“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.