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When Hanukkah Harry Met Santa

SCOTT SIMON, host:

And, you know, for the first time since 1959, the first night of Hanukkah and Christmas fall on the same day. Maybe that should be Chanukkah(ph) and Tristmas(ph). It's a rare chance for observers of both holidays to party like it's 1959. In Salt Lake City, the festivities have already begun, and Laura Weiss reports.

Unidentified Man: Let's go, Temple Square, everybody in red!

LAURA WEISS reporting:

Temple Square is a visitor's mecca, home of the Mormon Tabernacle, their famous choir and, in December at least, millions of white Christmas lights. But tonight, it's not tourists headed to the square. It's fired-up locals, including a woman who calls herself, hmm, Santa.

Unidentified Woman: They've been really stressed out making all those toys, so this is when they get to come out the Friday before Christmas and really have a good time.

WEISS: The `they' she's referring to is a flock of 200 Santas dressed in doverger(ph) red suits, white wigs--the whole bit. Tonight's the 10th anniversary of the Santa gathering. It's an annual, slightly tipsy Kris Kringle foray to Temple Square and downtown pubs. And it's by no means a Christians-only event according to Bill Cohen.

Mr. BILL COHEN: So like Jesus, I too am circumcised. I know what it's like to be raised as a Jew. I'm overwhelmed with guilt and I'm finding myself tonight--some mob of drunken Santas who are taking over Temple Square. And I am wearing a Santa hat, and I'm Jewish. I have crossed between my heritage as a child of Israel into the mob of Santas.

WEISS: Bill isn't the only one to celebrate two holidays tonight.

Mr. COHEN: But, you know, who it truly represents is Hanukkah Harry. Have you met him yet?

WEISS: Suddenly, a man dressed in blue velvet emerges from the scarlet mass.

Mr. COHEN: Hanukkah Harry is represent--he's sporting the full Santa costume except that it's blue and the yellow star. He's wearing the yellow star with a big H in it. That is right.

Mr. DAVID TRACHMAN (Hanukkah Harry): But I have to admit...

WEISS: Known by day as David Trachman(ph), Hanukkah Harry explains his holiday's history to several Santas who have now gathered around him for a tutorial.

Mr. TRACHMAN: Well, you know, the Salt Lake City valley needed a Jew to represent Hanukkah Harry. I grew up with this man. I mean, you guys all, you know, grew up with Santa Claus, but I don't know of this man.

WEISS: The mission of Hanukkah Harry, he says, is not so different from Santa's.

Mr. TRACHMAN: Hanukkah Harry has been around for tens of years. Basically, his purpose is to spread love and chocolate around the world.

WEISS: The revelry continues. Harry and his crimson colleagues stumble off to the next pub. This rare convergence of Christmas and Hanukkah has made St. Nicks, or Harrys, out of everyone in the crowd. Arm in arm, they stride off together, set aglow by white Christmas lights. For NPR News, I'm Laura Weiss in Salt Lake City.

SIMON: Twenty-two minutes before the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Weiss

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