Joshua Eli Plaut, PhD, is the full-time Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Amer­i­can Friends of Rabin Med­ical, as well as the Rab­bi of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Syn­a­gogue in Man­hat­tan. His most recent book, A Kosher Christ­mas: Tis the Sea­son to Be Jew­ish, is now avail­able. He will be here blog­ging for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing all week. 

So you want to dress up as San­ta?!!! This is not as unusu­al as it might seem! I have cov­ered this phe­nom­e­non in my recent book A Kosher Christ­mas; Tis the Sea­son to Be Jew­ish (Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2012) and oth­er pub­lished arti­cles. Inter­est­ing­ly, it is still a note­wor­thy occur­rence as occa­sion­al reports of Jew­ish San­tas still appear in the press. The phe­nom­e­nal of a Jew­ish San­ta is still alive and kicking!

In a New York Times arti­cle (Novem­ber 18, 2012) titled Skin­ny San­ta Who Fights Fires,” jour­nal­ist Corey Kil­gan­non writes about Jonas Cohen, a mem­ber of the West Hamil­ton Beach Vol­un­teer Fire and Ambu­lance Corps. Jonas has played San­ta for his depart­ment for over thir­ty years!

Also, take note of a fab­u­lous short sto­ry by Nathan Eng­lan­der, includ­ed in his debut col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, For the Relief of Unbear­able Urges (Alfred Knopf, 1999). Eng­lan­der recounts the sto­ry of Reb Kringle, an Ortho­dox rab­bi, who, despite inner tur­moil, plays San­ta Claus in a depart­ment store for forty years. Reb Kringle’s moti­va­tion is pure­ly eco­nom­ic. All starts to unrav­el when a young boy tells San­ta that his new step­fa­ther is impos­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of Christ­mas on the house­hold and then asks San­ta for a meno­rah and to cel­e­brate Hanukkah.

Last­ly, come­di­an Alan King described his encounter with a Yid­dish speak­ing San­ta Claus at the cor­ner of 57th Street in Man­hat­tan. The Jew­ish immi­grant from Ukraine jus­ti­fied the ho-ho-ho by quip­ping in Yid­dish: Men makht a lebn — it’s a living.”

The under­pin­nings for play­ing San­ta Claus are myr­i­ad. Whether to enhance neigh­bors’ hol­i­day Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion by pro­mot­ing good neigh­bor­ly rela­tions between Jews and Chris­tians, or whether from a yearn­ing to be a par­tic­i­pant in the good cheer of the Christ­mas hol­i­day or whether pure­ly for eco­nom­ic gain, Jews are enact­ing Jew­ish val­ues that are syn­cretized with the Christ­mas mes­sage of bring­ing joy to the world.

Pur­chase A Kosher Christ­mas: Tis the Sea­son to Be Jew­ish here and vis­it the offi­cial web­site for the book here.

Joshua Eli Plaut, PhD, is Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Amer­i­can Friends of Rabin Med­ical and the Rab­bi of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Syn­a­gogue in Man­hat­tan. He is an his­to­ri­an, pho­to-ethno­g­ra­ph­er, and cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gist, and is also the author of A Kosher Christ­mas: Tis the Sea­son to Be Jew­ish(Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press)andGreek Jew­ry in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry, 1913 – 1983: Pat­terns of Jew­ish Com­mu­nal Sur­vival in the Greek Provinces before and after the Holo­caust (Fair­leigh Dick­in­son Uni­ver­si­ty Press).

Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah Songs

So You Want to Dress Up As San­ta?!