My mother, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, was intolerant when it came to the practice of Judaism. It was traditional Judaism or the highway as far as she was concerned. Embracing or even considering more liberal and flexible branches of the religion were never an option.
Surprisingly, my mother was effusively tolerant and respectful of those who practiced other religions. The suburban Toronto street where I grew up was entirely Jewish, except our next-door neighbors the Birtles – Art and Jan, their son Tommy, and their daughter Judy. I always knew it was Sunday when I’d see the Birtles family dressed to the nines and headed to church. When they wore white, I knew it was Easter.
On the Jewish holiday of Succoth, our family ate in a makeshift backyard shack to commemorate the sheltering of the Israelites in the wilderness. My mother always invited the Birtles to join us for a meal, although for reasons I can’t remember, only Mr. Birtles (as I always called him) came over. Mr. Birtles also visited us on the Jewish New Year. He was well versed in Jewish customs and rituals.
In early December, the Birtles would invite me over to decorate their Christmas tree. Somewhere there are photos of me as a young boy wearing a Jewish skullcap hanging ornaments and lights and arranging presents. I quite enjoyed Christmas, and as I’ve previously confessed, I harbored fantasies of being Christian at the most inappropriate times.
My mother loved Christmas festivities. Every December she would take my sister and me to see the Nutcracker. At the first performance I attended, I asked if the male dancers were “real men.”
“Of course, they are,” my mother said.
“Are they real men like hockey players?” I replied.
Both my parents enjoyed Christmas carols, and I grew up listening to them. My father couldn’t sing to save his life, but he particularly enjoyed belting out “Good King Wenceslas,” a carol I will forever associate with him. I, too, love to listen to Christmas music throughout the holiday season.
There is, of course, possibly a subliminal reason why my family, and many other Jews, take such delight listening to Christmas music. The most popular Christmas songs were written by Jews, including “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Baby,” and my all-time favorites, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Sleigh Ride.” More on the Jewish origins of Christmas songs can be found here, here, and here.
I mention all this to explain my disappointment about Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel tweeting her outrage that President Trump warned at a rally that the Democrats would try to take Christmas “out of the vocabulary.”
The comment unhinged Nessel, whose official bio notes that she is the first Jewish Michigan attorney general. In response, Nessel tweeted and linked to a video of Trump’s rally. (Nessel has since deleted her tweet.)
It’s unfortunate that Nessel’s son is so sheltered that a well-intentioned Merry Christmas devastated him. While Christmas technically celebrates the birth of Christ, it’s become so commercialized the religious aspect of the holiday has almost become irrelevant.
If Nessel wants to invoke Biden’s name, the president-elect says this is a time for healing, and millions of Americans celebrate Christmas. Instead of exploiting yet another opportunity to bash Trump, Nessel might consider educating her son that when someone innocently wishes him a “Merry Christmas,” the underlying intent is a positive one.
Bashing Trump has made Nessel a national media darling and distracted from her ineptitude as Michigan attorney general and her negligence protecting Michigan’s charitable assets and nonprofit companies. Under Nessel’s watch, Beaumont Health, Michigan’s biggest and once nationally ranked hospital network, has imploded. Not one tweet from Nessel on this issue.
Here’s more on Nessel’s ineptitude if you’re interested.
Meanwhile, I want to make clear that not all Jews take offence when wished a “Merry Christmas.” As for Nessel, wishing her and her family a “Happy Hanukah,” or “Happy Holidays,” whatever her preferred greeting.
BTW: If you enjoy Christmas music as much as I do, I highly recommend LA’s Christmas station KOST, which streams live and has great holiday jingles.