Being Jewish at Christmas

I had to work later than normal tonight. We’ve just installed a new computer graphics system. It needed a little last minute tweaking… what is sure to be the norm for a few weeks, at least.

Darlene Love was scheduled to be on David Letterman tonight. Though I finished my work before she was on, I waited until Darlene sang so I could hear “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

This was her 19th trip to the Letterman show – or so said Dave. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is certainly the best Christmas song ever written by a Jewish guy under a murder indictment (Phil Spector). Even up against “White Christmas” (Irving Berlin), it might be the best Christmas song written by a Jewish guy, period.

The hell with it. It’s just the best Christmas song and Darlene Love is unbelievable singing it. It has become a tradition for Letterman to bring in a full string section and large gospel choir… and she was born to sing this song.

I’m glad that I can appreciate Christmas songs. There was a time I couldn’t – when I was totally divorced from Christmas. Being Jewish, it’s not my holiday, but I have come to embrace the secular aspects of Christmas and the general warmth and good feeling that goes around.

Growing up Jewish, around Christmas, is very difficult for a kid. It is a holiday with exceptionally powerful images. Families get together. Houses get beautifully decorated. You get presents.

As a kid, I remember Christmas Day being very isolating. Nothing was open, not even gas stations (as my father found out 40 some years ago). All the ‘good’ shows were off TV, replaced by religious or holiday oriented programs. Of course you couldn’t go to friend’s houses or have them over either. We were circumspect on December 25th, trying to fade in with the woodwork.

It wasn’t until “Animal House” (1978) that I realized a good Jewish Christmas included Chinese food and a movie.

I’m not sure when I began to embrace the Christmas spirit, but I do remember always volunteering to work. Once, in radio, I pulled an 8 hour shift (radio shifts are like dog years in that they are multiplied by a constant before they’re comparable to real life) so others could spend the day with their families. By my rough count, I’ve worked 34 of the last 35 Christmases and will work again tomorrow.

The New York times did an article Monday about the unwritten pact that brings Jews to work on Christmas, and has gentile’s covering for us on the High Holy Days. Thursday, our newscasts will be produced, anchored, directed and primarily staffed by Jewish people.

It wasn’t always this way, but today I love the lights and the decorations. I like to see the tree at neighbor’s houses. I love egg nogg, though I had never tasted any until I was well into my twenties. I once sat slackjawed as I watched Andy Williams sing “Sleighride” and realized just how good he/it was.

Even more, I love the thought of people traveling so they can be close to their relatives and parents. Marianne, a waitress at the little luncheonette next to the station, is flying to Chicago where she’ll meet her granddaughter for the first time. What could be more Christmas than that?

There’s a line, somewhere, that defines how far I will go in celebrating Christmas. Steffie has always wanted a Christmas tree. That’s over the line, though I understand why she wants it.

It used to be, I’d shy away from saying Merry Christmas. I don’t any more. I hope you have a Merry Christmas. Personally, I’m going to enjoy working so others can have one.

However, if you’re not celebrating, I’ll see you at the Chinese restaurant.

One thought on “Being Jewish at Christmas”

  1. I know this is a very old thread, but I had to respond to it. Like you I’m a native NYer whose very involved in CT (unlike you I only work there (albeit for a state gov’t program in Fairfield County) as I live very close to the NY/CT border, but I was living for 3 months up in Hartford in 2009 for a temporary job and loved your weathercast, etc.). I also knew of you from your early days in CT when I was a teenager in Westchester County as I liked fooling around with antennas to see what out of town TV and radio stations I could get and I was able to get Ch. 8 decently enough to watch your weather forecasts.

    I have been a troll on your blog and was searching around when I saw this piece. This is exactly how I am as a Jew during Christmastime…..the one difference is when I was a kid in the late 70s/early 80s we did go to non-Jewish friend’s houses for dinner with them on Christmas. Though we never had a tree, line was drawn there, etc.

    Anyway, thanks for a nice blog piece that really spoke to me. And sorry to hear about the trashy way Channel 8 treated you.

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