Other than perhaps the Virgin Mary, there are few Jewish women who are more excited about Christmas than Abby Koenig.
No, she's not excited about "the holidays." Koenig is excited about Christmas, that magical Magi day that 2013 years ago marked the birth of the non-Messiah, according to her own family heritage.
"We'd light the Menorah for a day or two and then we'd all forget and that would be it," Koenig recalls of her December childhood in Poughkeepsie, New York. "My mom would make latkes, but they always came out green-looking because of the potatoes oxidizing, so Hanukah was a stop-and-start event, if it even happened.
"Christmas, however," she says, "was a monumental occasion."
It's a personal phenomenon that has helped Koenig navigate Texas' everything-is-bigger-and-more-Christian attitude since her years-ago exodus here from New York.
"People just assume that you are a Christmas celebrator here. I've even kept the fact that I was Jewish to myself in certain situations because of that. Since moving to Texas, where there are not a lot of Jewish people, it's become a lot more in my face."
There's little hedging about her DNA in The Jew Who Loves Christmas. In this solo autobiographical show and exhibit, Koenig explains to Gentile and Kosher audiences alike why Hannukah, at its very core, is illogical:
"Why didn't the Maccabees shut the oil lamp off during the day," she ponders. "Oil doesn't grow on trees, you know."
Why Channukah has "like, eight different spellings" also comes up in her on-stage conversation.
With its tagline, "Exploring the high cost of Christmas cheer through laughter and tears," Koenig considers the show a drama with comedy.
"I touch on a lot of sad things that have happened during the holiday season," the playwright/performance artist (and frequent contributor to the Houston Press) says. "But my M.O. on writing is that life is pretty upsetting. You have to find some comedy in it or you'll go crazy."
Occupying the Fresh Arts space tricked out with an "extravaganza of lights and fake trees and blow-up paraphernalia and snowflakes and candy cane explosion" -- a Santa Village, sans Santa -- the show also offers a video loop of some of Koenig's favorite Christmas-flavored movie, cartoon, and commercial clips.
"I go through all of the life lessons that can be gleaned from holiday movies," Koenig says. "Like, even if the Post Office is a horrible institution, they can prove the existence of Santa and that makes up for any lost packages."
And what would a Christmas show be without Christmas music? "We will have a Christmas soundtrack playing before and after the story part," she assures. "And there are lines from Christmas carols written all over the walls. Guessing is encouraged."
That would be the comedy part of the program. The drama part includes revelation of a family tragedy.
"Death and religion is always a tough topic to broach," she admits. "There is some questioning of the religious aspect. I compare Santa to Jesus; one gives you presents and one doesn't. You decide which."
Koenig says she hopes this Christmas Valentine, if you will, will resonate with people who have also experienced upsetting times around the holidays.
"I hope audiences will think, 'Wow, she is messed up!' and then think of their own holidays of yore and think, 'Wow, we are all messed up!' The story is mine, but the theme is very universal."
While writing the show as a Jewish person with a somewhat dysfunctional family, but living in a very Christmas-centric society, Koenig says she discovered she was using the holiday as a form of normalization.
"I wanted to be a part of that tradition because everyone else was, but as I pulled things apart, I realized that celebrating Christmas does not make you normal. Who knows what that means anyway," she adds. "Who's 'normal' these days? You can eat all the plum pudding you want, it won't change who you are or where you come from."
No, it won't. Might as well sleep in heavenly peace.
Abby Koenig's one-night-only performance at 6 p.m. Friday, December 6 of The Jew Who Loves Christmas will be taped so it can be viewed throughout the exhibit's run. Through January 3. Fresh Arts' Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter Street. For information call 713-868-1839 or visit spacetaker.org. Free.
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