Monday, November 15, 2010

"I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas" by Lewis Black

Let's get one thing clear from the very start: Lewis Black is Jewish. That's right, the man is a Jew. Black points out this very fact during a lunch with his editor when the man starts asking about plans for Black's next book. His editor suggests a Christmas book, since they're all the rage now. Black spouts off his history (Jewish, never celebrated Christmas, etc), only to have his editor pull out the big guns; Glenn Beck wrote a Christmas book. Oh Lord, that's like waving a red flag in front of the proverbial bull.

Let the festivities begin!

The book follows Black and his angst as the holiday approaches; we start at Thanksgiving. Lewis is snug on the beach in a nice foreign locale, only to have his bliss interrupted by a screaming child (and then many screaming children). He rants a bit about the fact that he travels out of the country to escape the familial insanity of Turkey Day, only to have it now intrude upon him; he also complains about people that insist on bringing small children, those really too young to understand/enjoy the trip, on such a foreign holiday. (Couldn't agree with him more, like taking very tiny tots to Disney World - they'll just get scared by the "characters" and tired way too fast - wait until they're at least 5 yrs old or so)

After giving up on his blissful beach bask, Black arrives back in the U.S.A. to the full onslaught of Christmas craziness - the sales, the carols, the crass commercialism, etc. Then the big day itself arrives - Christmas. Lewis travels to two different friends houses for dinner and realizes what the "true" meaning of Christmas is (or should be): love, the love of your family and friends (and no, those two categories are not always interchangeable). Of course he eats way too much, and he doesn't buy presents for the children as he's never sure what to get them (earning him some nasty sighs); he finally piles himself into a cab late in the evening after much good food and even better red wine and takes his bloated self home, only 365-ish days left before he'll have to do it all over again.

This is not your typical holiday fare. It's an irreverent look at a holiday that has been grossly commercialized in our time. But for someone who isn't Christian, who doesn't believe in "the reason for the season", I think Black actually gets it better than most. For example, he goes on a small tirade about the phrase "Merry Christmas", asking when it became such a horrible thing to utter to one another, why it's so offensive to some this time of year. I couldn't agree with him more! I'm not what one would call a person of great faith, but I say "Merry Christmas" to people anyway - and I'm not offended when they say it to me.

Black also reflects very seriously on the idea of family, or rather, his lack of one. He was very briefly married, has never had children (definitely need to read this to get the full scoop), and at this "wonderful" time of the year, he finds himself questioning his life - should he have found someone to spend his life with? Should he have had children (it's too late now, he claims, as he doesn't want to be the "grandpa" watching his kid play ball). Does he donate enough to charity, does he donate to the right charities, and can he donate enough to offset his behavior (drinking, gluttony, etc)? Can a bitter, neurotic, possibly crazy Jew play Santa Claus convincingly? Better yet, should he? There are lots of laughs here, but Black also does some serious reflection on his life, and how we should be living our own.

The book closes with a sort of postscript chapter about Black's invitation to tour with the USO, entertaining our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's a beautiful way to end the book, even though it has nothing to do with Christmas. Yes, Virginia, a Jew really can teach us a lot about the holiday. Pick this up for a break from the saccharine offerings that are usually found in your local bookstore/library during the holiday - you need a good laugh to get you through the season!

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