For almost 100 years in the realm of popular entertainment, Jewish Americans have responded to Christmas by creating short stories, movies, television characters, and popular songs in order to either enhance the secular observance of the holiday or, in the alternative, to downplay the significance of Christmas holiday by satirizing and neutralizing the religious nature of the holiday. These responses to Christmas grew out of two strong traditions: the Jewish Hanukkah music that was composed as the demand grew beginning in the early 1900s, which took a parodic twist in the late twentieth century, and the involvement of Jewish composers in the creation of Christmas music beginning in the 1940s, which eventually also gave license to parody. [See previous blog posting “What Is That Song Playing In My Ear? on December 5, 2013.]
Certain of these creative works, which drew upon sentimentality, focused upon the folk and ethnic elements of America’s holidays and painted a sentimental portrait and reinforced shared American values of patriotism, generosity, peace and goodwill. Early examples in the world of song include Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Johnny Marks’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” (otherwise known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”). A later example is Paul Simon’s “Getting Ready for Christmas Day.”
Others take the form of satire and parody which highlight and, in fact, exploit a shared marginality during the holiday season. An early example is S.J. Perlman’s short story “Waiting for Santy” which appeared on December 26, 1936 in the New Yorker magazine. Later examples include Saturday Night Live’s “Hanukkah Harry,” the creation of a new holiday “Festivus” on Seinfeld, and a 2003 American comedy film written and directed by Jonathan Kesselman called The Hebrew Hammer.
In the spirit of the modern technological age, funny and subversive YouTube and video parodies, whether in song or in spoken word (often accompanied by video) with a distinctively Jewish piquancy grew out this parodic tradition. Here are a few:
- Youtube: BuzzFeedViolet: Christmas explained by Jews
- YouTube: BuzzFeedViolet: Jewish Christmas Vs Christmas – Debatable
- YouTube: BuzzFeedViolet: Being A Jew on Christmas
- BuzzFeed: 17 Struggles of Being A Jew on Christmas: Oy To The World
- YouTube: All I want for Christmas is…Jews
- YouTube: Saturday Night Live – Christmas For The Jews
- YouTube: Kyle: I’m a Jew on Christmas (South Park)
If you have a favorite online holiday video parody, please let us know and we will post it on the blog. Happy viewing!
For an in-depth discussion of this phenomenon, see Chapter Four of A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish (Rutgers University Press, 2012) entitled “Twas the Night Before Hanukkah: Remaking Christmas Through Parody and Popular Culture.”