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Xmas App Guide

What To Load Onto Your New Device

After unwrapping your new gadget, here are the apps to download on Christmas Day to get most from it.

The wrapping paper’s in a pile on the floor, but the fun has just begun. That shiny new gadget in your hands is just waiting to be filled with content. Check out these must-download apps and ebooks—Christmas morning giddiness isn’t just for kids anymore.


Sean Gallup

iPad Mini

For the Reader

Flipboard: Not many apps do personalized news aggregation as fluidly and beautifully as Flipboard. While it’s now on the iPhone too, the app was originally made with the larger tablet screen in mind. Fill the virtual magazine pages with news, blogs and social media and start flipping.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets for iPad: With actors such as Patrick Stewart, Stephen Fry, Dominic West, and Kim Cattrell reciting all 154 of William Shakespeare’s sonnets, scholars and poets including Don Paterson and James Shapiro doing commentary and even a facsimile of the 1609 Quarto edition, the Bard’s brambly romanticism springs fully to life in this marvelous multi-media app.

Pulse News: All the news you could ever want in easy-to-see, bite-sized portions perfect for skimming on the go, or delving into when you have time.

For the Do-er

The Conversion

Should We Celebrate Paul?

Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus while neglecting the Apostle Paul’s role as the founder of the religion everyone practices today. Scholar James D. Tabor on the more radical Christ.

Millions celebrate the birth of Jesus without realizing that it was the Apostle Paul, not Jesus, who was the founder of Christianity. Jesus was a Jew not a Christian. He regularly went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, read from the Torah, observed the Jewish festivals such as Passover and Yom Kippur, and quoted the Shema: “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is One Lord.” In Jesus’ day the closest holiday to Christmas was the Roman celebration of the Saturnalia.


Ned Frisk/Corbis

The Romans crucified Jesus for sedition in the year 30 AD, but his apostles, led by James his brother, continued his movement, believing that Jesus would return from heaven as the triumphant Messiah. They were called Nazarenes and lived as Jews alongside other Jewish sects of the time such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes.

Paul never met Jesus. He was not one of the original apostles. He was a zealous Pharisee who initially opposed Jesus’ followers and supported moves to repress them. His opposition to the movement dramatically reversed about seven years after Jesus’ death when he began to experience a series of clairvoyant visions—“revelations of Jesus Christ” he called them. Paul adamantly insisted that the message he preached did not derive from the apostles before him. He refers to James, Peter, and John, as the “so-called pillars of the church,” but quickly adds—“what they are means nothing to me,” insisting on his independence, based on his direct visionary access to Jesus. Over a span of three decades Paul had contact with the apostles in Jerusalem on only two or three visits, during which tensions were high. He operated independently in Asia Minor and Greece, preaching his message to non-Jews.

What Paul preached—his “gospel” as he called it—forms the basis of Christianity today. Paul taught that Christ was the divine Son of God who became incarnate, “born of a woman,” as he puts it. Jesus lived a sinless life and died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God in heaven, soon to return to judge the world. Those who accept Christ and his offer of salvation by faith will be saved, and those who reject it will be condemned. The reason this message sounds so familiar, so “Christian,” is that this gospel Paul preached became the basis of the major Christian creeds—from the early Apostles creed to the Nicean creed in the time of the emperor Constantine.

Christianity came to be defined by Paul not by Jesus. Since Jesus never wrote anything that has survived and the New Testament contains 13 letters attributed to Paul, it is the message of Paul that dominates. Even the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—are heavily influenced by Paul. Although they are positioned first in the New Testament, historians agree that they were written in their final form toward the end of the 1st century, decades after the Paul and the original apostles were dead.

Historians have spent the past 175 years in a “quest for the historical Jesus” and the results, though always less than we would wish, are quite impressive. By carefully comparing the various layers of our New Testament Gospels, as well as other recently discovered texts such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Didache, a generally consistent message that can reliably be traced back to Jesus has emerged. What we have is not the Christ of Paul and the Christian creeds but a Jewish Jesus who proclaimed the imminence of the “reign of God,” calling for a radical overturn of societal structures of power, whether based on political power, wealth, class, or gender. This is the Jesus who pronounced blessings on the poor, the hungry, and the persecuted, and curses upon those with wealth, comfort, and power—while calling for “turning the other cheek,” loving one’s enemies, and doing to others as you would do to yourself. This is the Jesus who summarized true religion as loving God and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. This is the Jesus who rebukes a devotee with the retort, “Why do you call me good, there is one who is good, God?”

In contrast, the theological elements in these Gospels that stem from a later theological perspective stand in stark contrast—whether the Christmas narratives of the virgin birth, Christian baptism in the name of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” or eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. Without Paul and his vision-based understanding of Christ it is unlikely that anything resembling Christianity would have ever emerged from the original followers of Jesus. The letter of James, the brother of Jesus, tucked into the back of the New Testament, is one of our only surviving documents witnessing to this form of “Christianity” before Paul. There one can still hear the voice of Jesus and the message he passed on to his first followers.

Brooklyn Snow

Pete Hamill’s Christmas Book Bag


Think of Pete Hamill and you think of Brooklyn. Perhaps it’s time to add Christmas to that association? The author of the new ‘The Christmas Kid: And Other Brooklyn Stories’ tells us what he’s been reading—you should curl up with these books during your Christmas nights, too.

Winter Journal
By Paul Auster

More than simply a memoir by one of the finest American novelists. This is also a reflection on time, age, mistakes, work, the closing of some doors, and the opening of others. For me it’s a perfect book for a season usually marked by reflection, regret, and, yes, hope.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
By David McCullough

Not another rehash of the Lost Generation. This rich book is about an earlier time, when American doctors could not perform autopsies on the corpses of American women, when female models appeared fully-clothed in the few American art schools, when the legacy of American Puritanism created an intellectual and artistic prison. Some young Americans, men and women, went to Paris. They returned with the gifts of reason, science, art, and vision. McCullough tells the story as a triumphant human tale, about individuals. His prose is fluid and detailed, never abstract, never pedantic. The result is marvelous.

Human Chain
By Seamus Heaney

The most recent volume of poems by the 1995 Nobel Prize winner, this should not be read cover-to-cover. Take the book to bed before sleeping, read one poem each night, like a prayer. Then turn off the lights. If you're like me, you will awake each morning charged with the music of what happens. Heaney’s music. Now part of yours.

Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History
By Robert Hughes

This is at once a celebration of one of Europe’s essential cities and a detailed exploration of the things that truly matter about its past. Hughes was, of course, one of the finest writers of his day, an art critic for Time, an author of several books of history. In this, his final work, he reminds us again that all empires inevitably fade but their truest legacies are almost always works of art. He tells us that part of the Roman tale, too, and what happened during the many centures that followed the fall. Every man or woman who reads this book will be wiser when they finish.

The Story of Babar
By Jean de Brunhoff

This brilliant book (published in 1931) was the first I ever read, at age 5, my eyes following my mother’s finger as she touched each precious word. I remember weeping the first time I understood that the little elephant’s mother had been shot dead by a hunter. I must have read the tale another 30 times before I was 6, weeping each time, hating that hunter, but loving the city Babar went to from his jungle home. The place called Paris. I still read it every year in this season. And no, it never did make me a defender of French colonialism.

Deck the Hall

A New Christmas Classic

The new novella ‘Christmas at Eagle Pond’ by former poet laureate Donald Hall deserves a spot in the pantheon, writes Nick Mancusi.

What makes for a timeless Christmas story? There is the familiar window dressing, of course; a tree, a hearth, a family, hopefully some snow blanketed over a sleepy American town or a gas-lit Victorian city. Onto this stage is then usually cast a person suffering from a crisis of faith or character (Scrooge’s misanthropy, George Bailey’s despondency, the Grinch’s avarice) that is dispelled and resolved in the glowing light of the (more or less secular) spirit of Christmas, generally expressed as a blossoming of charity and goodwill toward man.


‘Christmas at Eagle Pond’ By Donald Hall. 96 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $15. (Bettmann/Corbis)

But there is something simpler and more powerful operating underneath the surface layer of these stories, something that brings us back to them each year with fresh eyes and hearts. In his slim new Christmas at Eagle Pond, former poet laureate Donald Hall strips the Christmas story down to its barest essence and shows that the true essence of the holidays is perhaps less about sending Tiny Tim for the biggest turkey in the square and more about trying to capture a particular sense of memory, both collective and personal, and a yearning for connection to eternal mysteries.

The story (and it is a story, rather than a memoir, although Hall explains in an author’s note just how much he has blurred the line) is told from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy who is, as a kind of present from his parents, allowed to ride the train from Connecticut to New Hampshire in the winter of 1940. He makes the trip in order to spend Christmas on his grandparent’s farm, where he often hays in the summer. It’s been a dream of his to spend Christmas there, among that different wing of the family and the eccentric neighbors they’re always telling stories about, and that he is allowed to ride the rails by himself is momentous, an acknowledgement that he is at the dawn of various awakenings.

The boy is old enough to know that there are dangerous concerns at the margins of his life. War looms in Europe, which concerns the adults greatly, and his mother is undergoing an operation the specifics of which are being spared him, and she will be in the hospital for many days. But the farm at Eagle Pond is a safe place, enchanted with the power to shield the boy from distress, and much of the book consists of the simple day-to-day chores that constitute farm life (but that thrill the boy, clearly already beginning to favor more contemplative tasks even in his young age, nonetheless).

And the Christmas celebration is equally undramatic. Food is prepared, stories are told, some light politics are discussed, a line is formed at the telephone so that everyone can give their good wishes to the boy’s mother. The gifts that are exchanged are mostly practical and homespun, except for the boy’s new volume of poetry. In what serves as the book’s climax, the unflagging snow threatens to keep the boy stuck at the farm and away from his mother, a prospect he both dreads and hopes for guiltily.

To tell the simple story, Hall employs equally simple prose that one might be forgiven for mistaking at a glance as, frankly, unpoetic. It reads almost like a journal: “More chores followed milking. It was time for the cattle to drink from their watering trough. First my grandfather broke through the lid of ice that formed overnight, then one by one he unchained his cows; they knew where to go.” But this is the product of a poet’s natural talents for concision and compression; there is not one word in the book that shouldn’t be there, and it’s hard to imagine any that are missing. Hall refutes the schmaltz and tinsel of the perfunctory sentimentality that has come to define the holiday, and shows that even when they are stripped away entirely, there is still something there worth cherishing, something like what led Dylan Thomas to describe Christmas night as “that close and holy darkness” in his famous A Child’s Christmas in Wales, only with a unique New England stillness that Hall has spent a lifetime chronicling.

By the end of this magical little imagined memory, Hall derives the proof of the Christmas story. A good Christmas story shouldn’t just be a morality play dressed up for winter, where skinflints learn to open their coin purses and misanthropes their hearts. In order for it to connect with its audience in a resounding way, there needs to be a certain contemplativeness to balance out all the inevitable church bells and rejoicing. There needs to be wonderment—it can even approach something like fear. And it needn’t be as dramatic as George Bailey on a bridge leaning out over the water. All the elements of time, memory, and yearning that Christmas invokes are most keenly experienced in the mind of a sensitive young boy, watching as snow piles in drifts up against the barn, waiting to see if his grandfather will be able to harness the horse to the carriage, hoping against hope that he might be able to get back home to see his sick mother.

Greatest Story Ever Told

The Jesus Novels

Besides the Gospels, what’s the best literary treatment of the life of the Messiah? David Masciotra looks at the many efforts, from Anne Rice to Norman Mailer.

It is often lost in the web of commercialization that advertising, television, and retail weave around Christmas, but Dec. 25 is the day when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and God who, for an estimated 33 years, walked the world in human flesh.


Alex Masi/Corbis

In addition to inspiring an entire religion, Jesus also inspired many works of fiction. Some are loyal to the account of Jesus’s life told in the Synoptic Gospels, and some take poetic, dramatic, and speculative license. The Jesus novel is a small and largely unrecognized genre of literature that often gives Christians new insight into the story of their savior, and provides non-believers with an artistic means of accessing a tale containing all of the most effective tools of drama—pity, terror, sadness, heroism, tragedy, and redemption.

The biography of Christ is considered “the greatest story ever told.” That superlative phrase is taken from the title of Fulton Oursler’s novel. Published in 1949 to widespread acclaim from the Christian and secular press, it continues to earn new readers each year. Oursler was a Christian who made his trade as a journalist, and although his book is one of the most famous of the Jesus novels, another Fulton—Fulton J. Sheen, an archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church—outdid and outwrote Oursler with his 1977 novel, Life Of Christ. Sheen was a televangelist with a doctorate in philosophy. His gift for communication combined with his philosophical depth enabled him to infuse Life of Christ with rare profundity and power. Sheen was a better writer than Oursler, and he was also a better thinker. His novel effortlessly weaves theology, history, and biblical exegesis into a compelling and challenging work of surprising singularity.

Anne Rice, the popular novelist most famous for the Vampire Chronicles, planned to pull off the same feat with a trilogy of books. Following a return to the Catholicism of her upbringing, Rice wrote Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt, and promised two more in a trilogy. The first book tells the story of Jesus at 7, and gives, in painstaking detail, an account of the religious, political, and social turmoil that surrounded Christ’s childhood in Nazareth. Rice wisely tells the gripping historical drama in the voice of the young Jesus—a voice that empowers her to playfully but seriously counter Christ’s precocious wisdom with his typically boyish naiveté. Christ The Lord: Road To Cana tells the story of Christ’s adult life, which is what is known from the Gospels, from his first miracle (transforming water to wine at a wedding) to his wrestling with Satan’s temptation in the wilderness. Rice is a gifted stylist and master storyteller. Her then-newfound devotion to Catholicism summoned her talents for a sincere reminder of the soul-stirring capacity of the Gospel. Unfortunately, she has yet to finish the trilogy. Her membership in the Catholic Church was short lived, and although she claims to still be a follower of Jesus, her exit from the church seems to have extinguished her fire.

The New Age medical guru Deepak Chopra is not a noted novelist. In fact, if Rice were so inclined, she could probably write a grocery list more poetic than Chopra’s poetry. Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment, however, is one of the most interesting, unconventional, and ambitious books about Jesus. Chopra tracks Christ throughout his teenage years and 20s, the period of his life not covered by the Gospels. He has Jesus discovering principles of Eastern philosophy in his search for enlightenment, and presents Jesus as making the spiritually heroic choice to lead others to wisdom, even if it meant subverting the dominant ethos and order of his era. Chopra should have written a nonfiction book of speculative essays on Christ, because for all the insight and surprise of his Christological narrative, the strange dialogue, which is alternatively stilted or purple, and awkward scene transitions are often distracting.

Nikos Kazantzakis had no problems writing a moving novel of beauty, profundity, and luminosity. The Last Temptation of Christ is one of the most famous Jesus novels in large part due to a film adaptation by Martin Scorsese. Kazantazakis was a Greek writer and philosopher who also wrote a novel on St. Francis. The Last Temptation of Christ generated high voltage controversy for the ways in which it deals with Jesus as a man and not as a god. Kazantazakis bravely and boldly presented Christ in the flesh, and marked that flesh with the human stain—this Jesus is consumed by rage, envy, and lust, but Kazantzakis tempers his human portrait by celebrating Jesus’ decision to accept his fate and act as the Messiah. Kazantzakis’s novel struggles with how one is to interpret Jesus, just as his Jesus struggles.

The best novel about Jesus also came after a life of struggle with the meaning of Christ. Norman Mailer was raised a Jew and devoted to a unique set of beliefs in an interventionist God that he explains in the interview collection On God. He wrote the short The Gospel According to The Son, where his artistic courage is on full display. Jesus narrates the book in the first person, and it possesses a mystery that eludes other messianic efforts. Mailer’s sense as a dramatist, and perpetual struggle with Christianity—which he wrote about in The Armies of the Night—allowed him to cast a spell. The dark magic reintroduces them to the radicalism of Christ. Mailer’s Jesus opposed two systems of power—the Roman Empire and the Jewish Pharisees—and was a beautiful but frightening political dissident and apocalyptic preacher.

With the holiday season in full swing, it’s time to start checking off your gift list. From the closet ‘Fifty Shades’ fan to the style savant, The Daily Beast finds the perfect present for every unique person in your life. By Michael Keller, Isabel Wilkinson & Lizzie Crocker.

Follow the flow chart to narrow down who you’re shopping for, then click the blue circles to see our picks for them.



Top Christmas Toy Fads of All-time


The 2012 Holiday Kitchen Gift Guide

From stocking stuffers to the world's fanciest food processor, gifts for cooks of every age and experience level.

As longtime readers know, when it comes to kitchens, I’m a gearhead.  I love cooking, but I also love gadgets: low tech or high tech, a new tool makes my heart start racing a little faster, and my eyes go all saucer-wide.  This is why we came out of the trees, folks.  If it weren’t for some innovative gearhead whose wife probably rolled her eyes every time he brought home a new pile of flint, we’d still be covered in hair and eating bug larvae.

When you combine my two greatest joys, you get a kitchen stuffed to the rafters with appliances, handy tools, and gadgets.  They have commandeered the butler’s pantry and taken over the basement.  But they work for their keep: though my husband and I both work a very full schedule, almost all of our meals are eaten at home, cooked from scratch--and almost none of them are of the “saute chicken breasts for three minutes a side. Deglaze pan with wine and chicken broth. Serve” variety.

As you may have gathered reading this passage, I’m a bit . . . evangelical.  When I love a gadget, I really love it--I spent much of 2011 chuckling to myself with pleasure every time I anticipated finally getting to tell folks about the awesome prep bowls I’d been using all year.  This year, I’ve been waiting since January to tell you how great sous vide is.  The annual kitchen gift guide is one of my favorite things to write--and judging from the nudges I’ve been getting on email and twitter, a few of you like reading it, too.

So here it is: my favorite gifts for the chef, at every budget level from “How thoughtful!” to “Oh, my God, you shouldn’t have!”  Everything on this list is something that I personally use and enjoy.  A lot of the items you’ll have seen on older lists--my kitchen doesn’t turn over that fast.  But it was a banner year for kitchen gifting at the McSuderman household; our semi-renovation opened up whole new spaces for gadgets, and we responded by gifting each other with stuff to fill it.

Stocking Stuffers: Under $25

Microplane grater  Every year I lead off with this, and why not?  It’s admirably affordable, perfect for a Secret Santa or gift exchange.  And it’s incredibly useful.  If you’ve been grating your knuckles zesting lemons on an old fashioned box grater--or allowing loved ones to do so--then stop that right now!  A microplane grater will zest a lemon in thirty seconds, taking off just the tasty yellow part and leaving the bitter white firmly on the fruit.  It creates beautiful little clouds of parmesan cheese to top pasta or salad, or a puff of chocolate shavings to finish off your mousse.  I occasionally bring it right to the table so people can grate their own.  All around, one of the best “bang for the buck” tools I own, but lots of people still don’t have them.


Most Kitschy Christmas Towns


The Good Giving Guide

Yuletide Jeers

12 Biggest Christmas Song Fails

From John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s cringe-worthy reunion to Snoop Dogg’s rap about Santa in the ghetto, too many pop stars have tried and failed to churn out the next great Christmas hit. Hear the worst of the worst. Plus, Malcolm Jones offers a playlist of hidden holiday gems.

It’s mid-December, which means it’s time to break out your puffy coat, catch up on all the Oscar contenders in theaters, and start playing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” on constant loop for the next two weeks. The urge to play Mimi all day, every day, during the Yuletide season is understandable—the track is holiday-tinged aural pleasure and anyone who disagrees is the soul-spawn of Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge. (Have you seen this new version featuring Jimmy Fallon, the Roots, and four precocious wee ones? Joy set to music.)

But it’s also because the track is, really, the only true new Christmas hit we’ve had since its release in 1994. Sure, the standard carols and tracks by the likes of the Beach Boys, Wham!, and John Lennon endure, but Carey’s bouncy pop track is the only modern one we can really consider a true holiday standard. Nevertheless, dozens of Christmas albums from huge music stars flood shelves each year, and typically contain at least one attempt at introducing a new, original holiday song to the canon.

More often than not, they are embarrassingly awful and quite bizarre. From John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s most recent effort to releases from Justin Bieber and even Snoop Dogg, here are the worst and the weirdest.

John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John: ‘I Think You Might Like It’ (2012)

Ever wonder what Danny and Sandy from Grease grew up to be like? As John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John so tragically illuminate in the music video for their new Christmas song, “I Think You Might Like It,” they became your embarrassing parents. In the video, the long-ago high-school sweethearts recreate the “You’re the One That I Want” line dance and feign tears while watching It’s a Wonderful Life, while Travolta rocks a soul patch. And then, inexplicably, the whole thing turns sexual when Newton-John begins moaning, “I like it,” toward the end.

The Killers: ‘I Feel It in My Bones’ (2012)


Must-Haves for Your Coffee Table

Kvell Worthy

Eight Epic Chanukah Songs

Who needs Christmas carols when there’s so much catchy Chanukah music? From Adam Sandler to Tom Lehrer to ‘South Park,’ a playlist to lighten up the Festival of Lights.

‘The Chanukah Song’
By Adam Sandler

On Dec. 3, 1994, Adam Sandler delivered a gift to Jewish children around the world when he performed “The Chanukah Song” during “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live. To celebrate those “eight crazy nights,” Sandler sang about some famous Jewish people “just like you and me.” And while he made a few errors in that original tune—Rod Carew never converted to Judaism and Harrison Ford is actually half-Jewish—Sandler went on to record several new versions over the years. “The Chanukah Song” was even covered by Neil Diamond. And it’s so much fun-ica.

‘How Do You Spell Channukkahh?’
By the LeeVees

One of the great mysteries of the holiday is how to spell it in English. (Here’s a simple way to remember—there’s always one “N” and if you start with “CH,” there’s one “K.” And sometimes there’s no “H” at the end. If you begin with “H,” there are two “Ks” and an “H” at the end. Got it?) But in 2005 the LeeVees, a New York band with Ramones-like names, devoted a song to the subject on their album Hanukkah Rocks. Though the album title has a preferred spelling, “How Do You Spell Channuukkahh?” goofs on the endless variations. Other tracks on the album include “Apple Sauce vs. Sour Cream,” “Goyim Friends,” and the philosophical tune “Gelt Melts.” Alas.

‘(I’m Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica’
By Tom Lehrer

Our Christmas Playlist

Christmas Music Sucks (Mostly)

How many times do we have to hear about those roasting chestnuts and little drummer boys? Fight crummy Christmas songs with Malcolm Jones’s checklist of classics to make your holiday merry and bright.

The only time I’ve ever wanted to punch Bob Dylan was after listening to his version of “It Must Be Santa.” That noxious little holiday polka appears on Christmas in the Heart, an album of mostly conventional Christmas songs Dylan released in 2009. At the time, I thought the project was conceptually hilarious, since Dylan was possibly the last person on the planet you’d expect to deliver something as corny as a Christmas record. But the album’s real problems lay elsewhere. Put bluntly, Christmas in the Heart sounded halfhearted—sounded, in other words, a lot like any other star’s obligatory Christmas album. Most of its material was forgettable, or forgettably performed, all but the unfortunately memorable “It Must Be Santa,” which gets my vote for the most persistent, most dogged earworm of all time. I haven’t heard the song in more than a year, but it’s still lodged in my head.


Otto Noecker / DPA / Corbis

Christmas songs generally are the worst, i.e., the most effective, earworms. I walk around from Thanksgiving until Dec. 25 just waiting to be attacked by “The Little Drummer Boy.” It can be sung by choirs of children, piped in by elevator Muzak, or caroled by a strolling minstrel—the source doesn’t matter. As soon as those first thumpety-thump-thump notes come at me, that tune and all its many, many verses will be with me until the spring thaw.

So I have what could most optimistically be called a love/hate relationship with Christmas carols and songs. (Taxonomically speaking, I’m sure there’s a difference, but I’m sure I don’t care.) Sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind if all Christmas music disappeared from the face of the earth.

Then I hear the Drifters singing “White Christmas,” or Merle Haggard doing “If We Make It Through December.” Or Handel’s Messiah comes at me out of the blue. Or Spike Jones cracks me up with his subversion of The Nutcracker. (“Mr. Tchaikovsky, this sure is tough-skee”).

Or I stumble across the just released Silver & Gold, Sufjan Stevens’s second big package of Christmas songs, 57 by my count, some of them originals, some re-workings of Christmas classics.

This is a little more Christmas than I’m willing to take on, but give Stevens credit: he’s gotten under the hood and tweaked and cross-wired this material until you have to pay attention. You may not immediately dig a nearly 10-minute version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” complete with chanting vocals riding over what sound like dueling drum machines, but you won’t get bored. Listening to a musician who’s clearly not going through the motions, you begin to understand what’s wrong with most of the music you hear at this time of year.

Is Silver and Gold a coherent album? Not hardly, but that’s only par for album-length Christmas fare. The only records I’ve found to be wholly successful as albums are A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, jazz composer and bandleader Carla Bley’s Carla’s Christmas Carols, the late guitarist John Fahey’s The New Possibility, Dan Hicks’s Crazy for Christmas, and Atlantic Records’ Soul Christmas, which is an anthology of cuts from other albums but still, no lumps of coal.


Yo, Yo, Yo, It’s Chanukah

‘Bubala Please’ is the latest hip-hop Chanukah schtick. But can thugs kvetch with the pros? Eli Lake reports.

As Chanukah—a holiday celebrating the exploits of a Jewish guerilla army against the Seleucid Empire—approaches, now is a good time to reflect on how much has changed for Jewish relations with great powers in the last 2,200 years. Whereas the outlaw Maccabees fought to impose religious law on those Hebrews who had assimilated to the Hellenism of the time, in 2012, Jews in America embrace all elements of the modern civil society. American adherents of the world’s first monotheistic faith have found careers in medicine, law, politics, fashion, the military—even hip-hop.

That said, there aren’t many Jews represented in the competitive field of urban narcotrafficking. This might be changing. At least that is the conceit of a new Web show, Bubala Please. The show features Luis and Jaquann, two apparent gangbangers who intersperse the profane patois of L.A.’s streets with Yiddish words like “schlep” and “tuchus.” In the first episode, the pair teach viewers how to make latkes, the traditional Chanukah potato pancake: “We gonna kibbutz, we gonna kvetch, and we damn shit gonna gamble,” says Jaquann, who then dons a “Kiss my tuchus” apron. “One thing you gotta have for Chanukah is some latke, pendejos,” says Luis.

In the latest episode, they instruct on how to pimp a Chanukah bush with bling. At the end of the episode, Luis beat-boxes and Jaquann raps the traditional Chanukah blessing in Hebrew. 

“The conceit is that they are thugs and gangsters who act like Jewish Boca Raton retirees,” says Jacob Salamon, who, along with his University of Texas classmate Jared Bauer, produced the videos. Bauer and Salamon formed their production company at first to try to make movies, they said in an interview, but found that producing TV-quality Web videos would take far less time than making a single movie. In the meantime, they say the Web videos are a good way to build a loyal fan base for larger projects down the road.

To date, Bubala Please won’t be buying the creators any new McMansions. The first video got more than 230,000 page views on YouTube, but the two say they get about a dollar per 1,000 views. Surprisingly, the audience is largely in the 45- to 60-year-old age range. “This is not something I anticipated,” Salamon says.

One reason younger audiences have not yet embraced the videos may be that the shtick feels stale. While Jews have contributed to rap music for decades (Rick Rubin produced the first Run-DMC records; the Beastie Boys were all Ashkenazi Americans), rap music has embraced Jewish themes directly in the last year.

In the video for his song, “HYFR (Hell Ya Fuckin’ Right),” Drake, a half-Jewish rapper from Toronto, performs at a bar mitzvah ceremony at an actual synagogue. As Drake wears a traditional yarmulkah, co-rapper Lil' Wayne sings the chorus asking whether the listener is high, nervous, or single and whether he trusts his associates.

What's Under Obama's tree?

The White House isn't ready for holiday season until the First Dog approves the Christmas decorations. Watch Bo sniff around under the tree and beneath the mistletoe.

  1. Late Night: Tracy Morgan's Bad Holiday Spirit Play

    Late Night: Tracy Morgan's Bad Holiday Spirit

  2. When Cee Lo Partied with the Muppets Play

    When Cee Lo Partied with the Muppets

  3. Chippendales’ Holiday Workout Secrets Play

    Chippendales’ Holiday Workout Secrets


Perfect Gifts for Everyone

Interactive Holiday Gift Guide

Interactive Holiday Gift Guide

The Daily Beast narrows down your shopping search.


Holiday Showdown

The War on Christmas Is Over

The War on Christmas Is Over

Christmas won.


Music of the Season

Christmas Music Sucks (Mostly)

Christmas Music Sucks (Mostly)

Halfhearted Christmas albums, lousy overplayed songs. Malcolm Jones on the classics worth listening to.

Yuletide Jeers

12 Biggest Christmas Song Fails

Kvell Worthy

Eight Epic Chanukah Songs