No one loves America like Americans who live overseas. Especially on holidays. Christmas, for example.
In my neighborhood, for example. In the biblical town of Jaffa, whole continents distant from mass-marketing marathons and treacly, saccharine media saturation, the holiday that began in this part of the world reclaims the universal emotions and human basics that give Christmas its power.
Haaretz Weekly podcast, Episode 9
The mystery and miracle and magic of childbirth. The irresistible majesty of faith and family and close friends and warm neighbors and celebrating at night together and little kids in homemade costumes and bigger kids playing loud holiday music on real instruments, all marching down a closed-for-the-occasion main street. People on the sidewalk celebrating, cheering them on. Joining in on "Jingle Bells" in Arabic. People named Maryam and Yusuf standing next to people named Miri and Yossi standing next to people named Joseph and Mary. Holding infants.
All of them material proof that a baby is, in every sense, made of hope.
I was so looking forward to it, that annual parade down my street. But then I did the one thing that could poison my Christmas:
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I turned on Fox News Channel.
I admit it. It was totally my fault. I have no excuse. I should have known. Barely a month ago, hoping for a live glimpse of the Macy's Parade, which passes near their Manhattan headquarters, I had let Fox poison my Thanksgiving.
It wasn't only that the segment on the meaning of Thanksgiving made no mention of Native Americans, nor did it speak of bringing together diverse people, nor did it make any connection to migrants (who it warned were about to mass on America's southern border ) or the needy.
Not even when radio talk show host and Fox guest Mike Slater said, "I think about what the Pilgrims went through to get here," and went on to deliver the bottom line, that America should make Thanksgiving – which, in the ideal – transcends creed, color and culture, "a religious holiday." It was more than clear which religion he meant.
I didn't even learn my lesson in the run-up to Christmas itself, when star anchor Tucker Carlson took out after progressives, immigrants and even Emma Lazarus' poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty in one blistering lick.
"We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided," Carlson said. "Huddled masses yearning to breathe free? Nope, cynical shakedown artists who have been watching too much CNN."
But, by the morning of Christmas Eve, I was ready to give Fox another chance. Especially because it had gotten so bad on Thanksgiving that I began to feel terribly sorry for Fox journalists who I know to be earnest and conscientious professionals, and who were themselves clearly horrified by some of what they were hearing.
Still, the poison hit early. I'll spare you the ostensibly lighthearted "Naughty or Nice List," which made it clear that Democrats and Trump critics – especially vocal, powerful, female and African-American Trump critics like California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, incoming chair of the House Financial Services Committee – had no place in Santa's "Nice" columns and could expect to find coal in their stocking come Christmas morning.
Meanwhile, featured on the "Nice" list: "Not a person, but a thing, which a lot of people benefited from – the GOP Tax Cuts." Said guest commentator Beverley Hallberg:
"That means more presents under the tree, or more presents that Santa can bring along!"
Finally, there was Jewish Republican commentator Dennis Prager, brought on to defend Christendom from what Fox News has long branded "The War Against Christmas."
"To deny that there is a war on Christmas is a lie," Prager said, attacking what he called a campaign to "to de-christmacize Christmas, to de-Christianize the country, for that matter."
"The left loathes Christianity," Prager continued. "They would like to radically secularize the United States, they don't like 'In God We Trust' on our coins, they don't like Christmas as a national holiday, they don't like Christmas vacations."
"I fear a radically secularized America – as a Jew I fear it," Prager said. "I know what has happened in Europe, I know what happens in the United States when people no longer have a God-based frame of reference for their ethics."
I was still listening to Prager when I heard a thunderous bass drum powering the local Greek Orthodox church marching band down the boulevard past our door.
The astonishingly eclectic parade, in which the band's "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" segued into "We Will Rock You" and "Go West," included a manger on a trailer, a Madeline-worthy line of a dozen small schoolgirl Marys cradling baby dolls in their arms, and a male trombone-tenor sax-drum in space-age angelic white drag.
I stood on the sidewalk, agog, on my left a grandmother in a burqa, an infant in her arms, on my right a Chabad couple. Smiles all around.
In this part of the world, where Christmas was invented by people of color, people of Middle Eastern Aspect, huddled, tempest-tossed migrants like Mary and Joseph – people who were, incidentally, not Christians – there are those on warring sides who want all of us to believe that coexistence is a sham, a lie, impossible.
It may take generations for this to finally come together, but those thousands of kids and once-kids in that street, on those sidewalks in Jaffa, on Christmas Eve, are evidence that the inconceivable can actually appear.
Like a star. In a biblical town. The day before Christmas.