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Coming Clean About Yule Tunes

This article is reprinted with permission of The Atlanta Jewish Times. Visit www.atljewishtimes.com.

ATLANTA, Dec. 11--I have a confession.

I know all the words to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and can sing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" in perfect Latin. And that's just the beginning.

Chestnuts roasting, deck the halls and that little town of Bethlehem.

Not only do I know Christmas music, I love it.

Now confidently 40something, I am transported to a special time and place when I think of my experiences in elementary, junior high (no middle school in those days) and high school choirs.

In the mid-1970s, before political correctness had firmly taken hold, the choir at Homewood-Flossmoor (Illinois) High School performed the entire Christmas holiday repertoire. Decked in red and white robes, we belted out Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" and sang sweet melodies about baby Jesus.

Off stage we caroled from house to house, were offered Christmas cookies and hot chocolate and had holiday parties.

And I--and my Jewish sense of self--seemed to survive.

Now as an adult, with my Jewish husband I've created a Jewish household for our children and us. We belong to a temple; I teach Sunday school; we light Shabbat candles. Simply put, music is the vehicle that moves me--when it comes to the Jewish holidays as well.

It's not the Jewish New Year until I'm pounding my chest and singing "Avinu Malkeinu" only to the familiar melody with which I grew up.

My Shabbat observance needs Debbie Friedman's arrangement of the "Mi Shebeirach" and Passover would not be the same without the customary refrains of "Dayenu."

But come December, without facing any dilemma, I look forward to hearing holiday music--their holiday music.

I applaud the sense of fairness as today's school choir, band and orchestra directors create holiday concert programs that try to include everyone's holiday traditions at this time of year, but somehow the Chanukah selections such as "Rock of Ages" and some version of "I Have a Little Dreidel" just feel like equal time.

As we remove the Ten Commandments from our courtrooms and strive to assure the separation of church and state, we can't lose sight of what is enjoyable about different religious celebrations. While twinkling lights and decorated trees are out of place in Jewish homes--no matter how fun and festive the season--when it comes to music, the classics and otherwise, I enjoy a legitimate taste of the Christmas spirit.

Remember, we have Jews to thank for many of those holiday favorites: Mel Torme's famous chestnuts-roasting composition, "The Christmas Song"; Irving Berlin's "White Christmas"; Johnny Marks' "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and even Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's "Let it Snow." A Web site, www.jewhoo.com, devotes an entire section to famous Jewish composers of holiday music.

But there's one more secret I have to confess. My poodle has been singing to the radio and CDs since she was a puppy. Her favorite song: "Jingle Bells."

Hebrew for "May He Who blessed," the first words of the prayer of the same name. Traditionally said in synagogue during the Torah service, a holistic prayer for physical and spiritual healing, asking for blessing, compassion, restoration and strength. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Yiddish for "spin," a four-sided spinning top played with during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew for "enough for us," it's the refrain and name of a liturgical song from the Passover seder. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE.

Linda Bachmann is an Atlanta Jewish Times copy editor and reporter.

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