A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Christmas

(Above: A scene from El Cerrito's annual Christmas display, created by the late Sundar Shadi - another non Christian who loved Christmas)

What do "White Christmas," "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, "Silver Bells," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," "Sleigh Ride," "Winter Wonderland," "A Holly Jolly Christmas," "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," "Let It Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!" and "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" have in common, aside from the fact that they're Christmas songs?
Answer: They all were written by Jews.
Now, that might seem anomalous to some, but not to me. Christmas has been my favorite holiday since I was a little kid, and I'm a Jew through and through.
And it's not because of the presents. We get them at Hanukkah, which usually occurs around the same time, as it does this year, so that's a wash.
No, the real attraction is the Christmas story itself. Think about it: How many other holidays feature a child as the hero? That's something any kid can identify with.
And even when I was little, I could still appreciate the delicious irony: If only those smug innkeepers knew whom they were turning away!
Now, that story can cut both ways. Cynics might take the moral to be: Before you slam the door in someone's face, make sure they aren't well-connected.
But I prefer to look at it the other way: God is in everyone, so showing kindness to anyone is showing kindness to God him/herself.
I saw a little girl being interviewed on television the other night as she was delivering Christmas cookies to some homebound old people. The reporter asked her what Christmas is all about, and she said, "Being nice to somebody."
Exactly. And that's why Christmas is my favorite holiday.
Mind you, it hasn't always been easy. When I was young, I looked forward to the annual Christmas pageants at school, especially singing those gorgeous Christmas carols like "The Holly And The Ivy," "O Holy Night," and my favorite, "Once In Royal David's City."
But I dreaded the ethical dilemma I would confront whenever we got to the words "Christ the Lord."
What to do? I was sure lightning would strike me dead on the spot if those words passed my lips. On the other hand, no little kid wants to stick out from the crowd.
So I finessed the problem the only way I could think of: I lip-synched.
But otherwise, I embraced all the symbols and trappings of the holiday.
I loved those merry gentlemen, who come to us from England; good King Wenceslas, who comes from the Czech Republic; the Christmas tree, which comes from Germany; and, of course, Santa Claus, who comes from Turkey by way of the Netherlands, then was re-invented in the 19th Century by two Americans - poet Clement Clark Moore, who wrote "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (which begins, "T'was the night before Christmas…"), and cartoonist Thomas Nast, who also came up with the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey.
And the more recent additions to Christmas lore, like Rudolph and Frosty? Meh. They couldn't carry Santa's sack.
But whatever your religion - or even no religion at all - let me wish you joy this holiday season.
"And so I'm offering this simple phrase/To kids from one to ninety-two/Although it's been said many times, many ways/A very Merry Christmas to you."
Those words from "The Christmas Song" (aka "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire") were written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells.
Two Jewish guys, of course.