When I was very young, one of my older sisters began dating a Jewish boy. I’d never heard of Judaism prior to that, and didn’t learn much about it until I was much older — other than one important detail that rocked my little world. I remember being fascinated when I heard he and his family didn’t celebrate Christmas.
And when I realized there are a lot of people out there who didn’t, including children my age, I felt sad that Santa simply passed over their houses on Christmas Eve. It seemed immensely unfair. Years later, the makers of South Park captured this theme perfectly in their hilariously offensive song, “The Lonely Jew on Christmas.”
I still hate that there are so many people who, for whatever reason, are disenfranchised from the Christmas season. For that reason, I’m adding a couple of interludes to the schedule of “12” songs. This one is for my Jewish friends.
One of my favorite Christmas CDs — and one from which I’ll be referring to many songs in the coming days — is Barenaked Ladies’ Barenaked for the Holidays. The band had collaborated with Sarah McLachlan on “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen/We Three Kings” several years before, and I so loved that song that I was ecstatic to learn of an entire CD of seasonal songs from BNL.
I was further delighted upon hearing each of the CD’s three Hanukkah tracks, because they were every bit as festive and/or delightful as everything else on the album. Barenaked Ladies brings not only immense musical talent and perfect vocal harmony to everything they do, but a certain joie de vivre, as well. They know how to make things fun, and they did that with the three Hanukkah songs.
The first one, “Hanukkah Blessings,” is an original, blending whimsy, reverence, and awe in their interpretation of what Hanukkah means. It also blends their own lyrics with a traditional Hebrew blessing, seamlessly integrating it into the song. And the result is sublime.
The next one, several tracks later, covers “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” with enough musical, whirling joy to bring the most steadfast of gentiles to his feet. I listen to it and I picture an epic scene of dancing and celebration, one that demonstrates why Hanukkah is known not just as a “holiday,” but as a “festival.”
Near the end of the CD, they embrace their trademark silliness on “I Have a Little Dreidel.” At first listen, it almost seems a mockery, just as when they sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus in the CD’s hidden final track. But in both, I have faith the band isn’t mocking, but embracing the childlike enthusiasm that’s a part of each song. The joy is still evident, and they are happy to share it with us.
The King’s blues…