Christmas Spectacular Nostalgia

NAVA BRAHE: When you’re a Jewish kid living in New York City, you can’t avoid Christmas. It’s as in-your-face as another person’s halitosis on a jam-packed rush hour subway train. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is as iconic to a New York Christmas as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Black Friday. I’m not saying the Jewish population just melts into the woodwork until after New Years Day; our enjoyment of the season remains clandestine, but make no mistake – we do have fun with it.

When I was young, it was perfectly acceptable for Jewish kids to go see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. It wasn’t so much about “Christmas”, but the beauty, the pageantry, the living nativity, the Rockettes as wooden soldiers. Basically, it was like the circus, but with a bunch of long legged women doing the “Can Can” instead of a bunch of clowns decamping from a Volkswagen. It had not religious significance to me, and it still doesn’t. The only thing that shocks me now is that the most expensive ticket is $250.00.

Don’t get me wrong – you won’t see Hasidim or orthodox Jews taking their kids to see it. But secular and conservative Jews don’t seem to have a problem with it; it’s just one more bit of culture in an already culturally rich city. My parents were more observant than your average conservative, but my mom loved two things: the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

The name might be the “Christmas” Spectacular, but really, it’s one of the most traditional family activities you can enjoy around the holidays that doesn’t involve Disney, celebrity-voiced animated characters and crowded shopping malls. It’s for everyone, of every age. I for one hope to see it celebrate another 75 years as a New York City institution.

JESSICA BADER: Coming from a family of secular New York City Jews, my relationship with Christmas has always been a bit complicated. From an early age, I was acutely aware of the fact that most of the people around me held different beliefs and celebrated different holidays than I did. My parents (especially my mother), while not really religious, took holidays quite seriously as a time for family togetherness and celebration and lots and lots of food. Christmas wasn’t our holiday, but it was one of the few days a year that brought our nonstop city to something resembling a halt, so we had no choice but to¬†accommodate¬†it.

And yet, while we always were conscious of our identity as Jews, we never let that get in the way of our enjoyment of the glitzy, commercialized, less-Jesus-more-Santa aspects of the Christmas season. I remember the time we went to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular on Christmas Day, when the absence of everyone actually observing the holiday enabled us to snag the best seats in the house. It’s the sort of thing that everyone should experience at least once, even if it’s like a women’s magazine in that the content is largely the same each year. If I don’t go to see the tree in Rockefeller Center, that’s more a function of my year-round determination to avoid the tourist-infested midtown crowds whenever I can help it than of Christmas fatigue. And while it annoys me that so many radio stations switch to an all-Christmas format some time in November and that there’s really no such thing as contemporary Hanukkah music once you set aside the Adam Sandler novelty songs (seriously, Jewish musicians, step up your game), I will never complain about hearing one of Mariah Carey’s Christmas songs or “Feliz Navidad” (which I will always associate with the beloved Christmas Eve on Sesame Street).

Yes, it bothers me this time of year when a store clerk automatically wishes me a Merry Christmas, implicitly assuming that everyone celebrates the holiday (yes, Fox News, what you bemoan as creeping political correctness some of us see as common courtesy). No, you won’t see me drinking eggnog any time soon or eschewing eight days of opening presents for putting out a stocking. But a couple of weeks from now when Christmas decorations are all on display and I go to Queens to celebrate Hanukkah with my parents, I’m sure we’ll drive through their mostly-Italian neighborhood to admire the other festival of lights.

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