December 18, 2008
Don’t feel bad! I love Christmas, too!
I'm in my car. It's 5:27 p.m. on a cold, dark day in December. This is Los Angeles, so by cold I mean 63 degrees, and by dark I mean the sun has gone down.
But Wilshire Boulevard is beautifully illuminated, a fabulous, fake, winter wonderland. My radio is tuned to 103.5 FM, which plays nothing but holiday music for the entire month of December, and for the entire month, that's all I listen to. The lights, the music and the festive mood of decked-out Beverly Hills are making me one joyous Jew. Normally, one can easily get depressed merely by the fact that it gets dark in the afternoon, but for me, the one thing that takes me out of the gloom and into sheer bliss is the holiday season. And by holiday season I mean Christmas. Yeah, I said it.
Now before you get all worked up, let me assure you that I am an extremely proud and practicing Jew. I have no desire to "assimilate." This is not Goy-envy. I couldn't imagine being -- or ever wanting to be -- anything but Jewish. Of course, I get the occasional, what I like to call "gentile urges" to fix something mechanical or split a log with an ax, climb a mountain, whatever. But I love my Jewish identity. I just so happen to also like all things Christmas.
I'm sorry, but I think it's time for those of us who do like Christmas to come out of our closets. It doesn't make us bad Jews, although, if you celebrate Christmas, I don't think that makes you a "great" Jew. But I don't want to celebrate Christmas, I just want to revel in the spirit of it. Is that so wrong? I guess so, because most of us are afraid to admit it. My close friend and manager, Willie Mercer, was burdened with shame until finally he let me in on his dirty little secret that he too partakes in the guilty pleasure of listening to 103.5!
Willie and I sit next to each other in shul every Shabbat, but that doesn't preclude us from enjoying "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." Sure, I'd prefer "Cholent Roasting on an Open Blech," but that's not how the song goes. Who wouldn't love to hear Harry Connick Jr. sing, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Sukkos"? But he doesn't. So what's so wrong with loving those songs as they are? Chestnuts are kosher. In fact, I roast them almost every night around this time of year.
Unlike Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, I'm not about to put out a Christmas album. I find it disconcerting, confusing and hypocritical when I hear Barbra sing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Why will she be home? Does it fall at the same time as Chanukah? Oh yeah, this year it does. No wonder.
As a comedian, I have many jokes in my act about the holidays, including a bit about how "The gentiles have all these fun characters like Santa and the Easter Bunny. It's almost like Disney. But we don't even have a Grinch, because who would steal Yom Kippur?" Maybe that sounds like I'm jealous of the gentiles because their holidays are better or more fun. Not true. I actually love our holidays, almost every one of them. (I'm not gonna lie to you people, Tisha B'Av ain't no party).
There's really nothing Christian about this for me. I wouldn't buy a tree or go to mass on Christmas Eve. Quite the opposite; I'll break out my menorah and will be performing my stand-up show at the Laugh Factory -- "Merry Erev Christmas with Elon Gold and Friends." (Dec. 24 at 8 and 10 p.m. Order now! At press time it's almost sold out!) But that show celebrates the fact that on their silent and holy night, we get to go out and be loud and unholy.
So why should I feel bad, when I'm simply enjoying the wonderful, ripple effects of Christmas? The great perks and benefits that are totally kosher -- and there are many:
Again, I'm not looking to assimilate, we have already done enough assimilation by virtue of the fact that we are living here in the Diaspora. So don't even think of calling me a self-hating Jew. Quite the opposite! My Jewishness permeates both my professional and personal life in a big way. (Hey, I don't see any of you hosting the Chabad Telethon!) I constantly perform or emcee Jewish events, dinners and fundraisers, which I love to do not only because of the nachas I get helping out Jewish causes, but also because Jewish audiences -- though they're toughest -- are my favorite. There's a connection there that I can't get anywhere else -- just like when Chris Rock performs at the Apollo, except without all the energy and enthusiasm. And I won't even mention that I'm on the board of my shul!
I'm sure some of you are still bothered by this article, and you should be. I am too! All this basking in their holiday glory actually irks me more than it does you. I am constantly asking myself, why when every fiber of me is Jewish, am I so excited about the fact that it's Christmas time?
As a kid I absolutely loved Chanukah. I have nothing but fond memories of it. My zayde sitting in a chair, giving out shiny silver coins to all the cousins lined up eagerly awaiting their bounty. Or the latke-making contests that my Aunt Ruta would always win. (She used 50 gallons of canola oil!) Or the simple act of being with my two brothers and parents and lighting our menorah in the window of my family's apartment in the Bronx. We can rule out childhood trauma.
Maybe I'm a dupe of Christmas marketing. Our marketing is so poor that I've even heard absurdities such as Chanukah was invented as the answer to Christmas. WHAT? We need an ad campaign just to let everyone know that Chanukah was created a couple hundred years before Christmas. Here's a snippet: Maccabees is a book in the New Testament. So how could Jews be accused of lifting gentile holiday themes? As with everything else, we were there first! OK, fine, maybe we swiped the whole gift-giving idea, but is that enough to put our holiday on the marketing back burner?
It can't just be marketing. If a movie stinks, no marketing in the world can save it. It's gotta be a good product, too! So what is it about Chanukah that can't compete? And then it hit me. Chanukah, isn't Jewish enough! Passover and Sukkot are my two favorite weeks of the year! I love those holidays because they are so wonderfully Jewish. Eating bitter herbs or a muddy concoction of sorts is very Jewish. Leaning back on our pillow-laden chairs, downing a fourth cup of Yarden cab, wondering aloud why this night is different from all other nights.... Extremely Jewish. (By the way, on the second night, the question should really be, "Why is this night EXACTLY like last night?"). Sitting in a bamboo roofed hut, eating honey-draped challah is as Jewish as one can get. Lighting a candelabra? Not that Jewish! Anyone can do that. Obviously, the story of Chanukah is very Jewish, but the practice of Chanukah, not so much. I want my holidays to be super Jewified!
If I'm going to get excited about a holiday in December, sorry, it's Christmas. There's just so much more fun Christmasy stuff to be excited about. Other than the few minutes of lighting, you wouldn't even know it's Chanukah. But from Thanksgiving until Dec. 26, you know it's Christmas and you're merry about it.
Perhaps I enjoy all this pre-Christmas warmth because there's actually something very Jewish about it. Everything in the city just slows down and quietude takes over. The tranquility permeating the streets is palpable. It brings me to imagine what Jerusalem may have been like 3,000 years ago on a Friday afternoon, as Shabbat was nearing. No trade nor commerce, no hustle nor bustle. Just joyous, cheery folks who were soon to put their daily troubles behind them and be with their families for some much needed restful, sacred, feel-good time.
As a Sabbath observer I get a weekly dose of that serenity. I'm sure the warm feeling of simply uttering the phrase, "Good Shabbos" to a neighbor is analogous to the sheer joy in their "Merry Christmas." How dare the politically correct drumbeaters force the generic, tepid "Happy Holidays" on us? I couldn't imagine being told to supplant my "Good Shabbos" or "Shabbat Shalom" with "Happy Weekend!" Let's allow everyone their proper greeting! It only adds to the merriment!
In this crazy world, everyone can use some Christmas cheer, and let's face it, whether enjoying a gingersnap latte or a warm smile from a perfect stranger, we all benefit in one way or another. So have yourselves a very Merry Christmas; I know I will.
However, I'll be home for.... Chanukah!
Elon Gold is a comedian, actor and writer who has starred in sitcoms (Fox's "Stacked," NBC's "In-Laws") and is currently readying his fifth appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and his one-man show, "Elon Gold: Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish." He can next be seen guest starring in CBS's "The Mentalist" on Feb. 10.