Liz Smith: A Christmas Greeting to All

Holiday musings from our Gossip Girl

“CHRISTMAS EVE was a night of song that warmed itself around you like a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart. Filling it, too, with a melody that would last forever,” wrote author Bess Streeter Aldrich of the loveliest night of them all.

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“MERRY CHRISTMAS,” said Blake Gopnik, who followed up with these words. “I know those Christian-sounding words ought to feel odd coming from my lips. I am a third-generation atheist of Jewish ancestry and I’m almost evangelical in my lack of faith. But the words feel fine – ‘Merry Christmas!’”

Mr. Gopnik clings to this greeting because “saying something like ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Best of the Seasons’ sound like bland euphemisms, newspeak, el cheapo substitutes.”

He adds: “The wonderfully secular, partly pagan solstice celebration that is coming on December 25 has also had a tie to Christ for about 1800 years. The link is too well forged to try to break it now without diminishing the whole event.

“I find beauty in the most clearly Christian parts of Christmas, and I’m not willing to lose out on it, or let the Christians keep it for themselves.

“I’ll buy ‘In God We Trust’ as crucial decoration on the dollar bill and I’ll use ‘Merry Christmas’ as the right words to usher in the solstice season. So in the full spirit of the holiday, I’d like to wish us, one and all – Christians and Jews, Muslims and Zoroastrians, even my fellow atheists, a very, very Merry Christmas.”

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AND SO, I, Liz, stand with Mr. Gopnik for the embracing of “Merry Christmas” and of Christmas itself, rather than reducing it to “political correctness.” I never buy Christmas cards that say “Greetings of the Season” or “Happy Holidays.”

I like to say “Merry Christmas” and I hope Jewish people will say it to me, as well, just as I say “Happy Hanukkah.” And on December 26, I’ll be saying “Glorious and Happy Kwanzaa” to those who keep that as a holiday.

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ONE JODY Rosen wrote an entire book about the Irving Berlin classic song “White Christmas.” He described how “a cantor’s son from Russia took the Christ out of Christmas by composing one of America’s favorite songs. It is the darkest, bluest tune ever to masquerade as a Christmas carol. And it’s not a carol – that implication is religious – it’s just a popular song!”

And now for something entirely different. The unusual “verse” for Irving Berlin’s classic “White Christmas” is often sung in L.A. and New York. This is the introduction, seldom heard, that goes before the words – “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas; just like the ones we used to know …”

Here’s the verse: “The sun is shining, the grass is green. The orange and palm trees sway/ There’s never been such a day/ in Beverly Hills, L.A./ But it’s December, the 24th/ and I’m longing to be up North.”

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AND, HERE is another “Christmas song” written by the very funny Tom Lehrer. Sometimes, if he is urged, fans can get Michael Feinstein in his stint at the Regency Hotel in New York to sing this one:

“I’m spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica,

Wearing sandals, lighting candles by the sea.

I spent Shavuot (sha-voo-us) in East Saint Louis,

A charming spot, but clearly not the spot for me.

Those eastern winters, I can’t endure ‘em.

So every year, I pack my gear

And come out here till Purim.

Rosh Hashona, I spend in Arizona.

And  ‘Yom Kippah’ way down in ‘Mississippah’

But in December, there’s just one place to for me.

Mid the California flora, I’ll be lighting my menorah,

Like a baby in its cradle, I’ll be playing with my dreidel.

Here’s to Judas Maccabeus! Boy, if he could only see us.

Spending Hanukkah, in Santa Monica, by the sea!”

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CAN YOU cook a Christmas turkey? Here’s Ben Schott’s timetable:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For a 5 – 8 pound turkey, 2 1/4 to 3 ¼ hours

For an 8 – 12 pound turkey, 2 3/4to 3 hours

For 12 – 17 pound turkey, 3 ¼ to 3 1/2 hours.

For 17 – 20 pound turkey, 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours.

For a 20 – 25 pound turkey, 4 ½ to 5 hours.

Schott advises and I advise using a fresh turkey, not a frozen one. I also advise buying a small piece of cheesecloth to put over the turkey’s breast so that as you baste it every half hour or so, the breast does not burn.

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IN RESEARCHING this and going back to Blake Gopnik in the beginning. He reported that his own “Christmas-crazy family refuses to play carols written after 1900: our favorite carols all predate the Enlightenment!”

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MERRY CHRISTMAS to all, and to all a great Eve and a good night. And when you hear those reindeer stamping on your roof, just thank your lucky stars that you can still hear them.

15 comments so far.

  1. avatar Linda says:

    Merry Christmas Liz and to all of WOW! Working in retail, I was given the usual instructions to address people with Happy Holidays. Instead, everyone I have addressed since after Thanksgiving has been with Merry Christmas regardless of being very aware of thier religious background. I prefer not to even carry a label on myself, though after an estimated 2000+ times of using Merry Christmas, not one person spoke out against the phrase being used.

    Hearing Merry Christmas breaks the ice and warms the heart of any I have encountered. Children light up hearing Merry Christmas even if thier parents are clearly of another background. So in my little Christmas social experiment, I found the phrase connnected each other to the season of Christmas rather than being politically incorrect.

    Tonight there was  segment on TV with Sarah Palin outraged that the president kept the Christmas card generic to Happy Holidays and refrained from the card being a Christian message being sent. Kudos President Obama!America is more than one belief and people being represented.

  2. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    Barbra Streisand sang the “unusual verse” to “White Christmas” on her first Christmas album in 1967. It was a lovely surprise then. Merry Christmas, Liz. And a hap-hap-happy little old New Year!

  3. avatar Lila says:

    I love Mr. Gopnik’s sentiment!

  4. avatar Lila says:

    PS, Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all.

  5. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!!

  6. avatar Rho says:

    Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

  7. avatar central coast cabin home says:

    Merry Christmas to all my WOW friends, and yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause!

  8. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Me, I prefer historical correctness so I wish everyone a “Sassy Saturnalia..”  So, I hope everyone has a “Sassy Saturnalia!”  As for the season, well, for me it’s always been a time to remember the summer wishes and refelct on the winter dreams. Just another year ending And another beginning. No regrets for the year ending but great hopes for the year beginning. 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Well, no regrets but I have revived my traditional Christmas card this year. Hallmark it ain’t. “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, all the creatures were trembling, including the mouse…”  Forgive your enemies. Just make sure everyone remembers their names… 

  9. avatar Judy S says:

    With all respect to Tom Lehrer’s amusing ditty, leave us not forget these immortal lyrics from Adam Sandler’s original “Hanukkah (my orthodox upbringing compels me to continue to spell it Chanukah) Song”: [take a sip of coffee before reading at your own peril]

    Paul Newman’s half Jewish /
    And Goldie Hawn’s half, too /
    Put them together /
    What a fine lookin’ Jew

    Happy Chanukah and Happy Christmas to all.

  10. avatar howard green says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Liz to you and to all your readers!

  11. avatar Frau Quink says:

    Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings to wonderful Liz and all the folks who like WOW…
    and provide me with food for thought……..

  12. avatar Frannie says:

    It is still Christmas here in California, and it warmed up today to the 70′s, so Merry Merry Christmas. I love the sound of it as well. Merry starts off yummy and sweet with the “mer” sound and Christmas comes on crisp like cold nights with beautiful stars.

    Yes it was warm, but it has been very very cold in California for the past couple of weeks. Not much rain or snow in the Sierras but Tenaya Lake froze, which is on the east side of Yosemite National Park in the Sierras. This is a very rare thing to happen and the report was that it was due to the fact the temp dropped so low and there was no snow. Go figure. I would have loved to have seen it since Yosemite is one of my most favorite places on earth and I can’t imagine that it could freeze enough to freeze that lake.

    The clock will flip over in a few minutes to December 26 and I will gleefully start saying, Happy New Year.

    It has been down in the 30′s at night, got down to 29 the other night, so I was glad for the warmth today. We natives usually wish for a little weather on Christmas just to remind us that it is winter, but as I said, I was grateful for the warm today because I love the fresh air.

  13. avatar LuckyLady n/a says:

    In our family we have three great sons, three great daughters-in-law, and 4 semi-adult grandchildren and also a “new” granddaughter who is eight.  For many,many years I have presided over the Christmas Dinner.  However, this year, my daughter-in-law suggested that it was time for her to take the reins, I agreed, and said that I would provide the dessert.  There was much family discussion (I was not included) about what Grandma would bring.  The grandchildren started to call and e-mail (not the eight year old) requesting various memorable desserts–one remembered the trifle, another wanted the sugar cookies (“You know, Gram, the ones you ALWAYS made) a son requested the rum cakes, and another son wanted the cinnamon bread pudding with bourbon sauce.
    My inner grouse began when I started the grocery shopping and I was grumbling to myself when I got to the bread pudding thinking that much dessert was ridiculous for 14 people.  Well, armed with the desserts in the car we arrived at son and daughter-in-law’s home and proceeded up the hill and into the house and were greeted by the requesting grandchildren and I told them to start carrying everything up the hill.  I hung over the balcony railing and watched the parade up the hill and it hit me that all the grousing in the world wouldn’t overcome the pleasure of hearing all those cousins playing “remember when”as to past christmases.  I simply had never thought that food was also important in the scheme of things, my daughter-in-law had yeoman’s duty in the kitchen and Grandma got to see the excitement that four dozen cookies could bring and knew she would be remembered for many things but particulary for Christmas desserts. A very strange legacy.