New Yorkers go to some attractions only once and then feel the need to make up excuses:
“We went to the Empire State Building because my cousin from Iowa wanted to see it.”
“I bought cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery because I knew it would make my friends laugh.”
“We had to climb the Statue of Liberty because my fourth grader missed the field trip. I’ve lived here 40 years without going.”
“I went to the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, because I wanted to see if it would make Jesus puke.”
In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield goes to Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas Spectacular:
The Rockettes were kicking their heads off, the way they do when they’re all in a line with their arms around each other’s waist. The audience applauded like mad, and some guy behind me kept saying to this wife, “You know what that is? That’s precision.” He killed me. … All these angels start coming out of the boxes and everywhere guys carrying crucifixes and stuff all over the place, and the whole bunch of them — thousands of them — singing “Come All Ye Faithful!” like mad. Big deal. It’s supposed to be religious as hell, I know, and very pretty and all, but I can’t see anything religious or pretty, for God’s sake, about a bunch of actors carrying crucifixes all over the stage. When they were all finished and started going out of the boxes again you could tell they could hardly wait to get a cigarette or something. I saw it with old Sally Hayes the year before, and she kept saying how beautiful it was, the costumes and all. I said old Jesus probably would’ve puked if he could see it — all those fancy costumes and all.
The 90-minute show includes 140 performers, 1,000 costumes, 60,000 pounds of props, 36 hip-hop Santa Clauses, too much Nutcracker, and 6 1/2 minutes of Jesus. Carol and I did not have the best seats. When the dancers held up what I assume was “R-o-c-k-e-t-t-e-s,” we could only see “k-e-t-t-e-s.”
Fairy drones — this is what Santa called them — flew in formation above our heads. At least one drone dove into the crowd. The 3-D glasses are lost on me. Twelve percent of us just cannot see it. I was led to believe Santa’s sleigh and reindeer hurtled past winter scenes of famous sights in Manhattan. Confetti was a major part of the experience — and the best part for the 7-year-olds in front of us.
The world famous Rockettes are the best part for many. In 2022, the Rockettes lowered the minimum height to 5’ 5”, but they look taller. The Rockettes still do not reflect the multi-racial city they call home. It is a mostly white Christmas.
Thirty-six women in far better shape than the rest of us hoof and kick with precision and an abundance of sequins. In the sightseeing bus scene, they dance and sing just like tourists are prone to do. The less cultured members of the audience feel more awe at the Rockettes playing toy soldiers who fall backward in slow motion than at any of the ballets to which our wives have taken us. The show does not have much of a narrative, but state-of-the-art technology and razor-sharp dancing makes it spectacular.
“Here Comes Santa Claus and O Come, All Ye Faithful are both fine songs, but they fit different shows.”
Mary and Jesus get there late. Two camels steal the show, even as the audience wonders why they could not get a camel for each king. The Nativity scene does not belong on the same stage as the Mouse King. Here Comes Santa Claus and O Come, All Ye Faithful are both fine songs, but they fit different shows.
My sense is that God is OK with Radio City Music Hall celebrating a merry Christmas while the church celebrates the joy of Christmas. Christians who have not made their peace with Santa are missing the point. Santa is a lot of loud “ho ho ho’s.” The Christ Child is God’s gift of quiet joy.
Jingle Bells is a diversion from the world’s troubles. Joy to the World is deeper than the world’s troubles.
The real story is not as loud as the spectacular one. An unwed teenager delivers hope in a marginalized neighborhood in an occupied country, a Jewish baby born in Palestine. Workers in the field and pagans from the East come to see the homeless family, soon to be an immigrant family. The child grows up to announce “good news to the poor” and tell everyone who will listen that how we treat “the least of these” is the measure of how much we love God.
Christmas in the Bible does not have a lot to do with sugarplum fairies, but while he might rather be left out of the Christmas Spectacular, I don’t think Jesus would’ve puked.
Brett Younger serves as senior minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.