I love Christmas time just as much as I love Christmas. As a Jewish guy, I long ago decided that my children would not be denied the spirit that seemed to envelop, no, hug the planet like a warmhearted mom, in the days between Thanksgiving and New Years.
Christmas was, to me, a pagan holiday that was co-opted by the Church in order to make recruiting for their cause more palatable. It was very shrewd PR. Nice move, Church.
We Jews had our own version of course in Chanukah, but frankly, while it was directly connected to a miracle, eight days of invisible oil burning light did not come close to matching all the splendor and spectacle that all the non-Jews got to take part in. There is a huge difference between a multi-leveled thematic birthday cake and a measly slab of latkes, you know?
So when my kids were old enough, dad bought his first tree and I have to say it felt really weird, like I was crossing over into no-man's land and conspiring behind God's back. It just felt wrong. What was this purely Christian thing doing in my living room? And yet, the spirit literally compelled me and by the time the season was over, magic had prevailed. My kids were not only enchanted: they were hooked. We had been infected... no inoculated by the giddy happiness of the season and we were all better for it. We were not Jews for Jesus, we were Jews for love and there was no way that we were ever going to get off of that particular Polar Express.
Over the years Christmas just grew and grew exponentially in our lives. We took it to Maui where we saw Santa in shorts, carrying a surfboard and we spent incredible weeks in my native New York, going to circuses, Broadway shows and Knicks games. We even stayed on LA time so the days would simply never end until we were all mutually slayed by exhaustion. But it was the kind of exhaustion that you feel when you simply cannot eat one more slice of pizza. Even the icy winter air was like a drug that seemed to numb us into not submission but delight.
Christmas bonded us. It put us in nearly matching many-layered winter uniforms and we marched up and down the avenues together, through snow and ice, we band of blissed-out brothers. Everything in NY, even the people, seem to twinkle in December. Salvation Army Santas reminded us what a ringing bell sounded like and that simple brand of delicate nostalgia simply tugged at our hearts. There was literally music in the air and we were compelled like everyone else, to be in the present -- which perhaps is the greatest "present" of all. I can't think of any other time, not even your own birthday, where everyone is so captivated by the now. Sports, I suppose, my beloved Yankees, do lure me in. But that is a pill that wears off in four hours or so and then we return, slouching once again towards the Groundshog Daydrums of our own dreary lives.
But Christmas seems to offer up a massive map of wonder that reminds us 24 hours a day for weeks upon weeks that we are children for life. That we still have the same deep longings and secret desires that we harbored when we were four or five. We adults get to add skipping to our list of modes of transportation. We smile more. We hum more. We might even sing out loud more with complete abandon. We want to give and privately get, but give more. Share more. Love more. And if that was what Jesus had in mine, then hey: that was one smart rabbi.
A Jew, Jesus C, created Christmas so it is no surprise to me that so many of our Christmas songs were written by the likes of Irving Berlin. Sure, it was all about assimilation; fitting in to this great Christian conclave. But it was also an acknowledgement that we Jews, the guys of the other team, were no different than you and in fact were remarkably similar in the most soulful of ways. Carole King wrote for Aretha, The Drifters and Little Eva for God's sake and The Beatles have married three of us (and were managed by one).
As I have gotten older, I've discovered that the Christmas spirit seems to linger all year round. I will admit to occasionally stealing a listen to a Christmas song in July. I mean the 24/7 Internet holiday stations do not shut down like the circus. They are always there, at the ready, to remind us, perhaps, of what the true meaning of Christmas is. Despite the way too often savagery of daily life. Despite the Newtowns and Colorado movie cold blood murders,the wars, the assassinations and unfathomable accidents that steal away some of our most beloved stars, there is good to tap back into. There is meaning and feeling and empathy and compassion within our immediate reach standing at the ready, just like those internet radio stations. Christmas, to me, is not about a day or 12. It is a reminder of what we are capable of being like all the time. That civility trumps arrogance. That love can extinguish hate. That forgiveness is better than anger. That there are miracles to be celebrated every single waking hour of the day. Christmas, to me, should not be a reminder or a retreat from our everyday travails, but rather a celebration for all the accumulated acts of kindness that have been checked off on our our daily to do list.
I write in order to deepen myself and I deepen myself by pursuing the truth in order to expose myself like a wind opened book so that I have no choice but to keep writing until I am able to share with you what is in the secret attics and basements of my heart and soul, hoping beyond hope, that it resonates in your hearts and souls as well. That process is my gift to both myself and you. And this kind of work, as a result, feels like, God's work -- whatever or whoever that is. You see, I am not a religious guy. But I am one that is hypersensitive to the spirit and energy of the boundless universe and I firmly believe, like Mr. Einstein, that the only thing that is 100 percent absolute is mystery, so I cannot say, with an pure conviction, what is or is not. But I can report what I feel and what I feel is an ongoing flirtation with love.
So I will keep on writing and you, I hope, will discover (or have already discovered) that one single creative instrument that inspires you to play to the point that hours feel like seconds. You see, it doesn't matter whether it is a saxophone or a calculator.
What matters is that it is your muse.
So: have yourself a merry Christmuse and a happy new year.