• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: An Ode to Christmas Schmaltz


Illustration by Ross Macdonald

Despite my Jewish ancestry, every year I deck the halls with boughs of holly, pray for a white Christmas, listen on the digital Victrola to Nat King Cole’s "Silent Night" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas," watch Miracle on 34th Street (the 1947 version with Edmund Gwenn), Christmas in Connecticut (with Barbara Stanwyck), A Christmas Affair (with Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum), Gene Shepherd's A Christmas Story and Home Alone (the first one). I Repeatedly hum "I Recall Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "All I Want for Christmas is You" (and You and You and You). In lieu of a social gathering, tonight I'll be sitting by the Sharper Image LED tree with joy listening to WQXR's special and marathon Xmas music programming.


I love everything about Christmastime—the look, the sounds, the smells, the TV commercials (that begin in October), the Bob Dylan album “Christmas in the Heart,” with its Courier & Ives cover, and the accompanying “Must Be Santa” video, a rousing homage to the jolly fat man.


I simply and unapologetically adore Christmas schmaltz.


These times—leading up to Dec. 25—are not a’ changing and never will. Christmas is a legacy brand. Hanukkah (or if you prefer Chanukah) will always be to Christmas what Pepsi is to Coke. Imagine rebranding Christmas? Christmas Lite, bah humbug!. Designing a typeface called Christmas Helvetica is about as crazy as the Dunkin' Donuts logo in Din. Merry Christmas Old English, everyone.


Christmas is the one time of the year when "citizen (i.e socially responsible, do-good) designers" needn’t be true to their mission to save the world from mediocrity or Helvetica. Who cares? Christmas is the great leveler.


Every Christmas an otherwise cheesy bar/restaurant in my hood is magically transformed by thousands of little twinkling white lights, hundreds of evergreen fir branches tied with red ribbons, and dozens of silver bells and colorful balls—into a cavern of joy. The Nordic-themed food is still as heavy as an iceberg and just as tasty but Christmas is worth the heartburn.


What is it about Christmas schmaltz that makes me happy? The question has been pondered by mental health professionals for countless forty-five minute hours. I simply feel free to be me … a feral child for just a day.


So, from all of us elves and red nosed reindeer at The Daily Heller, be merry and watch plenty of movies on the Hallmark Channel.

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