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My Fellow Jews, Enjoy The Music Of The Season

The most popular Christmas tunes also form an undeniable confirmation of America’s Judeo-Christian bond

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Because our editor was introduced as a teenager by his zaida to Mel Torme, and because Mel sang the author’s favorite Christmas song, the legendary performer gets top billing in this story about Jewish contributions to Christmas musical lore. (Image: newsfromme.com)

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While anticipating the harmonious a cappella of Christmas Carols at my doorstep, I recall the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” The music of Christmas represents peace, joy and hope and it has become a genre of its very own. But contrary to common thought, Christmas in America was not always something to sing about. 

The Pilgrims forbid any observance of Christmas— too much debauchery and promiscuity. Even after America’s independence, celebrations continued to be discouraged. Up until the early 19th Century, Christmas was a raucous carnival dreaded by the “upper class” and anticipated with trepidation by local authorities. Public celebrations were outlawed in Boston and anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. In 1828, the Yuletide riots were so violent that the NYPD was founded at least partially as a result. There are complex sociopolitical theories for this post-pilgrim, oft-forgotten glitch in history, but most attribute its ill reputation to wintry weather, high unemployment, and class conflict. 

Then America boomed. The first transcontinental railroad was completed, and Andrew Carnegie established our first steel mills. Rockefeller made energy affordable. Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison appeared on the scene. They introduced more than inventions; they pioneered a new American passion: Philanthropy. 

As much as they competed to see who could make the most money, they raced  to see who could give it away the quickest. Carnegie gave away more than 350 million dollars. Rockefeller? A whopping five hundred million. Translated into today’s market, that is well over one hundred billion dollars. We became the envy of the planet. By the late 19th century, fourteen million immigrants came to the land of opportunity — not to take advantage, but to contribute. As America’s melting pot simmered, Christmas was embraced like never before and music was a re-choir-ment. 

On June 26, 1870, “… the twenty-fifth day of December, commonly called Christmas Day” was declared a  national holiday by an act of Congress. And although the decision to delegate December 25 as the official date was chosen sometime in the fourth century, we know Jesus was actually born in the springtime (but that’s another story). 

To practicing Christians, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus and is steeped in religion. To those of us Hanukkah Celebrators, it often coincides with our holiday and represents a time to appreciate all we have to be thankful for. In America, particularly for those of us who are Jewish in smaller towns we are delighted that our children are out of school and many businesses are closed. Friends and families gather, and we strive to follow in the footsteps of the philanthropists. 

The most popular Christmas tunes also form an undeniable confirmation of America’s Judeo-Christian bond. 

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Jewish composers’ prolific contributions to the “Christmas Spirit” include the most-recorded Christmas song, “White Christmas” by Russian Immigrant Irving Berlin, and “Sleigh Ride” by Mitchell Parish from Lithuania. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” was written by J. Fred Coots, and who would guess that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was composed by Johnny Marks, whose notoriety also includes a Bronze Star and four Battle Stars during World War II. He also wrote “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” 

The duo of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne wrote “Let It Snow!” “Winter Wonderland” was composed by Feix Bernard. My favorite, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” was written by Robert Levinson and Mel Tormé. “Silver Bells” was written by Jacob Levinson and “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” is by Bob Allen and Al Stillman. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was written by Walter Kauffman. 

“Santa Baby” was written by Joan Javits and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is by Frank Loesser. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” was written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and Phil Spector and became a hit for Darlene Love in 1963. And for David Bowie’s Mother “Peace on Earth” was composed by Fraser, Grossman, and Kohan to form a medley with The Little Drummer Boy by Harry Moses Simeone, which Bowie recorded with Bing Crosby in 1977…you get the idea. 

Troubadour and actor Burl Ives with composing master Johnny Marks – enjoy the video at the end of this story. (Photo: hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com)

So, now in my sixty’s, after having raised and Bat-Mitzvahed Sarah, Shaina and Hannah, I do feel like Christmas may indeed be, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (written by Bernard Weissman). Of course, I do love observe and cherish our High Holy Days, and always look forward to the family festivities of Sukkot, Purim, and Passover. Don’t misunderstand, I do respect and understand the pious religious significance of the Christian Celebration for Christians. 

For me however, enjoying the “American Holiday” doesn’t require me to practice Christianity any more than Labor Day forces me to join a union.  

So, as I sit back and sip some Manischewitz while flipping the latkes and lighting my Hanukkah menorah, my wife and I just might enjoy one of Neil Diamond’s four Christmas Albums; I think even the Pilgrims would approve. 

Wishing a Healthy Happy Hanukkah, a Very Merry Christmas, and a joyous and prosperous New Year to one and all. 

Gary S. Branfman, MD studied radio, television, and film at New York City’s Queens College. Following a career in communications, he returned to school and became a board-certified plastic surgeon at the age of 38. He is the president of Congregation B’nai Israel in Victoria, Texas.

Dr. Branfman has appeared on various news organizations including “The Stream” on Al Jazeera, CBS evening news with David Begnaud and presently produces the podcast, “Never Again Live” with Meir HaLevi Weinstein.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

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