Here’s a joke for you: what do a Jewish manager, a Hebrew tattoo, and the Shema have to do with Hanukkah? Apparently nothing, if you ask Justin Bieber, whose debut Christmas album, Under the Mistletoe drops today. And according to his inappropriately blunt manager, his testicles have dropped too, rendering him deeper than ever! Yay?
Justin sings two octaves lower on his new album, but for you pre-pubescent falsetto lovers, he’s also belting it out in his girly voice with Mariah. He’s a favorite amongst tribe members, but overlooking even a driedel mention could be detrimental for his rep in the holy land.
Me? I’ll be adding JB’s holiday mash up to my collection alongside Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers Once Upon A Christmas and NKOTB Funky, Funky Christmas (don’t judge). When I converted to Judaism, I surrendered three boxes of snowman ornaments, my Jesus cookie cutter (because Jesus cookies are delicious), and our annual tree-cutting – on ONE condition – I was able to keep, AND LISTEN TO, all of my holiday music. I am totally THAT PERSON who programs my car radio to the Christmas station the day after Thanksgiving and belts out jingle bells with the car windows down in the middle of a snow storm. I’m hardcore, people. You couldn’t pry my precious holiday CD collection out of my steely grip if you promised me chocolate hands and painless childbirth.
I can’t tell you the number of people (including my husband) who have tried to tell me, “There really is some beautiful Hanukkah music out there, you should try it.” Does it include a boy drumming? Perhaps a serene chariot ride through the woods to your bubbe’s house? Does it talk about winter or snowy wonderlands? No. No it does not. And while there are a lot of things about Judaism that are just as special, if not better than Americanized Christian celebrations, winter holiday music ain’t one of them. Admittedly, I do own a few Hanukkah albums, including the Adam Sandler classic and my favorite Hanukkah song is by far, “Ocho Kandelikas” (I dare you to listen to that song without shaking your hips!) but there really isn’t a comparison and probably explains why my husband plays The Maccabeats “Candelight” on repeat for eight nights.
I know “Christmas Envy” is a huge topic for converts, and it was discussed ad nauseum in my conversion classes. We don’t have a tree, we don’t exchange presents on Christmas, and my children won’t sit on Santa’s lap at the mall. But my husband and I agreed that holiday music will be played in our home. Listening to Christmas music doesn’t make me feel religiously Christian, or even any less Jewish (if anything it makes me feel like a Jewish rebel, kind of like a closeted smoker). It just makes me feel at home. I grew up in a secular household where our holiday traditions came baked or wrapped and always included music. In college Chorale we sang the most beautiful rendition of “The Messiah” to a packed hall that smelled like old wood and candle wax. Those memories burn just as bright, regardless of my Jewish faith. Our little family is creating winter traditions that are a far cry from how I celebrated as a child and I want to thread something familiar in with the new. I want my children to know I didn’t always know the Shema and even though some of my traditions aren’t Jewish, they are part of who I am.
My husband rolls his eyes when he gets in my car and I have a feeling once my son is old enough, he will too. I can see him inviting his friends over for a Hanukkah party and when they question why his Mama is flipping latkes to “I’ll Be Home With Bells On” and he’ll sigh and say, “She converted to Judaism in her mid-twenties. She makes a mean brisket but don’t mess with her Justin Bieber Christmas CD.”
And for those up for Tamara’s hip-shaking challenge, we present you Ochos Kandelikas: