Every year as a kid in the 1960s my family celebrated Christmas as a festive holiday. We had the candy canes, the Santa claus and Frosty The Snowman decorations and of course, the ubiquitous Tom and Jerry Egg Nog mugs atop the kitchen counter. The funny part of this to some of my friends is that my family was Jewish.
Why not enjoy all the holidays during December? Why not make the holiday a fun, happy, festive time that doesn't have to be based entirely on religious themes or observances? What a novel concept, right? Well, this all started in our family with my Mom being from a large Midwestern family in Iowa where there were few Jewish families in the 1930s and her family always celebrated both holidays as family tradition.
When I was a little boy, my Dad brought home a holiday album that was called "Chanukah Carols" by comic actor Stanley Adams. The concept was simple and yet brilliantly realized: take classic Christmas melodies and add Hanukkah and large dose of Yiddush. The LP cover featured Adams as a "Hanukkah Harry" type Santa Claus and the back cover had a Yiddush glossary for the "Christmas crowd" to employ.
Long out of print, I supervised a reissue of the classic Jewish comedy album a few years ago on CD. I wrote an essay in the booklet explaining how much the record meant to me as a kid in terns of teaching me how to appreciate both holidays as expressions of goodwill, joy to the world, appreciating the little things and everything else "A Charlie Brown Christmas" taught us.
On the album, "Jingle Bells" became "Matzoh Balls, Matzoh Ball in the chicken soup..." and you had "The Eight Days of Chanukah" replace "The 12 Days Of Christmas." This LP, which I still have our family's original copy of, taught me how important it is to learn to adapt to customs not normally shared by your particular faith. In today's world of 2012, Christmas and Hanukkah coexist, but the public displays of decorations are much more subdued and "non denominational" in context.
When I attended elementary school in the '60s and '70s my teachers put up all kinds of holiday decorations in the classroom and my parents piled my brother and sister and I in the powder blue family station wagon, the classic Ford "Country Squire" with wood paneling on the sides to go and see the holiday lights at "Candy Cane Lane" in Woodland Hills, Calif. The lights are still shining bright there each year on four neighborhhod streets after more than 50 years of lighting them up.
Both Christmas, Hanukkah and even a Santa dressed like Elvis are shown and its a full house of cars each December. Now, I take my own daughters, ages 4 and 6, to see the holiday lights each year in our more contemporary station wagon -- the SUV. I play the classic holiday CDs, like, Vince Guaraldi's masterwork "Charlie Brown Christmas" and the highly underrated "Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass Christmas." Of course Frank Sinatra's "Christmas Waltz" is in the mix.
I think more Jewish people should try to appreciate the value of seasonal goodwill. Both Christmas and Hanukkah are tied to gift giving, but it is important to remember the value of doing nice things for others in a non commerical way. I find that reading my daughters my Little Golden Books of "Frosty The Snowman" and "The Night Before Christmas" (that my Mom read to me) brings the holiday season to heart each year.
Why not have a mug of egg nog with those latkes this year? It's all in the spirit of good tidings. Each year I love seeing Santa and his Reindeer on the telephone wires on Beverly Drive and Wilshire Boulevard a long standing tradition in Beverly Hills.
Now where are those Tom and Jerry mugs?