Garrison Keillor, one of my least favorite people, has written a column in which he tells “nonbelievers” to butt out of Christmas. He especially objects, it seems, to Christmas songs written by Jewish composers: “And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck.” Dreck is certainly an interesting word choice in this instance.
Some Christmas songs were indeed written by Jewish composers, such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas.” (Irving Berlin, just to rub it in, also wrote the most — perhaps only — famous Easter song, “Easter Parade”). Rodgers (who was Jewish) and Hammerstein (who was raised Presbyterian by his Scottish mother) wrote “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” a lovely Christmas song that, inexplicably, never caught on. “Jingle Bells,” however, was written by James Lord Pierpont, who was J. P. Morgan’s uncle. Jewish he wasn’t.
What jerks like Garrison Keillor don’t realize is that the Christian holy day that celebrates the birth of Christ and the utterly secular holiday of presents, Santa Claus, mistletoe, office parties, etc. are completely different. They just happen to both be called Christmas and fall on December 25th. I wrote about this dichotomy for the Wall Street Journal a while back. Jews, of course, often make the same mistake. A few years ago a mother objected to her son going on a class trip to see a dramatization of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, so the whole trip was canceled. Dickens’s famous tale is a ghost story, for heaven’s sake. It has nothing whatever to do with the Christian holy day, but rather with an unhappy old man’s rediscovery of love. Should a class trip to see The Diary of Anne Frank be canceled because the play has a scene in which the family celebrates Hanukah?
Some people love the Christmas season. I’m not one of them. The Garrison Keillors of the world are part of the reason.