This year, I finally did it. I caved. I welcomed Christmas into my home. Despite that I am Jewish and my wife claims to be “opposed to all forms of organized religion,” our house is now also home to a 1/4-sized Xmas tree — illuminated, ornamented, and tinseled to the hilt. Two enormous stockings, appropriately stuffed and festooned, hang from our gas-fireplace mantle, atop which sit boughs of holly and fake hemlock, intertwined with more twinkling lights. Lastly, an elf-on-the-shelf sits (where else?) on the bookshelf beside the TV, just below the Buddha, a gift from my adorable sister-in-law.
Now, before you go congratulating me on a successful assimilation, consider this. I had to do it. I had no choice in the matter. The reason? You guessed it. The kids, of course. Because let’s face it, when it comes to winter-solstice holidays, us pathetic meddling Jews got nothing on you kitschy, ubiquitous Christians.
Sure, you guys got the Son of God and the whole Wise Men spiel and the beatific Virgin Mother but as you and I well know that’s not what sells it. It’s all about the fat guy with the hippie beard who breaks into your house, eats your cookies, and leaves behind everything you ever wanted, all your hopes and dreams.
For Christ’s sake, your holiday literally boosts the entire US economy! Anti-Christmas is anti-American! It’s no wonder everyone got so pissed when Walmart decided to start going with “Happy Holidays.” They had every right to be upset. I mean, those fat-cats put the entire country in jeopardy! The ruination of Christmas is one of every sensible American’s greatest fears, right up there with public speaking and public nudity. Christmas goes down, the almighty dollar goes down with it. Thank God Walmart recognized the error of its ways. Thank God it overcame its “fear” (Walmart’s word, not mine) of the rest of us and rescued the economy from certain collapse by definitively going back to their former, more correct, “Merry Christmas” greeting!
Now, if they could only stop killing babies with their Chinese formula, we’d really be onto something.
Just imagine what might have happened had they kept on with their left-wing “Happy Holidays” nonsense and all of us all of a sudden started forgetting about Christmas and just figured there was some unidentifiable holiday that happened about this time each year. Maybe it was meant for us, maybe not, nobody could really remember. Thanks a lot, Walmart!! Thanks for almost screwing it up for everybody!
Maybe you think I’m talking out of turn, this idea that we could all somehow forget about Christmas. Well, chew on this. The atheists are poised to strike! And Glory be to Fox News for keeping us abreast of the Godless menace that walks among us. For, just this year, in Los Angeles, we experienced a major “Christmas Controversy,” when atheist displays forced Nativity scenes out of Palisades Park. Santa Monica had allocated the spots via lottery. The Christians put in one bid and got two spots, the atheists, with 11 bids, got 18. And what did the atheists do with all that sacred space? Why, just what you’d expect them to do—nothing! In all of their 18 spots, the atheists have erected three potted plants, two paltry signs, and not a single partridge in a pear tree. As a result, well, let’s just say there’s not a lot of Santa in Santa Monica this year! Christmas-related purchasing in the city is down a full 75% and overall Church attendance has dropped by a depressing 98%. The local economy is in shambles. There is talk of shutting down the town entirely.
But I digress.
Jews and their Chanukah shopping, meanwhile, provide only the merest bump to the economy: specifically in the beeswax sector, along with an almost imperceptible rise in jelly donut profits. Our holidays, as a national budgetary concern, are inconsequential. Because what do we get on our beloved winter solstice celebration? If we’re lucky, we get 8 presents. Your people get about a thousand. I know how it works. I’ve seen what happens: gifts come in from all over the country and by the time Christmas Day rolls around it’s like the season finale of Hoarders.
And while you irradiate the cold night skies with the glow of countless twinkling lights, we strain our backs pulling out the family’s old cast iron candleholder, all just to celebrate the fact that four thousand years ago some guy scored a week’s-worth of free oil. And, lo, what a bargain it was! And to make matters worse, we don’t have twelve kinds of dessert, either! Figgy pudding? We got chocolate money and a four-sided top—a gambling toy. Why? So you can win more chocolate money!
What I’m saying is this: given a choice, what kid in his right mind would choose it?
Choosing to be Jewish?? Why, it’s unheard of! That’s like choosing to be gay!
But don’t get me wrong. My beef is not with Jews adopting Christmas. The best among us have done it. My Christmas Spotify playlist is composed entirely of songs by Irving Berlin, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, the Beastie Boys, Barry Manilow, Bob Dylan, and one of the Ramones. I’m not a monster. I like to make my kids happy. I don’t want them to run around all day wondering why our house isn’t lit up all crazy like the neighbors..or why Santa doesn’t like to give presents to the Hebrews..or why we haven’t gone out and killed a tree for Jesus like everyone else.
I got nothing against Christmas. Hell, I don’t even mind the month-long pummeling of well-wishes and good-cheer tidings. My problem is simply that Christians haven’t met us half-way on this one. They haven’t co-opted any of our Chanukah stuff. Because if what my wife tells me is true—that the Christmas Tree and all its accoutrements are originally Pagan traditions—then what’s the big deal with stealing one more?
So I appeal to you now, Ye Merry Christians of America!! Please. Why not celebrate our common roots, this year, and incorporate a little Judaica into your Christmas Season? This year, why not go ahead and spin a dreidel? Eat a latka. Put on an old Woody Allen record.
What could it hurt, right?
Chappy Cholidays, everyone!!!
M. Thomas Inge
Editor’s note: In a little less than one year, the American people will elect a president. In the past decade, politics has seemed to become much more polarized and impassioned–with the rise of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street as prominent examples. Politics has also been consistent fodder for humor–with the rise of The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, as well as the continued influence of SNL and The Onion, among a myriad of other humorists commenting on politics and humor. The interest of readers in the link between humor and politics is evident in the searches people use to find this site and in the consistent popularity of M. Thomas Inge’s piece “Politics and the American Sense of Humor,” which helped inaugurate this site.
In this spirit, Tom has graciously given us permission to post another piece. Enjoy.
The Essential Nature of American Laughter
M. Thomas Inge
For one brief moment in our history, it seemed that there was no humor in the land–September 11, 2001. For the next few days, no jokes were passed among friends on the internet. The New Yorker published no cartoons in its issue that week for the first time since Hiroshima and shrouded its cover in black. Dave Barry announced to his readers, “No humor column today. I don’t want to write it, and you don’t want to read it.”
Editorial cartoonists, caught with no time for reflection, traded in their wit and caricature for outrage and cliché and produced multiple images of the Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam weeping or averting their faces from the carnage. The irreverent weekly newspaper, The Onion, cancelled its next edition. The David Letterman and Jay Leno shows went into reruns, and the comedy clubs closed down. Even Gary Trudeau in Doonesbury declared his favorite target, George W. Bush, off-limits. Comedy writers and performers gathered at a symposium on “Humor in Unfunny Times” in New York to discuss what their function should be at a time when the nation was racked by grief. Several public intellectuals declared that irony, sarcasm, and comic cynicism had died in a country that has prided itself on its caustic sense of humor. Finally permission to laugh came when mayor Rudolph Guiliani appeared on Saturday Night Live, along with New York police, fire, and rescue personnel. After an opening tribute, the show’s director, Lorne Michaels, asked the mayor, “Can we be funny?” Guiliani quipped, “Why start now?”
This was a defining moment in our history, because Americans have always placed a high value on their ability to laugh. William Faulkner once noted that “We have one priceless universal trait, we Americans. That trait is our humor.” Americans are thought to have a special sense of humor that often features exaggeration and hyperbole. But our sense of humor has a direct link to our political system, what Robert Penn Warren once called a “burr under the metaphysical saddle of America.”
Comedy is encouraged by our democratic system because we have posited higher ideals than we can reach, but rather than berate ourselves, we engage in self-ridicule as a safety valve. It is the incongruity between the ideal and the real, between the dream and the failure to achieve it, to which most American humor is addressed. Has there ever been a time when we would not laugh at Mark Twain’s statement, that “there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress”?
The literary critics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made a sharp distinction between “wit” and “humour,” a distinction that is useful also in characterizing radio and television comedians.
“Wit” was perhaps best defined by Pope in the “Essay on Criticism”:
True Wit is Nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d . . . . (ll. 297-8)
Pope’s poetry also provides numerous examples; one of the best appeared earlier in the same poem:
‘Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own. (Ll. 9-10)
Everyone has noticed how rare agreement is, except among politicians who have been fed “talking points” by their party’s campaign committees; yet no one but Pope thought to compare disagreements about literature to the disagreements we have among ourselves when we try to answer the question “What time is it?”
Wit, then, relies on the expression of an idea. It is a kind of verbal cleverness. “Humor” – or “humour” if you’re British – is an older concept, going back to medieval medicine. Medieval physicians believed there were four fluids (humours) in the body which were responsible for both diseases and he formation of personality: blood, phlegm, yellow bile (choler), and black bile (melancholy). (If I’m telling you what you already know, please forgive me; perhaps somebody else out there doesn’t know it.) A person in whom blood predominated was “sanguine,” that is, eager and excitable; if the blood was excessive, it caused a disease, and the patients had to be bled by attaching leeches to them.
The classic example of the literary application of this theory was a play by Shakespeare’s friend and rival, Ben Jonson, Every Man in His Humour, in which the comedy arose from the personalities of the characters. It was so successful that Jonson followed it with a sequel, Every Man Out of His Humour.
If you followed radio comedy in the days when there was any, or if you’ve been watching television comedy in the years since radio devolved into disk jockeying, you can see how the distinction between wit and humor applies to the comics on those media. Here’s how my watch ticks – and yours, like Pope’s, may very well run differently from mine.
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