Every year around this time someone accuses me of being a Christmas curmudgeon. This has nothing to do with the fact that I’m Jewish and, in theory, don’t celebrate the holiday. Let’s face it, unless you’re holed up in a yeshiva or an Islamic madrasa, Christmas is largely a secular orgy that affects Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. It’s basically impossible to avoid. I’d be thrilled if it were more focused on Christ (despite the fact that the birth of the person we know as Jesus had nothing to do with December 25th). As the Christmas party compilations start ramping up with Rudolph, Santa, Frosty, and sleigh bells (those snow-based sleighs must have been all the rage in the desert towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth), I’ve always been the one screaming for the holy infant, so tender and mild. Despite the fact that my elementary school was about 70% Jewish, we were hurled into the Christmas season every year with full gusto, separation of Church and State be damned. I can only imagine what the Holocaust survivor parents of my Jewish classmates thought when we’d arrive home from school belting out the tunes we spent most of the day singing in our public school:
Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth…
Oh n-i-i-i-i-i-i-ght Divine,
Oh night, when Christ was born.
But our parents never did complain, as opposed to today’s hysterical climate where uttering the words “Merry Christmas” in a public school seems to be on par with burning a cross on the playground and forcing all the Jewish children to take a loyalty oath to the Pope. I’m not saying that I want my daughter to spend the next month in her class genuflecting to the Baby Jesus, but I don’t think mentioning the word “Christmas” in her presence will cause her to renounce her faith and take up residence in a Franciscan nunnery.
But back to the Grinch libel that is levied upon me every year. It is just not true. As proof, I offer up the tickets I purchased months ago for the December 23rd presentation of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at the South Coast Repertory. Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than watching the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from miserly dictator to loving benefactor. I am all for holiday songs, movies, plays, cookies, recitals, meals, and family gatherings. But I will NOT, under any circumstances, set foot in a shopping mall between now and January. Okay, that’s a lie, I might attend a Christmas tree lighting or an outside ice skating rink (always an odd site in balmy Los Angeles) but you won’t find me laden down with shopping bags and doing the “whadja get” rap (Whadja get Uncle Harry? Whadja get Cousin Sally? Whadja get the UPS guy? Whadja get? Whadja get?). Leah and I went to see the new Harry Potter movie yesterday and the streets were already filled with armies of consumers trudging along with gigantic shopping bags filled with crap they can’t afford and no one needs. It’s not that I’m cheap—you don’t want to know the money I spend each year on holiday-themed meals and activities. I have no problem with giving and receiving gifts, why would I? But I hate, loathe, and despise the heavy-handed tactics employed by the Mega-Conglomerates to empty our wallets and increase our stress to lethal levels in the name of Jesus Christ. I realize that our economy might sink even further into the toilet if my yuletide boycott of Corporate America were to catch on, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay to stop the ever-increasing insanity. I know that instead of just kvetching about it, I should be offering alternatives including heartwarming ways to spread Christmas cheer and meaningful volunteering opportunities to help the less fortunate. Oh, humbug, you can look those up on your own.
I think the reason my holiday moaning is beginning earlier than usual is because of my disappointment over the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Leah was so excited to watch it this year that she wanted to wake up Thursday morning at 6:00 am to see it live from New York instead of waiting for the delayed West Coast feed. I convinced her to hold tight until later in the morning and then settled in with her to watch the parade which was always my favorite way to usher in the holiday season. Within 10 minutes, though, Leah and I had reached the same conclusion: what a load of CRAP! I realize that the Macy’s parade was always full of the corporate shilling that I was just complaining about, but it was such a fun tradition that I forgave them everything. I loved seeing the gigantic character balloons such as Underdog or Bullwinkle floating towards Herald Square, and listening to the often out-of-tune marching bands. I enjoyed seeing the range of celebrities from Art Linkletter to Anna Maria Alberghetti to the cast of “The Munsters” freezing their asses off as they waved to the fans from their vehicles and I looked forward to the thematic floats and the repartee from the on-camera TV hosts.
But continuing its rapid freefall to the Dark Side, Macy’s has transformed the parade into something that is nearly unwatchable. First of all, there seemed to be an annoying commercial break every 5 to 7 minutes. Second, the parade was completely taken over as a promotional tool by its sponsoring network, NBC. After every commercial break we had to endure interviews with the asinine stars of new NBC sitcoms I’d never heard of. The actors had nothing interesting to say about the parade, the holidays, their shows, or anything else, and it was simply a blatant attempt to get the large viewing audience to prop up the lousy NBC lineup. Hideous. A few of the current Broadway shows had floats and performed numbers which could have been good but now ALL performances in the parade are pre-recorded and lip synched, often very badly, providing even more of an artificial feel to the festivities. I hate to single anyone out, but Michael Feinstein, who I admire greatly as a Gershwin expert and supporter of the old standards, was particularly chilling as he belted out his non-Gershwin number with such a twisted fake smile on his face that even Leah put her pillow over her head. He was followed by “American Idol” winner Carrie Underwood (can someone explain to me how she ever won a singing competition?) who was equally frightening. Feinstein and Underwood were like a modern-day Joseph and Magda Goebbels, their preprogrammed performances sending out some kind of hynotic suggestion to the masses to start the Death March towards the nearest Macy’s.
The hosts of the parade, NBC “Today Show” stars Matt Lauer and Katie Couric, read every single word off the TelePrompter and sounded as spontaneous as the Abraham Lincoln automaton at Disneyland. The low point of any Macy’s Parade, past, present, or future, came when Matt Lauer was introducing a truly terrible high school rap group from New Jersey. Hearing the whitest man in the world using phrases like “gettin’ jiggy” and announcing that the high schoolers were about to “busta move” made me involuntarily put my hands up to my ears and start praying that my tympanic membranes would not burst in protest. The one spontaneous thing that did happen at the parade was not covered at all by the robot-like hosts. Because of the blustery winds, a giant red M&M balloon crashed into a lamppost causing pieces of it to fall off and seriously injure a woman and her 11-year-old daughter. While this happened right in front of them and ambulances were soon on the scene, Katie and Matt just stuck with their cloying script and the producers switched to footage from last year’s parade. Outrageous. The two people needed stitches but they’re going to be okay, thank goodness. Can you imagine the humiliation of being killed by a wayward M&M?
Oy, it’s not even December yet, and listen to me. Not only am I kvetching my head off, the holidays are already turning me mean. Sorry Michael, Carrie, Matt, and Katie, I know it’s not entirely your fault that you’ve sold your souls to the devil. We did have a wonderful Thanksgiving and my brined maple-basted turkey was a big hit. I swear I’m going to just focus on the positive aspects of the holidays from here on out. Well…at least for a few days.