American Consequences - December 2018

and loving, not only to one’s own but to all of humanity. It means putting up wreaths and trees, garlanding them with lights and ornaments, buying gifts for loved ones and providing charity for the less fortunate, and gathering as family. Who could object to such a message? What logic-mad atheist could find fault with it? What Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Zoroastrian could feel all that alienated from it? We may not participate in Christmas if we are believers in another faith, but the way it has been celebrated since Dickens established its message has little or nothing exclusionary about it. That’s why I’ve always loved the Christmas season without irony or a sense of discomfort. I may love it even more than those who keep the day precisely because I don’t. The difficulties of Christmas are unknown to me as a Jew. I haven’t had a horrible family argument under the tree or at the Christmas table, and I have never felt compelled to eat a piece of fruitcake to satisfy a deranged relative who made or brought one. I bear no Christmas burdens. I’ve never had to buy a tree, or carry a tree home, or place it in the living room, or spend a frustrating evening unravelling the tangled lights. I’ve never had to get rid of the tree afterward. My Hanukkah candles melt down and disappear. There’s no disposal problem. For this very reason, it does not surprise me that the greatest Christmas songs are by Jews. Irving Berlin (“White Christmas”) and Mel Tormé (“The Christmas Song”) likely had the same romantic feeling about Christmas because our connection to it was and is aesthetic, not familial, and certainly not religious.

patted children on the head, and questioned beggars... and found that “everything could yield him pleasure.” When he tells the Ghost of Christmas Future, the one who shows him his lonely grave, that “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year,” he does not mean that he will preach the Gospel. In fact, the word “God” appears only a few times as an exclamation, except in Tiny Tim’s invocation: “God bless us, everyone.” hearted, and thoughtful, and generous, and loving, not only to one’s own but to all of humanity. By 1900, the readership of A Christmas Carol was said “to be second only to the Bible’s.” And Christmas had already become the most important holiday in the Anglo-American world – a position it retains, as we move inexorably toward the middle decades of the 21st century. It appears what Dickens did, without knowing it, was create the world’s first ecumenical religious holiday. Just as the old ad line insisted, “you don’t need to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye,” you don’t need to be a full-throated believer in the divinity of Christ the Savior to love Christmas and to “keep it.” As Dickens describes, “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that truly be said of us, and all of us!” Keeping Christmas means being open- hearted, and thoughtful, and generous, Keeping Christmas means being open-


December 2018

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