An Amazing Gift from Santa to a Jewish, Grown-up Songwriter

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam welcomes Santa to The Outlets at Bergen Town CenterThe big guy. The ultimate gift-giver. The purveyor of delight for kids all over the world. He and I became friends last winter when he arrived at Bergen Town Center and I was singing holiday songs.

That day, he gave me a gift so enormous that I couldn’t fully comprehend it until this holiday season. That gift was his story, a tale that absolutely screamed to be put into a song. And he told that story to me, not some other songwriter.

And it came so casually and easily to him. After he said “Nice set!” which was hard to get my head around Santa saying that to me, we talked about the places we’re from. Of course we all know where Santa comes from, but what he volunteered next blew my mind. He told me he likes to spend his summers at…wait for it…Wildwood on the Jersey Shore! Wait…it gets better. He runs an ice cream stand and likes to bike on the boardwalk…beard and all! As a Jersey rocker with a deep and abiding love of the shore, how could I not write this song? I started on the song then; Amy and I have been gradually modifying the song over the course of the past year.

The result is “Summertime Santa.” I feel it really captures the essence of this essential symbol of generosity of spirit toward children and their grown-ups.

Here’s a live performance of it on video for your enjoyment:

P.S.: Yes, that is the Frozen Snow Queen in the audience. We figured, since she learned to thaw frozen hearts, she’d help warm up the crowd.

Development of the Song “Summertime Santa”

Since the above performance, the song has been modified a bit more; a few lines have been rewritten, including a new bit I had to make room for — a new summer story from Santa when I saw him again this year!

The band has recorded the latest version and it’s currently awaiting some vocal harmonies and mixing. It will be ready to rock for this summer and next holiday season. Meantime, my 3-year-old daughter asks for it over and over again, favoring this song over her favorite tunes by famous artists. The test marketing is pointing to a smash hit…

My Jewish Upbringing and Santa

My New York Jewish family has always maintained both a strong Jewish identity and an assimilation into the New York melting pot. Trips to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and visits with Santa at the local mall were not uncommon for me growing up. My public school band and chorus always performed a program with both Christmas and Hanukkah songs at the annual holiday concert. Where Santa was concerned, there was no insistence in my family on “believing” or “not believing…” just the fun that was commonly shared and understood by kids of different walks of life — the stories, the songs, the spirit, with no pressure either way. I never really paid much thought to the notion that it was Santa bringing me the stuff I craved as a kid, but my affection for his kindly presence wasn’t dependent on stuff. Now that I understand just how wonderful and potentially life-changing Santa’s gift to me was, I truly get it that the greatest gifts are not material — it’s the stories we share between us, stories that build bonds and make us feel connected, stories we can pass down to our children.

And my daughter will receive the same gifts – the stories and the fun without the pressure to “believe” or “not believe.” But she already gets the most important gift from St. Nick.

Thank you Santa! You really do give the best gifts!

The Jewish Songwriters’ Tradition of Writing Christmas Songs

Lauren Markoe at The Huffington Post offers this fascinating article about the tradition of Jewish songwriters writing timeless classic Christmas songs like “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and more. In that article I learned how much of these Jewish songwriters’ experience my grandparents shared and how they really nailed the European immigrants’ sense of wonder at how the Christmas season is celebrated in New York City, a sense of wonder passed down to me, transcending religious lines.

How about Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is a cherished experience in our family, ranging from my mother’s phenomenal latkes to the mystical glow of dozens of menorahs providing the only light in the sanctuary of my synagogue to the deep gratitude for ancestors who fought for religious freedom no matter how long the odds in favor of the oppressor.

Here’s my version of the glorious “Rock of Ages” in both Hebrew and English.

And by the way, after Amy and I put our daughter to bed, we get our annual fix of laughter along with Adam Sandler’s The Chanukah Song.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts about sharing in Santa and Christmas related stories and traditions outside the Christian religion? Now that we’ve experienced the 2014 holiday season, what do you believe are the greatest gifts? Use the comments below to discuss.

2 thoughts on “An Amazing Gift from Santa to a Jewish, Grown-up Songwriter

  1. Pingback: A Bruce Springsteen Concert through the Eyes of a Kindie Band | Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

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