Garrison Keillor has written a screed called "Non Believers, Please Leave Christmas Alone." The man who has been likened to a contemporary Mark Twain has been trying for some time to get the "crotchety old geezer" thing down. In this piece he first blasts the Unitarians for changing the lyrics of Silent Night to eliminate the idea that Jesus was God. Then he goes after
…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. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.
One wonders whether "the rest of that dreck" includes Irving Berlin's (né Izzy Bailin) "White Christmas". That's the most popular un-Christian Christmas song recorded, and, as far as I know, one of the most popular songs ever recorded.
Heck, it has even been recorded by…Garrison Keillor. Hope they are not "trashing up the malls" with his version.
But there is a serious point here, and as a Jew who was expected to sing Christian hymns at his Episcopalian prep school (I mouthed the words "Jesus Christ" without pronouncing the name), I think I can understand where Keillor is coming from.
Mr. Keillor, Christmas went American a long time ago. It was at a time when Christmas was ubiquitous -- including crèches on government property --, as American as apple-pie. Those were not easy days for what you call "non-believers" (I was once asked by a Christian fundamentalist whether I was a "believer," and I showed her my yarmulke and said, "Sure"). We felt really left out of the party. It was a helluva lot worse for us during Easter. But there were songwriters who did what songwriters do, and they wrote songs that would appeal to the mainstream, and, for better or worse, they are now as American as apple-pie. They allowed Americans, believers and non-believers, to participate in the festivities. That was one of the gifts of the secularization of Christmas. And I am not a fan of secularization.
Mr. Keillor, what do you think about "Jingle Bell Rock" which floods the malls every year, written by Bobby Helms, hardly a Jew. Are believing Christians allowed to write schlocky and commercial Christmas songs? Probably not. So why go after the religious identity of the songwriter? Just write against the songs, and keep the anti-Semitic slurs for your friends from Lake Wobegon who share your views
Garrison Keillor can decry the secularization of Christmas – keep Christmas for the Christians -- and I will be partly sympathetic to him. I am an orthodox Jew now, and I don't like what has happened to Jewish holidays like Hannukah either.
But he will have to first take back the American Christmas from the "non-believers." And this orthodox Jew will sure as hell fight him over it.