JUST ONE ANGEL TRUE HOLIDAY TALES
Written by JEFF DANIELS, MEGON McDONOUGH, THE ACCIDENTALS . . . and more . . .
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
There are 22 artists on "Just One Angel"
HERE'S THEIR PHOTOS AND BIOS
HERE'S THEIR SONG TITLES AND LYRICS
I asked them each tell me a true holiday tale. Here they are --
On Christmas Eve, my wife Kathleen makes sure she gives our whole family the same present: one piece pajamas. Same color, same footsies. Come Christmas Morning, our three kids, now in their twenties, Kathleen and I don our gay apparel and down the stairs we come, all wearing something designed for infants. Strangely, we all look forward to it.
My most cherished Christmas memory is in my song “The Christmas Guitar.”
Little Meg with her beloved Christmas guitar
For many years, The Accidentals sang holiday carols in the Winter Garden, just across the street from the World Trade Center. When the towers fell on 9/11, the Winter Garden was severely damaged, nearly destroyed. For the holidays that year, we volunteers to sing in the lobbies of neighboring buildings, where folks from all over the world rushed through – business people, shopkeepers, tourists, workers covered with dust. They stopped, listened and stayed. Smoke filled the air and everyone’s eyes. In September 2002, the restored Winter Garden was rededicated, and each of The Accidentals was given a piece of stone salvaged from the original building. In December, we were singing there again, beneath windows that now overlook Ground Zero. These are treasured memories.
BILL MITCHELL (co-author of “I’m Not Going Home For Christmas”) shares a Christmas story:
Our tree is always huge and encrusted with stuff ranging from fabulous to funky -- Russian glass cathedrals, Barbie, crystal chandeliers, papier mache penguins and little wooden grand pianos. As soon as I saw it, one particular ornament became my favorite thematically, if not aesthetically: a homely painted glass Adam and Eve sitting beneath the apple tree, looking up longingly at the fruit, with a cute snake hanging out in the branches. I loved the convoluted metaphysical path it represented-- a depiction of original sin and the fall from grace, hung (on a pagan artifact) in commemoration of the figure whose purpose was to redeem everyone from that sin. Or maybe it was just an ornament. I'm not really sure I have the Christmas story straight, in any case; my entire knowledge of Christianity comes from carols, and I find the whole notion kind of odd and exotic. Holly, manger, saviour, gay apparel. But I do like having a big tree in my living room, so call me a pagan.
In the waning hours of December 2008, a few days after our Accidental holiday party, the tree succumbed to the weight of its bling and keeled over at 4:00 in the morning. Why is it always 4:00 AM when the dogs decide to barf, or the crank caller from Caracas rings, or the Christmas tree collapses? My partner Jeff slept through it, the poodle and the lab kept snoring, and Sam, our self-appointed guard dog, padded into the living room, took one look, snorted and headed back for the bedroom. I, of course, sprang on the scene before the last tinkles of shattering glass had died away and spent the next hours clearing the carnage. Remarkably, very few of the special ornaments got smashed -- mostly it was the little glass balls from Smith & Hawken (remember Smith & Hawken?) that no one sells any more. And Adam and Eve bit the dust. Which didn't break my heart, after all: there, between Glinda and the band of panda carollers, had hung original sin. Kinda creepy, even for a pagan.
JIM VINCENT co-author of “I’m Not Going Home For Christmas” shares his Christmas Story:
When I was four, my parents took me to see Santa. We walked into one of the two department stores in town, and there he sat, in the back of the store, in his bright red suit and silky white beard. We waited in line a few minutes, then I climbed up on Santa’s knee and poured my soul out to him. It was thrilling. A few minutes later we went to the town’s other department store, and there was a different Santa! I screamed when I saw him. My mother told me this guy was Santa’s “helper,” but to this day I still have my doubts.
MARGARET DORN leader of The Accidentals writes:
For several years we were invited to sing for a Christmas party at a beautiful house in the woods near Kingston, New York. Our host would send a van to pick us up at the Winter Garden downtown after our Saturday afternoon performance and bring us upstate – a two-hour ride. One year our transportation was a small, slightly rickety school bus
-- we piled in and were on our way.
Our audience had been great that day and we were totally in the Christmas spirit. We exchanged presents -- funny, lovely, unexpected -- and wrapped in very unique ways! We started to sing to pass the time. Now everyone in the group is very creative so we came up with our own versions of the carols -- new lyrics (funny, of course), totally different grooves, changing from major keys to minor. Our ultimate creation was to combine "The Little Drummer Boy" with Ravel's "Bolero.” We laughed at the absurdity of marrying such disparate pieces of music- and then we really laughed when we realized they were the SAME SONG!
ERIK FRANDSEN (hoping for a story from him)
We were living in Pacific Palisades, CA, and that Christmas I had decided that I was going to do the kids' letters to Santa, which my wife, Heather, had always done in the past, so I sat at the dining room table with Amelia, 11, August 8, and Holden, 5, and I would ask each one what they wanted, and they would write it down, and August said he wanted a Gameboy, which was very popular that Christmas, and a XK2 Fighter Jet or whatever, all very speciific items, and Heather walked in and asked me what I was doing. "The letters to Santa," I said. "No no," she responded. "That's not how you do it. I buy the presents all through the year, and then with the letters, I ask them if they wouldn't like what I already bought them, and they say "yes" and they write it down, and that way they get what they asked for in the letter." "Not to worry," I said, "I have this handled." We finished the letters and sent them to Santa. By the way, we had decided that August would not get a Gameboy because we thought he should be outside or reading a book, instead of playing that damn thing. This was when we were still deluded enough to think that we could resist the tsunami of electronics that followed.
Our family does Christmas according to the German tradition, on Christmas Eve, and we had a lovely time and the presents had been opened and everyone was happily occupied with what Santa had brought them, but I could tell something was up with August. "Are you ok?" I asked. "Yes," he said. "Did you like your presents?" "Yes." But I knew I was not getting the whole story, so I pressed him again, and this time the truth came rushing out. "Santa didn't bring me one thing that I asked for in my letter. Not even one thing," August said, deeply disappointed, his lip trembling and close to tears. Then, suddenly, something occurred to him, and his face lit up. 'I know," he said excitedly, "It must have fallen out of Santa's sack, and it's on the roof! I'm going to go look!" "No," I said, "It's too late. We'll look in the morning."
The next morning I arose at dawn. Desperate and riddled with guilt, I raced to Adray's, the LA electronics store at the time. I was the first customer when they opened at 8 am, and I quickly abandoned my moral objections to electronics for kids, bought a Gameboy, raced home, wrapped it, and threw it up on the roof. When August woke up, he dashed outside and looked up. There it was.
"I knew it!" he exclaimed, "I knew it!" and we got a ladder and he climbed up and got the present he had asked Santa for, the present he had been wishing for all year.
ROY ZIMMERMAN (hoping for a story from him)
RUBY AND AVA LOCKNAR
OUR FAVORITE HANNUKAH MEMORY IS A FEW YEARS AGO WHEN OUR PARENTS HAD US COME DOWNSTAIRS TO OUR BASEMENT AND OUR DAD HAD BUILT US A SMALL STAGE! THERE'S A MIRROR ON THE WALL (CAUSE WE LOVE TO DANCE), A KAROKE MACHINE (CAUSE WE LOVE TO SING) AND HE EVEN PUT UP THIS BIG CURTAIN FOR A DRESSING ROOM! WE WERE SO EXCITED AND WE PRETTY MUCH USE IT ALL THE TIME.
HILARY FIELD (hoping for a story from her)
I have seven brothers and no sisters and for most of my life, at least five brothers were home at the holidays every year so the living room on Christmas morning always looked like the boy's section in the toy store with just this little section of "girly" colors in the corner. One of those years, when I came downstairs, what I saw in the girlie colored corner of our living room was my very own brass vanity and on the vanity seat was Dancerina. What a day!
What I remember more so on that day though, and I can remember it to this day as if it were yesterday, was a memory that I had just two seconds after I did the "football" dance (did I mention I have seven brothers?) over my Christmas swag! As I held my shiny, new, pink Dancerina doll, I flashed back to a previous Christmas when it was just my mom, my brother and me living in the projects. We were poor but on that Christmas morning I rushed down to find a beautiful brown haired, two foot tall doll dressed to the nines in what looked like a Spanish influenced gown of black lace, complete with a Spanish headdress. She was stunning.
Years later I discovered that that dress and the panties and even the bra were all made by my mom from her black slip and that the doll came from my brother Peter who found her at a tag sale. So here I was with the lovely, brand new Dancerina smiling at myself because the most beautiful doll I have ever owned was still sitting up on my bed with not a hair out of place. It is some 45 years later and I STILL have this doll . . . she was my best Christmas gift ever.
Our son, Lee, has mild autism, and one Christmas when he was very young we were working especially hard on his "pretend play" skills (children with autism do not generally engage in pretend play, and it is important in a child's development). We discovered he had a thing for armadillos, thanks to a PBS nature special, and he expressed a desire to have one. All that year, we went on a quest for an armadillo of some kind -- preferably not a live one(!) -- to give him as a gift. Finally when I was at the Kerrville Festival in Texas I found a small stuffed armadillo and brought it home. The other thing Lee really wanted at Christmas was a Fischer-Price McDonald's play set. That one was easy! Lee was thrilled with both gifts; however, the greatest gift that Christmas was that many an hour was spent playing with Mr. Armadillo at the Drive-Thru ordering a Hamburger Happy Meal. By the way, Lee is currently working on a degree in Fine Arts. And we still have Mr. Armadillo.
My father had three daughters. My being the middle one, it was always in my nature to try to please. I wanted to be like the neighbor boy, who my Dad always took to the football game, and many times I just about broke my neck jumping, as he had always done with ease and my father’s accolades, across the wide hedge that separated our two houses. I had always wanted a Patty Play Pal life-sized doll, but I wanted it in secret, as I didn’t want to blow my tomboy cover. So when Christmas came and we opened our presents, my younger sister got the doll, while I got a model Tiger airplane. Later that Christmas afternoon the palm tree fronds fell onto the street as the Santa Ana winds blew stronger. And while my sister watched helplessly, I cut the new doll’s long strands into a jagged bowl cut, insisting to her, that it looked better that way, something I still stand by, all these years later.
I was 12 years old. It was the day after Christmas. The Sunday newspapers were big and the snow was too deep for a bike. But the papers had to be delivered. News isn't news for long. So, I rolled the papers and put them in the plastic bags, and loaded up the sled with a trash bag full of papers and my eight year old kid sister. The neighborhood in the woods, silent and covered in white powder, woke slowly that Sunday morning to find the news at the door by the time my sister and I were home toasting our hands by the fire. I remember trudging out the door at the beginning with a daunting task ahead, and the gradual sense of fun, adventure and accomplishment shared with my sister as the sled got lighter and lighter with each paper delivered while the sun came up that Sunday morning. That's a memory I will hold forever.
My worst Hanukah memory: I overheard I was getting a Thesaurus. For some unexplainable reason, I thought a Thesaurus was a "Surrey With The Fringe On Top.” Do not ask me why I thought that, but I did.
Imagine my shock and HORROR when it was a BOOK?????
Second worst Hanukah present? Snow tires.
Take your pick.
About fifteen years ago my wife and I decided to spend Christmas on Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands in the northwestern corner of Washington State. An 1 1/2 drive from Seattle to the ferry terminal and then an hour long ferry ride to this lovely, mostly rural and sparsely populated island (about 5000 residents) is the perfect romantic getaway anytime of year.
We arrived on Christmas Eve and were given some free passes to a Christmas concert going on that evening as we checked into our cozy little cabin on the southwestern end of the island. We had no plans for the evening and decided to check out the concert expecting to see the usual holiday choir and eager to share some yuletide cheer with the local islanders. There were a few inches of new fallen snow on the ground and we were excited to explore the island. The concert was to take place in a small Victorian style chapel a few miles from the resort and we were told to dress warm because the chapel did not have electricity.
We drove through a forest of evergreens on a moonlit, slippery gravel road to a dirt lot where an attendant directed us to park. We opened our car door to the sound of bagpipes coming from the neighboring field. As we walked out of the parking lot, we could see the small, white chapel at the bottom of a winding, luminary lit, lane. There was a yellow glow emanating from it’s tall, slender windows and entrance doors. We couldn’t see the piper, but his music filled the air as we walked down the hill toward the chapel. Inside the chapel, a narrow center isle was flanked by several rows of long pews filled with heavily bundled up locals of all ages. Overhead, the walls were lined with candle sconces and evergreen and holly branches carefully arranged by some of the island residents (including the island theater director). The smell of pine wafted through the air. It was Christmas Eve in the Northwest and there was a celebratory, festive spirit all around.
Suddenly the pipes got increasingly louder from behind the closed doors of the sanctuary and John Newton’s, “Amazing Grace” resonated through our bones as the doors were slowly pulled open and the angelic presence of a smiling Susan Osborn stood before us; the piper finishing the beloved hymn just a few steps behind her before turning around and exiting the chapel. A few seconds of total, rapt silence, then Susan sang the words of the popular hymn. For nearly twenty five years, this world renowned, former vocalist for the Paul Winter Consort, singer, songwriter, recording artist and Orcas Island native celebrated Christmas and the coming of winter with this traditional holiday concert. She proceeded to mesmerize with her amazing, operatic, soprano mostly a cappella, occasionally with guitar accompaniment, for the next hour. Walking back and forth down the center isle, she lead us in song, shared her stories of family, her life as well as traditional holiday folklore.
It was the most amazing concert and the most memorable Christmas Eve my wife and I have ever had. We left the chapel that evening transfixed to an earlier century, to a simpler, less complicated era and an even greater appreciation for the power of song and tradition.
I was fortunate enough to be a musical guest of Susan’s in that very same chapel on Christmas Eve a few years ago which became my second most fabulous holiday memory.
If you would like to learn more about Susan Osborn and her lovely music, visit her on the web at http://www.susanosborn.com
In December of 1996, at the beginning of my touring career, I traveled to Berkeley to do an in-store promotion for my first CD, Right Side Of Zero. While there I dropped my wallet somewhere on Telegraph Avenue. Although I didn't have much money to my name - it had been years since my hey-day as a professional gambler - what cash I had was in the wallet, about $500. Back home in Venice a few days later, I received a phone call from a woman, who asked if I was Darryl Purpose. When I said yes, she told me she'd found my wallet. I tentatively asked if there was any money in the wallet. She replied that there was a lot of money in the wallet. She asked for my address - said she wanted to mail it to me. I asked for her phone number. She explained that she didn't have one - she was homeless. I told her to take out $100 for herself. We said polite good byes. I wondered if I'd ever see my wallet, or hear from her again. Just when I'd given up hope - about five days later - I received a package. She had sent the wallet, a cashiers check for $400, and a letter saying that she didn't feel comfortable taking the $100, so she gave it to a family she new who was in 'real' need. A few years later I received an email from her, she had found my web-site, and expressed interest in coming to a show. I wrote back and told her she was permanently on the my guest list. For many years after, she showed up at the Freight and Salvage when I came to town.
UNCLE BONSAI (hoping for a story from him)
"As an adult, I have discovered that "Christmas People" are surprised to hear that "Hanukah People" don't have that visceral celebratory memory of the Christmas morning experience. It's just not in our childhood foundation blueprint. No trees, cookies, candy, and certainly no thrilling screams of joy from that great gift being left by a magical Santa figure. The best I could hope for was that my scary, strict and very Russian grandmother would be nice to me on my Christmas/birthday when the family got together. On my fifth birthday, this grandmother gave me a $5 dollar bill as my present. This was a life altering moment! The next day on Dec. 26, my mother and I went to EJ Korvettes for the After Christmas Toy Sale. This store was the K Mart of our day owned by Eight Jewish Korean Veterans . . . get it? Through the aisles we walked, until I stopped in front of a doll called "Blabby Baby" made by the Uneeda Doll company. She was made of soft plastic and when you squeezed her tummy, her mouth opened and closed and she squeaked.
Fast forward 50 years, I still have her. Not to boast, but she didn't fare as well as me with regard to aging. Growing up, I did not have Barbies, and I didn't learn to ride a bike till I was 18, so this doll was my whole childhood and one might say she was loved to death. But she holds my history, and her presence in whatever house I live in is a given.
For my birthday 2007, my husband surprised me by finding a 1962 mint condition IN THE BOX Blabby Baby on eBay. For a grown man to celebrate his wife's childhood, was the gift that allowed me that moment of surprise, complete with the thrilling screams of joy that I always imagined was the Christmas morning experience. It's never too late. Ever.
I'm from a big family -- five boys, four girls. We grew up in modest surroundings, most of our childhood on the grounds of a military school where our dad was a teacher. We weren't poor, and somehow we got by, but as we got older and our extended family grew, it became increasingly difficult to buy good presents for everyone in the family. So at a certain point -- I don't remember the exact year, it was decided we'd be each other's "Secret Santa." We'd each pick a name out of a hat, then buy one nice gift for that person, and dispense with all other shopping. On Christmas Day you'd find out who your Secret Santa was.
Every year one of us would organize the "Secret Santa” project. One year it was my brother Eddie’s turn. I’ll let him take it from there:
In grade school I had the nickname “Sneaky Boots” given to me by a Catholic nun fed up with my antics. Having in adulthood reformed my ways I found it exhilarating one Christmas to have a chance to ply my sneaky trade once again. Here’s what happened.
The Lavin family is sitting around the table at Thanksgiving and talking Christmas. It seemed like a good time to get the “Secret Santa” project in gear, so I went to work setting up the Secret Santa for this year. In the back room I found some paper, a pen and some scissors and cut the paper into little squares and began penning in the names, some 15 in all. I placed them into a hat and was about to bring them to the table when in a moment of grade school sneaky-boots inspiration, I suddenly realized that I had accidentally and quite fortuitously put myself into a position of almost superhuman power. In my hands, in this hat full of paper and names lay the opportunity of a Christmas lifetime. My pockets felt as if they were filled with Christmas Kryptonite!
Acting quickly I removed the papers with the names from the hat, tossed them into the trash and went about re-making them. On each piece of paper I wrote one name: mine.
It was the perfect plan. With everyone sworn to secrecy, nobody would know that each and everyone was about to become my secret Santa. This would be like Wall Street, or the best Christmas since Hammacher met Schlemmer.
I came back to the table and one by one the hat went around, people drawing a name, taking a peek and allowing a knowing little smile as they passed the hat along to the next unsuspecting Secret Santa.
And so it went until everyone had picked and we all sat there in great humor eating our pumpkin pie and speculating who our Secret Santa was. And there I sat watching and waiting and knowing I was the ONLY one with a Secret Santa. Fifteen of them in fact. And it would all come down to how well the Lavins keep a secret.
It lasted almost three full minutes. Sitting there amongst the cacophony at the table I watch as brother-in-law Tom surreptitiously angles his paper so that my sister Mary can see it. She takes a peek and upon seeing the name shoots Tom a quizzical look and then reciprocates, allowing her paper to flash towards Tom. According to Tom and Mary, they at first thought it must be a mistake. They look over at me, where I’m using all my Sneaky Boots skills to pretend to be otherwise occupied. Somewhat nonplussed, Mary decides then to sneak a peek at sister Jody’s paper which is lying unguarded next to her plate. Another “Eddie.” It was at this point that the cat, more like a lion actually, came screaming out of the bag with Mary bellowing out a gigundous “HEEEEEEYYYYYYYY Sneaky Boots!!!!!!!!”
And so ended my dream of stealing Christmas. And all thanks to the fact that the Lavins keep secrets like their hair is on fire. As it turns out though, it appears that I didn’t miss out on all that much. Polling of my siblings showed that had my plan succeeded, I would have found myself with something like 14 Eddie Bauer golf shirts and one Chia Pet.
-- Eddie Lavin
When you’re seven years old and your dad says, “Hey, we’re going for a car ride,” you don’t think anything of it. You don’t even think anything of it when it’s two weeks before Christmas.
It didn’t strike me as odd or unusual that we ended up at some guy’s house who we’d never met before. Dad was always throwing fun surprises at us. Usually it involved a trip to Burger King at the end. I’m still struggling with *that!*
Now, the reason why this guy’s house was fun was that his basement was FILLED with Lionel toy trains. In the center was a huge table with a whole town – gas stations, hotels, tunnels, bridges . . . like a modern day Lilliput. My seven-year-old mind was already making up stories of the people that lived in this miniature town, and those who took the train in and out of it.
“What do you think of this?” Dad asked. I guess he needed to check and make sure that his girls would be into trains. Our wide eyed reaction said it all.
Well, two weeks later, somehow Santa had put two and two together. When we woke up and went downstairs to find what was under the tree – it was what was beside the tree that was truly magical. That train table, with the train in motion, going round and round. Every year after that, we put that train set up and, while some people think of decorated trees when it comes to Christmas, I will always think of trains and a set of parents who made our Christmases magical!
DAVID IPPOLITO (hoping for a story)
KATE TAYLOR (hoping for a story)
The Best Part of Christmas
For me, the best part of Christmas was being Jewish. No offense to the non-Jews out there, but from the time I was a child, Christmas was my favorite time of year. And I never once wanted to be anything but Jewish during it!
We may not have celebrated Christmas, but we had something even better – we had Chanukah. And Chanukah had a lot of "oomph" to it!
We Jews, in our homeland, were occupied by a ferocious group of Romans. The Romans pretty much believed in “live and let live”, so long as you added their gods and emperors to your own. This didn’t sit well with us, so when a group of Roman soldiers tried to make an elder named Mattathias bow down to a statue of the Roman emperor, he refused. No way he was going to worship a false idols – and who could argue with his decision? Some ugly bald guy in granite is supposed to inspire awe?
Anyhow, he was village headman, and he refused, so the Romans threatened to kill him. And instead of knuckling under, Mattathias grabbed a sword from one of the soldiers and cut off his head. Whop!!
What a story! It’s just the beginning, and already heads are rolling!
Mattathias and his five sons fled to the hills, where they managed to hold off the entire Roman army for years. Years. Imagine that. A small band of Jews, holding off thousands of well-trained militia through the early use of guerilla warfare and brilliant strategizing. Who wouldn’t be proud of their ancestry, after learning that?
Plus, the drama - so fast-moving, it’s practically manga. Just imagine a small child hearing the story every year. Clashing swords! Righteous battles! Jewish soldiers slaying Roman infidels, lopping off heads right and left! Pagan altars toppling to the ground while weeping women are freed, and children my own age gird their loins for battle! What spectacle! What fun!!
Now, compare that with the birth of a kid in a run-down barn…. I know, I know. He was a really important kid. But no matter whose son he may be, you're going to have to wait at least a couple of years before he can talk coherently, let alone wield a sword.
Then, three wise men from afar arrive on donkeys.
Donkeys. I ask you. Donkeys. The Romans had horses. Huge, thundering, hoof-shattering horses. How could donkeys compare?
It's a no-contest.
So there you have my first reason. But wait. There’s more.
Second, we Jews had magic. When the Temple was destroyed, our nation was almost lost. But one of Mattathias’ sons, Judah, took charge. He waded into the Roman forces wielding an enormous hammer, and led us to victory after victory.
They called him Judah Maccabee, because Maccabee means “hammer”. Who could imagine such a fantastic nickname! – “The Hammer”! How could the picture of Santa Claus and his reindeer possibly beat out a battle-hardened Jew, crazily swinging Thor’s hammer over his head as he mote and smote and crashed and bashed until he cleared a path for us? Just imagine Santa Claus and his elves accomplishing that!
Eventually, the whole guerilla force was called The Maccabee’s, and they slowly fought their way back to the Temple, intending to re-build it. This was no small thing. Against all odds, our main house of worship had stood for over four hundred years, until those good-for-nothing Romans arrived. It symbolized all things Jewish – everything that separated my people from the idol-worshipping hordes that surrounded us, bent on our destruction at any price. It was more than a building. It was sacred ground.
Listening to the story as a child, I could imagine Judah and his brothers finally arriving at the site. They’d be panting from the lack of water, breathing in shallow gulps so as not to waste a drop. Their eyes would be dry, stinging from the desert heat. Not enough water in them for tears, I’d think. No water for tears.
I could barely imagine the devastation. No matter how bad you think something is, it’s worse when you actually confront it. They knew the Temple had been destroyed. They knew it had been sacked. But what did that mean, when in their memories the building still stood?
Now, facing bodies flung helter-skelter over the fallen walls, how would they feel? Gazing upon shards of fire-blackened wood, picking their way through the rubble, spying an altar-stone leaning crazily against a melted menorah, how they must have suffered! How their hearts must have broken! After years and years of battle, how would they keep from dropping with despair?
They searched and searched for any living thing, but found only dust. The scrolls and ornaments were destroyed. Everything they used for worship had been looted or burned. It must have felt like the end of the world, all that fighting for nothing. Until, amidst the wreckage, someone stumbled upon a a tiny amphora of oil, just enough to burn for one day.
A miracle! For a piece of glass to have survived the soldier’s carnage was miraculous, all would surely agree.
Yes, miraculous. But not enough. In order to re-dedicate the Temple, the flame needed to burn constantly. An eternal flame, for an eternal people. And this was one tiny amphora, just enough for a day.
Consternation! Weeping and wailing! They sent their fastest runners to find more oil, knowing the trip would take a full week. Then they lit the amphora, said their prayers, and hoped for the best.
Lo and behold, another miracle. When the runners returned, cradling urns of oil like babies in their arms, they were astonished. The tiny amphora had burned for seven whole days, exactly the length of their trip. Truly a miracle. Miracle enough to keep the Maccabees going. Miracle enough to keep the faith alive
So score another one for the Jews. We had miracles. Oh, I knew the birth of Christ was a miracle, too. But He didn't have "The Hammer." Or the oil. Or the runners.
I now had two really good reasons to stick with my religion, but the most important was yet come. The third and final reason was time.
My people didn’t have to spend Christmas morning rushing through breakfast to get to our presents, rushing through our presents to get dressed, rushing through getting dressed to go to church, rushing through church to go visit family we didn’t want to see, and rushing through that to get home so we could play with our presents. We didn’t have to cram everything into a single day. In fact, there was no rushing at all.
That’s because during the holiday season, we Jews had time. Nights and nights of time. Eight nights, to be exact, because that’s how long Chanukah lasts. Whether you’re here in the U.S. of A., or deep in the bowels of China, Chanukah lasts eight nights.
Count them. Eight. Nights.
And what does all this mean to a couple of first-generation parents, living with their children in a completely goyische neighborhood? Parents determined that their children will remain Jewish, even in this new land?
We are surrounded. The TV is filled with sparkly white Christians, smiling loopily as they call out season’s greetings. Floorboards everywhere groan under the weight of over-decorated Christmas trees, branches drooping with holiday ornaments. The town has put up a Christmas display. There’s a Christmas pageant at the school. It’s a Wonderful Life is playing four times a day, right next to A Christmas Carol. There’s no getting away from it..
‘Tis theseason, with a vengeance. All day long, we hear Christmas songs, Christmas bells, Christmas greetings. But most of all, we keep hearing about presents. Come Christmas morning, there will be presents. Bicycles. Lionel trains. Erector sets. Fire trucks. Lincoln Logs. Every Christian kid could expect one big present that Christmas morning, in honor of His birth.
This was completely alien to us. Back in the shtetl, no one exchanged presents. No one thought to celebrate Judah Maccabee’s birth. Who had time for that? We were too busy trying to stay alive, to make it through one more pogrom, one more Stalin, cursed be his name. We didn’t give gifts. We had a ceremony. We lit candles, said prayers, thanked God for another year of life.
Sure, it’s a beautiful ceremony, but it’s not presents.
Faced with the prospect of their children missing out on such an important event, what’s a Jewish parent to do? We lit the candles, of course. We said the prayers. Tradition is the bedrock of our nation. But this is the New World, and new worlds demand new traditions.
Which is where the eight nights becomes so important.
No matter whether Chanukah came before, or after, Christmas each year… no matter whether Johnny got a bike, or Susie got a doll… no matter how fabulous their Christmas morning was, Chanukah was better. Because we had eight nights. With a present for each and every night. We never felt it necessary to mention that most of those presents were small things – a pencil box. A pair of argyle socks. The dreaded winter muffler. That wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was the eight nights.
So when my schoolmates bragged about their gifts, and told me how sorry they were that we Jews didn’t get to have Christmas, I just smirked, winked at them, and said:
“Who needs Christmas? It only lasts a day. But Chanukah lasts a whole week.”
I’d watch their faces fall, and for just a moment, surrounded by a sea of Christianity, I was Judah wielding his hammer, winning the yearly battle for holiday one-up-manship at East Orange Elementary School.
Victory at last.
Like I said. The best part of Christmas is being Jewish.
(art director/graphic designer for Just One Angel)
In this day of desktop publishing and mass electronic mailings, and help from iphoto, photoshop, illustrator, shutterfly, scanners, printers - you name it - the art of card making begins and ends with the push of a button. When I was young, there was rarely a photo of me without my eight brothers and sisters in it. Once a year we would capture that quintessential image in black and white. The photo that sort of summed up the year was the Christmas family photo. My mother was the gentle “art director, wardrobe stylist, head writer and photographer,” who created the look and "mass produced" every mailing. She would pen a poem with exquisite calligraphy and make each card individually by hand. Always in the message, she would shed light on the "true" meaning of the season. Some years we were the Holy Family and other years, as our family grew and grew, we formed a pyramid resembling that of a Christmas tree. My vivid memory of Christmas was the recorded “en masse” holiday card. I carry on this tradition to this day, with a little help from modern technology!
(legal counsel for Just One Angel)
It was April 2, 2000; Memphis, TN. I produced a tiny local PBS special called Woody & Me, a musical tribute to Woody Guthrie. Oscar Brand wrote the script, and as the cameras rolled, he shocked us all by throwing in an unscripted little known Woody Guthrie Hanukah song that Woody wrote after marrying Marjorie Mazia Guthrie. Oscar sang "How many latkes can you eat on Hanukah, how many women can you kiss on Hanukkah?" and Tom Paxton, Richie Havens, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Odetta, and Josh White Jr. sang an impromptu response. To use the often repeated phrase of my grandma, it was at that time I knew the Jewish people had arrived in America.
(Mastering engineer for Just One Angel)
My Christmas story is about the love of a mother for her child.
When I was very young, I was taken (the 'Invasion') by the powerful influence of The Beatles. I had grown up with The Chicago Symphony, a grandmother's talent from Vaudeville, my mother's cello and my father's love of Big Band music (which he played his way through college with).But I was never taken by those early musical influences the way I was
when I saw those Ed Sullivan Shows.
Fast forward to my early years studying drums and playing rock music with my friends (10 years old) - many of whom owned the finest electric guitars, basses, farfisa's, etc. I played a snare drum and one cymbal. Until the Christmas of all Christmases.
I got that pink champagne sparkle Ludwig bass drum! Not an entire set. My mother worked hard as an elementary school teacher so this alone was a major expense. As foolish and crazy as many parents thought rock music was at the time, my mom never gave up her support for my musical endeavors. Needless to say, I "built" that whole Ludwig drum set over the years one drum/cymbal at a time and it felt so good when I finally had the entire set.
That gift from my mother started me on my musical journey and it touched me in a way that would shape my life forever. My mom passed a few years ago, but this memory is one I re-live with her every holiday season.
A boy and his drum