This week, the world celebrates Hanukkah – the most important Jewish holiday to Gentiles. While Jews and their over-enthusiastic Gentile friends mark the occasion of this relatively minor Jewish holiday, we thought we’d take a moment to celebrate another holiday tradition: Jewish people singing Christmas songs.
Many Christmas songs were actually written by Jews. I’ll be Home for Christmas, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Santa Baby, Holly Jolly Christmas, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Silver Bells, Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!, and White Christmas – all written by Jews.
Additionally, Christmas to the American Jew is often much more than Chinese food and a day at the movies. Most Jewish kids who attended public school learned the same Christmas standards as their Gentile classmates. Your last name may have been “Silver,” but you were still expected to sing Silver Bells. So, in that great American tradition of Jewish people writing and singing Christmas songs, here are eight Jewish performances for eight nights of Hanukkah to honor the Christ Child (Look, he may not be the Messiah, but he’s a good Jewish boy! If only he would’ve been a doctor).
1) Barbra Streisand sings Silent Night
No one believes me when I say that middle America doesn’t know whose gay and whose not. You can be the most fabulously flamboyant bachelor in town and I guarantee you that your aunt will think that you’re “just the creative type who hasn’t found the right girl yet.” The same goes for Jews. Your name could be Goldstein, Berkowicz, or Rabbi Shlomo Israel and people in Nebraska will just assume you’re a Methodist. You really can’t get more Jewish than Barbra Streisand, yet I guarantee you that when America watched her sing Silent Night (in July, none the less) most people didn’t have a clue that she was a member of the Tribe.
2) Niel Diamond sings White Christmas
This Jewish boy from Brooklyn has released three Christmas albums (The Christmas Album, The Christmas Album 2, and Cherry Cherry Christmas). Finally, on his third Christmas album Diamond at last recorded a Hanukkah song – a cover of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song.” Diamond explained that he recorded it because “there are so many beautiful Christmas songs around and so few Hanukkah songs.” Maybe it’s because you keep recording Christmas albums, Neil.
3) Bob Dylan sings It Must be Santa
A Jewish boy done right. After years of shying away from his Jewishness (Dylan eventually admitted that his conversion to Christianity was a publicity stunt), Bob Dylan records what may be the most Jewish Christmas song there could be. In “It Must be Santa” Dylan infuses polka with heavy influences of Ashkenazic Klezmer music, and packs his video with a band sporting traditional Ashkenazic Jewish dress and a house full of Hebrews. It’s a clever way to demonstrate how he may be Bob Dylan to the world, but he’ll always be Robert Zimmerman from Hibbing, Minnesota.
4) Barry Manilow sings White Christmas
Not to be outdone by Niel Diamond, Barry Manilow has also recorded three Christmas albums (Because It’s Christmas, A Christmas Gift of Love, and In the Swing of Christmas). Yet, again, middle America most likely thinks this Jewish boy (who changed his name from Barry Pincus to Barry Manilow at his Bar Mitzvah) is a perfectly nice heterosexual Gentile. Here he is singing “White Christmas” when he’s most likely dreaming about white socks for the first night of Hanukkah.
5) Bette Midler sings a Christmas version of From a Distance
Both Barry Manilow and Bette Midler got their starts teaming up to sing in gay bathhouses in New York City in the 1970’s (leading to her naming her 1990s album Bathhouse Betty). This longer clip from the Today Show is worth it for the great explanation from Meddler of why she created her Christmas album Cool Yule. “To me, [these songs] are almost like folk music,” said Midler who grew up Jewish in a predominately Asian neighborhood in Honolulu. “I went to public school in the 1950’s, and if you went to public school in the 50’s every year these rolled around and everybody learned them and everyone sang them.”
6) The Ramones singing Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)
The Ramones may have been one of the first (if not the first) American punk rock groups, but they also had a softer side. On their 1989 album “Brain Drain” the group recorded the ode to making up “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”. While Dee Dee and Johnny were Gentiles, lead singer Joey Ramone and original drummer Tommy (not featured on this song) were good Jewish boys from Queens.
7) Adam Levine sings Happy Xmas (War is Over)
John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” was a cleverly disguised protest song masquerading as a Christmas tune. While the main lyrics offer a critique on their own, the backing vocals are even more direct. The words “war is over, if you want it, war is over, now” were taken directly from Lennon and Oko’s 1969 billboard campaign against the Vietnam War. Here, Adam Levine puts even further distance between the song and Gentile listener by having an outside Jew sing a critique of the Christmas mindset verses the actions of those who celebrate the holiday. It’s haunting if you think about that. Then again, we’re probably over-thinking Adam Levine.
8) Paul Simon sings Getting Ready for Christmas Day
Paul Simon attended the same Queens high school as the founding members of the Ramones. While their musical styles were completely different, they all had one thing in common…their Jewishness. In fact, musician and friend Donald Fagan described Paul Simon as a kid as a typical “New York Jew, almost a stereotype really.” Here Simon sings “Getting Ready for Christmas Day.” The video is shot inside a Protestant Church with the lyrics flashing on the Church sign outside. Oy vey. We’re still hoping for “Getting Pretty Prepared for Purim,” but we won’t hold our breath.