Friday, December 7, 2007

"It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like...Uh-Oh"

It's almost 8 am and the sky is beginning to lighten. Among the gray clouds are streaks of apricot as the sun struggles to illuminate the landscape. I just drove my son to school, and on the way home I happened to hear on the radio the cheery seasonal song "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," written by Meredith Willson in 1951 and recorded by Perry Como (above) and the Fontaine Sisters in the same year. It was charming. It was moving in its sweetness.

Why, in the back of my head was there an echo with every pronunciation of the word, a distortion I've heard used by Jews, "Krist-mach"? Should I feel guilty for enjoying the song so much that when I pulled into my driveway, I sat there an extra 20 seconds to hear Perry's "buh-buh-boo" voice, with the Fontaine Sisters' three part harmony, conclude to sprightly orchestral accompaniment,

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart."?

Normally, as you can tell by the front seat and floor of my car littered with cassette tapes, I listen to shiurim while driving. If I'm in a musical mood, I favor Yehuda! (exclamation mark is part of his name) or CD collections made by my children with my largely Jewish music taste in mind. Between noon and three, I'm tuned to a particular talk radio show that combines politics and pop culture. How did my dial find itself where it could expose me to Perry and the Fontaines?

It could be the seductive pull of nostalgia for a time when the lyrics of Willson's ditty were accepted everywhere in our country:

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go
Take a look in the five-and-ten,
Glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev'ry store
But the prettiest sight to see
is the holly that will be
On your own front door

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen
And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go
There's a tree in the Grand Hotel,
One in the park as well
The sturdy kind that doesn't mind the snow

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart

What? You mean your OWN "five and ten" is "glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes aglow?" Could there actually STILL be a tree in the Grand Hotel and a sturdy one in the park, in this day of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and Michael Neudow's crusade to strike "Under God" and "In God We Trust" from the Pledge and our currency?

Why, yes.

I was enjoying a conversation yesterday about the holiday-time dilemma with a highly respected Israeli Orthodox rabbi. He confessed that he shared my appreciation for America's expressions of the season because during this otherwise dark time, strangers share a bond of good cheer. Curmudgeons aside, people are more kindly, more generous, more friendly in "the spirit of Christmas." And fortunately for us in this great nation, that effervescence of joy extends to the Jewish community.

We comprise less than 2% of the populace, and yet nearly every store in urban areas has a small Chanuka section. Articles about the season respectfully include Christmas, Chanuka, and in the last twenty years, the (absurd, made-up...don't get me started) holiday of Kwaanza. If there were a Moslem holiday that stayed in December (their lunar calendar has no "leap month" correction so their holidays drift around the year), you can bet media would give it the nod as well. I do not take this for granted. Naomi Wolf is currently promoting her new book, "The End of America," in which she insists that George Bush is systematically accomplishing the "ten steps" she claims took Germany to Nazism. Somehow the comparison of our president to Adolf Hitler seems too fringy to be taken seriously, but to hear her on the air frantically warning Americans that we're on the verge of martial law, one does pause to evaluate the scene.

Thank God, the scene is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Carolers in Dickensian garb sing harmonies in shopping malls where shoppers toting red and green bags join in and applaud appreciatively. My neighborhood is twinkling with color, which, happily was still illuminating the darkness as I drove my son to school. The other day, a ladies' group I'm in enjoyed our "holiday tea" where red was the wardrobe color of choice, and we Jews ate our certified kosher grilled chicken lunch with our Christian friends in a hall with two lavishly ornamented evergreens and sparkling wreathes the size of Mack Truck tires.

And then I came home, and a few hours later, lit our menorah with my family, and while Maor Tsur, the story of religious Jews' victory over Hellenism, was the heartily voiced melody in the air, I did notice the tinkle of those seasonal bells starting to ring from the carol in my heart.

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