience that kind of purity, the way I did. Instead of hiding down in the living room watching Mommy kissing Santa Claus, they’re up in their bedroom downloading porn.
But as you can tell, I love Christmas for it’s own sake and not just because Chanukah blows. Even when I was alone, thinking of suicide, drowning my troubles in Mogen David, “It’s A Wonderful Life” came on TV to brighten my perspective and make me understand what really matters.
Obviously, Frank Capra was not a Jew.