Inspired by the confluence of panic and satire that is the War On Christmas, we endeavoured to discover it’s true meaning. Relying on the guidance of longtime activist Moishe Volf Dolman, we moved through Christmas past and present in Montréal, trying to understand what the War On Christmas is actually about. For some context on our campaign, check out https://storify.com/treyfpodcast/waronchristmas
Merry Kratsmaych to all!
In 2016, we updated this episode and released it again. You can listen to it here: War on Christmas 2016.
Treyf War on Christmas -Transcript
Sam: [00:00:16] Gut Yontif David..
David: [00:00:16] But wait wait wait, what holiday is it?
Sam: [00:00:17] It’s erev Hannukah and That era of Hanukkah and Christmas night.
David: [00:00:22] Yeah I mean we’re recording this in advance, I forgot.
Sam: [00:00:24] You’ve got to stick with the fake time that we’ve created.
David: [00:00:27] But we thought that on erev Nittel..
Sam: [00:00:30] …as people are lighting the first candle and the war on Christmas is in full effect.
David: [00:00:37] We thought he might share with you, a re-edited version of a special War on Christmas episode that we put out last year.
Sam: [00:00:43] So if you aren’t at home eating soufganiyot or latkas or spinning a dreydl…. If you’re at a Chinese restaurant which apparently is customary among certain Jewish communities in North America…
David: [00:00:56] And we’re hoping you can enjoy our journey into trying to participate as best we can in the early War on Christmas.
Sam: [00:01:25] Enjoy. (MUSIC)
David: [00:01:29] Do you think he’ll know what we want to talk about.
Sam: [00:01:31] He definitely is the go to person for Jewish history… Jewish radical history in Montreal for the last 30 to 50 years, at least… Wow that’s a fat squirrel.
David: [00:01:44] Where. Were?
David: [00:01:47] Yeah, it’s definitely getting ready for the winter months. Oh hey Moishe.
Moishe: [00:01:54] How are you doing? Vus hertz ich?
David: [00:01:56] Oh, we’re doing OK. Are you Ok to talk with us for a little bit?
Moishe: [00:01:57] I’m ok to talk, it depends what you want to talk about.
David: [00:02:01] OK can we go inside for a second?
Moishe: [00:02:03] Go inside for a second. Sure. We can go inside for two seconds.
Sam: [00:02:09] So if I say the War on Christmas to you,.
Moishe: [00:02:11] If you say what?
Sam: [00:02:11] I say the war on Christmas to you…
Moishe: [00:02:14] The War on Christmas, you think you invented the war on Christmas. Let me tell you something. There’s been a war on Christmas for the last 2000 years. We’ve been in a war on Christmas and we’ve been losing. As a matter of fact you could even say we lost but when you come down to it who cares. So the joke is on them. I dont even know if they don’t care. Some of them do care like you know the people who are worried about a war on Christmas. But you see the problem is with those is that the people who are worried about the war on Christmas today are also in the midst of like trying to make alliances with Israel today so they’re trying to play down like at least publicly the Jewish aspect like less fixated on the Jews.
David: [00:03:01] Has there been any history in Montreal about Jewish resistance to Christmas or conflict around Christmas.
Moishe: [00:03:08] There’s always been let’s say in Jewish life in North America, conflict and resistance to Christmas. I’ll tell you one thing here in Montreal what we used to call Christmas? Kratzmach! What is Kratzmach mean in Yiddish? It means scratch me. So people would say to each other, merry merry kratzmach. When you feel oppressed by someone this is, you know you don’t have like other forms. This is how you react. It’s the same way that Hasidim were had the habit of playing cards on Nittel, which is Christmas Eve. They played cards instead of studying figuring it’s a bad luck day. People who had those Yiddish groups with me will remember that we introduced a poem nittel – Christmas which was written for Jews in Poland. But it talked about absolute fear that the Jews used to feel on Christmas Eve because it could lead to violence there’d be these processions in the street in Eastern Europe and Catholic Eastern Europe that often many Jews found frightening and feared that it would lead to some kind of pogrom, which used to happen on Easter. You know when from their point of view the Christians micromanaged themselves that the Jews killed their god. So it led to this tremendous fear but the only way of fighting back. Like you can say Kratzmach, merry kratzmach or whatever or play cards or or make jokes but it’s an enormous conflict in Jewish life about Christmas.
Sam: [00:04:37] I don’t understand why people would choose to play cards on a day that is considered unlucky.
Moishe: [00:04:43] Christmas in North American culture also represents the possibility of assimilation for a lot of people. So for example as we know Irving Berlin wrote the greatest of all Christmas songs are the most popular of all “white Christmas”, and Irving Berlin was one of these guys. He was he was Jewish. But early in his career he made money by writing anti-Semitic songs. There’s a whole tradition of anti-Semitic songs for a market that existed in the 1920s in the United States usually about Jews trying to swindle. He was somebody who really wanted to get as far as he could from his Jewish background. And it was an outlet to becoming a real American and a real American meant Christian. And there used to be this formula that was very popular like in the Reform temple for example because you obviously did not want to say that Christ was a divinity. So people would say Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived. And of course this was a sign of like people who wanted to be assimilated.
David: [00:05:54] Well with all that with all those attempts at assimilation going on. Were there any people die actually confronted the institution?
Moishe: [00:06:02] Of Christmas?….It would be like any kind of stuff that I’ve described here. Now we’re making up and making fun of like the way it seemed to us after a while the enormous materialism of like the Christmas holiday. But how do we say in Yiddish a far fetched tale? Nisht geshtoygen, nisht gefloygen…. didn’t rise up didn’t fly up. And what is that. It doesn’t take much to figure out what they’re talking about there. This is their way of saying that the you know the whole story about the resurrection and all this you know et cetera et cetera et cetera. And everything that precedes it involving Jesus’ death. It’s like a likely story, as they say. But this is this is this is the war on Christmas if you want in its early stages. But as you can see it’s a defensive war… because they had on their side so to speak. They had states and restrictions and pales of settlement and pogroms and holocaust and you name it. And on the Jews side they had like saying things like Merry Kratzmach and saying nisht gesthoygen, nish gefloygen, and playing cards. So it wasn’t exactly like an even fight.
David: [00:07:19] Sam, I feel like there was a lot of information but it’s still having a hard time having it feel like a tangible thing to me. I still feel like I don’t really understand what Montreal Christmas is, to be able to talk about ways of resisting it.
Sam: [00:07:31] David I think I have an idea for you.
David: [00:07:33] What’ s the idea?
Sam: [00:07:34] It involves a parade of tremendous magnitude.
David: [00:07:38] I kind of don’t want to go but I think we kind of have to go (MUSIC).
Sam: [00:07:51] The real Santa Clause the real Santa Clause is going to be here at the 11th annual parade. Apparently Santa Claus is here with the “chef”, the leader of his elves, that are coming so they’re all going to be here we are there right. No no no just the leader of his elves not all the el ves. Can he’s just coming with his like Major Lieutenant.
David: [00:08:14] And where are we at the Plaza St Hubert Christmas parade and not the big one downtown.
Sam: [00:08:20] I believe that you were tasked with determining when we could attend the General Montreal Christmas Day parade which apparently has about 300000 people. We got all the things we needed to get. We arrived and it looked like they were set to get everything down and what turned out happening. Or as were doing you get to say or do it was it was that day late because it was Saturday sorry. So we are now at this b-list Christmas, not even b, like e-list Christmas Day parade. That appears to be not a parade because it’s 7 o’clock and there’s no parade but there seems to be people waiting under this awning.
David: [00:09:02] Yeah it’s cold it’s raining very hard. But we’re hoping that today is a bit of the understanding of the spectacle of Montreal Christmas. Yes. So currently the sidewalks are full of parents and their children all paying very close attention to the spectacle that has yet to present itself in the center of the road.A spectacle perhaps never to appear.
David: [00:09:25] Well right now everybody is wearing, they’re all wearing Santa outfits and doing a synchronized dance in the rain to this marching band Christmas song that was probably written by some old Jew a hundred years ago.
Sam: [00:09:40] I’m not going to lie I’m tapping my foot right now.
David: [00:09:44] That’s pretty good. Pretty well done
Sam: [00:09:47] How would you judge crowd response right now. There’s a man in front of us who seems pretty indifferent. Yeah this is the public who will get all these kids from, school. You think it’s one school. Like a different school.
David: [00:10:00] At my school they would take us out once a year to build sukkos for people, so i don’t think it’s a stretch that they would train them to dance in front of people like this. I think that’s the Grinch.
Sam: [00:10:12] Or is that Santa Claus.
David: [00:10:13] Why is Santa Claus green? And here comes the man of the hour. The man that everybody wants to see. The only person in the entire parade who’s afforded an umbrella. Santa Claus
Sam: [00:10:29] He is flanked by a bunch of elves on either side. And he has a fake reindeer in front of him. He looks like he’s doing a pretty good job of being Santa though, like he’s got the rotund thing the White beard. I think he’s doing a good job.
David: [00:10:43] So I have to say I’m cold it’s raining hatred for Christmas is pumping through my veins. I’m filled with feelings of coldness and not wanting to be here which I think is the general one I have to general feeling to have a Christmas to begin with
Sam: [00:11:02] I think i dislike it more now (MUSIC)
Sam: [00:11:21] All right Moishe, you’ve talked about this war on Christmas past, but we kind of need to know what the war on Christmas would look like today.
Moishe: [00:11:29] Nowadays nobody cares. I mean how many of your friends care who killed Jesus. Right? You’re talking about an era where it was very important to Christians or to Catholics especially who killed Christ and to Jews to defend themselves from the charges of being Christ killers. And people suffered pogroms, holocaust. If you read the New Testament it’s full it’s full from beginning to end. The Jews are a tiny portion of the population. This is the main book of European culture and it’s going on about the Jews the Jews the Jews and their people who are fed this kind of stuff you know and this is something up until very recently. In 1962, I think, there is a book around that that came out around that time and it was called “The Story of the Century” and what was the story of the century, that the Pope absolved the current Jews of guilt for Christ’s murder. And this was incredibly important for Jews. People said look it’s the story of the century we’re not guilty. I can tell you a funny story about that too. Come to think of it if you want to hear it. When I was a little kid I was always told this I think this is the difference in a culture of like that generation. I was a small kid and my mother always told me. If the come, they if the Christians accuse you of killing Jesus, what you should tell them is that the Romans did it and I had no idea like what it’s all about. Who are the Romans or anything but that’s what I heard. The Romans the Romans the Romans and I was a little kid living on Jeanne Mance Street.. Right. And there was a little kid that lived up the street from us that who was one of the only Christians on the street. And I remember him because he always wore a white shirt and a bow tie, his mother used to dress him up this way. The bow tie and short pants and a very high pitched voice and and his name was Gary. Around that time I got a present from my, maybe it was my birthday or so we didn’t really celebrate birthdays, but for whatever reason I got to present one of those old rubber toolset. I don’t know if they still have and I was sitting outside in the steps pretending to be building something. And Gary comes along and it’s obvious that he’s jealous of my tools that I could see it right away and within like seconds he says to me like in his high pitched voice, he says: Do you have to do to Jesus? And I’ve been coached for that moment practically since birth to say it wasn’t the Jews it was the Romans. And I knew my line perfectly like you know it’s like somebody is rehearsed for a play like one line that they had in a school play. I knew that line perfectly I knew I was supposed to say: it wasn’t the Jews it was the Romans but instead what I said was “No tool set for Gary” and he ran home crying. So I was in a way that was my war Christmas. It wasn’t really Christmas, maybe it was Christmas….
David: [00:14:52] So I really like the Gary story, but I feel like we still need to talk to someone who is more grounded in the present on Christmas.
Sam: [00:14:59] Searching the internet isn’t going to do it for you eh?
David: [00:15:01] I just feel like it would be great if he could talk to someone who is participating in resistance to Christmas now.
Sam: [00:15:06] I think I might know someone, might be hard to get in touch with them but I’m going to give it a try. (MUSIC)
David: [00:15:23] So are you comfortable telling us your name?
Little T: [00:15:28] No.
Sam: [00:15:29] Or maybe would you be willing to give us some kind of name to refer to you by?
Little T: [00:15:34] So in the movement I’m known as Little T and that’s as much as I can share with you today.
David: [00:15:40] Ok. And and so you. You’ve been involved in actions in resistance to Christmas for some time.
Little T: [00:15:47] You probably understand the confidential nature of our work but basically it involves the destruction of symbols of capitalist greed. We don’t use the word Christmas we use the word capitalist greed as a code word because ultimately that’s what this is. That’s what we’re talking about.
Sam: [00:16:06] I don’t want to ask you to give any information that you don’t want to give. And I know that you won’t do that but could you give some hypotheticals as to what some targets might look like.
Little T: [00:16:17] Well you might be familiar with one of the well-known Christian rituals involving an elderly figure and a throne that he is placed on. The Christians bring their children as offerings to speak to this. I suppose they see him as some sort of oracle. We find that this is an abhorrent ritual because it’s really targeting the innocent Christian children and they shouldn’t be subjected to this. So we have organized leaflet drops at these shopping centers. They’re written in a sort of millennial code so that the parents don’t understand but it kind of acts as a safeguard to stop the children from becoming totally subsumed by this power the power of the Oracle.
David: [00:17:02] I mean you’re talking about Santa Claus.
Little T: [00:17:04] I believe that’s what he’s known as yes but we don’t really find that to be an appropriate name. So I’m sorry.
David: [00:17:11] So what. What are the backgrounds of the other people who are involved in this work and what’s the general motivation that everybody shares.
Little T: [00:17:17] Well like I said I can’t give too much information. I don’t want to compromise the integrity of my comrades or of our organization. But you know we’re all of one. We have a common goal and that’s what unites us. We also share the same taste in music and clothing.
David: [00:17:34] So can people join. Like if we are interested in participating in action we just join the group.
Little T: [00:17:38] I can’t answer that question.
David: [00:17:40] Or if I if I was interested in learning more about it what we can say here what would be a good first step.
Little T: [00:17:48] Well you know if you hate Christmas you don’t need to be part of any organization to show it, right. If the fires of anti-Noel hatred course through your veins. Right. You just do what you need to do to show the world. And you know if that’s lighting a Christmas tree on fire downtown at Place Bonaventure, then that’s what it is. If it’s doing a banner drop at the National Assembly to have Christmas banned as a public holiday that’s what it is. If it’s taking action within your family and refusing to attend Christmas celebrations or wrapping all of your Christmas presents with black wrapping paper you know there are many many tactics and strategies that can be used in this movement. And if you start working at it you might find it easier to find your kindred spirits than you than you really thought.
Sam: [00:18:47] I’ve got lost in this before.
David: [00:18:50] Ok so, just to go over it again: we’re going to get to the top, and when we get tot he top there’s going to be a cable that goes straight to it.
Sam: [00:19:00] Yeah there’s a little there’s a little door and you just have to I don’t know the person kind of gave me a diagram and said I’ll figure it out once we get there.
David: [00:19:09] OK. But we have our flashlight right?.
Sam: [00:19:12] Definitely. This is like a one time situation.
David: [00:19:16] If we find it, we just got to find cable he’s got to unplug it and he’s got to get back to the.
Sam: [00:19:20] And then the lights will be off the cross during Christmas.
David: [00:19:23] OK. I think we can do it. We can do this.
Sam: [00:19:26] Yeah definitely. OK. Yeah it does feel a little spooky in here right now. No.
David: [00:19:30] It feels extremely spooky. I think we mean look I understand that we have to do this after dark but it’s kind of hard to see anything. Yeah how long. This is a lot of steps…
Sam: [00:19:41] DAVID, this can’t take more than like 20 minutes.
David: [00:19:43] I just I don’t do as many sports you know the like comic book of sport.
Sam: [00:19:49] Yeah. Yeah. It’s very clear. David OK.
David: [00:19:54] I’m OK. Just trying to preserve my strength. Definitely. What’s the worst case scenario here
Sam: [00:20:00] Honestly I can’t imagine anyone’s ever going to catch us. It’s not like we’re putting on a radio show or anything.
David: [00:20:13] You. See the cable.
Sam: [00:20:18] I do I do.
David: [00:20:18] OK, I’ll try it OK go. OK. Go Ok. You got (RUNNING)
David: [00:20:36] Are those two people coming? No that’s actually somebody. I don’t hear any sirens
Sam: [00:20:47] We’re on the top of a mountain….
David: [00:20:58] We did it. Yeah. I think it was actually.
Sam: [00:21:03] Inspired by a 2006 student strike (MUSIC)