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Music to my ears

December 19, 2008
By Bob Seidenstein,

Though raised in a Jewish household, I had a lot of Christmas spirit as a kid. And while that may strike you as odd, it isn't.

First, I lived in an environment that, to use the Ivory Snow commercial was at least 99 44/100 percent Christian (though unlike Ivory Snow was not, I'm sure, 99 44/100 percent pure). So it was only natural that not only was I surrounded by Christmas, but submerged in it as well. The entire town was decked out in decorations, lights, ribbons, visits from Santa and creches aplenty. And school did likewise, with decorations, Christmas concerts, Christmas-themed plays, and cards exchanged between friends.

Ritual aside, I was always touched by the idea of a call for peace on earth, good will to men - whether it had any lasting effect or not.

Plus, let's face it, if I could scam an extra present of two in the name of religion (even if it wasn't my own), so much to the better.

But as an adult, my Christmas spirit pretty vanished. I didn't become a Scrooge and try to bah-humbug anyone else's good times; I just didn't seem to care about it one way or another. I'm pleasant enough and wish people a happy holiday, and mean it. But I could care less about going to parties or buying presents, and the very thought of fruit cake and ribbon candy is enough to make me barf.

I never knew why this change happened. I figured one reason was my revulsion of the merchandising hustle and buying binge that starts right after Thanksgiving and ends when the last store closes on Christmas eve.

Another possible reason was because I stopped giving presents for birthdays and holidays. I give presents, all right, but not on demand or schedule. When I see something I know a friend will like, I get it and give it to them, and I do it throughout the year. But I refuse to run out and grab something, just because it's Yingus von Yangus's birthday or the McGoobers' anniversary or Christmas or anything else. Lord knows I did it enough.

But this week, I suddenly realized why my attitude toward Christmas changed, and it wasn't for any of those reasons. Instead, it's due to my job.

Teachingthe Dopey way

Teaching is a seasonal profession, and the way I do it, there are only two seasons - the semester and the vacation. During the semester I do almost nothing but either work or think about work. During the vacations I do nothing - period. And as a note of clarification, vacations during the semester don't count as vacations, since I use them to correct my research papers.

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. If I were more organized and efficient, and less obsessive and distracted, my semesters would be far more relaxed. Similarly, if I were more ambitious, I could accomplish a thing or two during vacations. In other words, things could changeif I weren't me. But since I am, my semester/vacation routine has been unvaried and uninterrupted for the past 36 years.

And how does that relate to Christmas? Simple: After the semester ends, I'm tired, burnt, baked, fried and many other adjectives for exhausted. So it's not Christmas I don't want to get involved in - it's everything. Once I hand in my final grades, all I want to do is catch up on all the sleep, exercise and reading I've missed (and in case you wonder, the reading I've missed is done by professionals, not students).

Hardly a two-bit operation

So while everyone else is doing their Christmas thing, I'm doing mine, which ultimately is almost nothing Christmas at all. Note, I said almost nothing Christmas, because there's one Christmas thing I always do, namely putting money in Santa's Jukebox every time I'm in town.

In case you don't know, Santa's Jukebox raises money to buy Christmas presents for our less fortunate children. It was started in 1952 by a Ray Turner, a disc jockey at WNBZ. It caught on, was staffed by all sorts of folks and has continued nonstop over the years (as I recall, for decades the Wallace family wrapped the packages and Bill Wallace delivered them). Now I believe the Kiwanis Club is in charge of the logistics.

Originally, the music was played over Berkeley Square from the WNBZ offices, which were in the Berkeley Building (where the band shell park is now).

The jukebox got put in Berkeley Square in 1960. Most of the money is raised from donations, not from the jukebox itself, but sitting there in them very center of My Home Town, the jukebox is a great reminder of how easy it is for us to help each other.

But to me it's also something else a great link with my past. As long as I can remember, the music has played there every Christmas, so it's a reminder of lovely times and people now long gone.

Plus the jukebox is also just plain fun. The songs on it are Christmas classics - those hokey tunes that always bring a smile to my face and joy to my heart. Of course, being the ritualized Dope that I am, my first three selections are always the same: "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree" by Little Miss Dynamite herself Brenda Lee; "Blue Christmas" by The King; and "Pretty Paper" by Willie. After that, "Merry Christmas Darling" by the Carpenters, maybe "White Christmas by Bing," and almost certainly "Christmas in My Home Town" by Charley Pride.

All in all, I think of Santa's Jukebox as a brilliant device. Whatever money I put in, helps someone. And in return, I hear songs that transport me to times, places and people I'd never get to otherwise.

In short, I give somethingand at the same time I get something. And if that's not keeping with the true Spirit of Christmas, what is?



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