December 21, 2010
by James G. Bruen, Jr.
Last year the Washington Post’s lead editorial on Christmas Day, an editorial entitled simply “Christmas” in print, but “Christmas not what it used to be, but becoming better” on-line, opined that Irving Berlin’s song “White Christmas” is “the most essential contribution of all to the creation of the 20th-century American Christmas,” which is “a Christmas that was secular, sentimental, commercial and, to a large extent, more inclusive than the religious celebration that preceded and now accompanies it.”
Sadly, there’s much truth in the Post’s statement. The American Christmas celebration is largely a secular, sentimental, and commercial orgy that has overwhelmed or displaced the Church’s celebration of Christmas. But there is also falsification. The American Christmas is not more inclusive; it has a narrow vision; recognizing only the natural, it tolerates the supernatural only as a sentimental affectation or commercial prop.
In contrast, the Catholic Church is universal, catholic, and inclusive: no one who professes what the Church professes is excluded; all are welcome. America builds border walls to exclude Mexicans, but the Church welcomes all believers regardless of race, color, sex, age, physical infirmity, or national origin. Christ came not for one nation or tribe, but for all men. The Church celebrates Christmas as the birth of Him who redeemed all mankind, not just Americans, not just Jews. What could be more inclusive?
How did White Christmas transform Christmas? Why is it “the most essential contribution of all to the creation of the 20th-century American Christmas?”
“Like a number of other popular songs that came along during the war, [White Christmas] captured the sadness of separation, the longing for peace and normality and the nostalgia for a better time that really wasn’t that long ago. These shared emotions gave Christmas a new poignancy and significance during the war years, and made it something different from what it had been,” continued the Post. “Radio, with its nationwide audience – just about everyone listened to the same shows – not only amused and entertained, it comforted and reassured. In the dark war years, it created a new Christmas spirit. … Christmas has continued to move toward becoming a truly national holiday, a time of good feeling and universally shared hopes, and an occasion in which all can share.”
Is that really all there is to it? Christmas changed because of the Second World War, and now it has becoming a wishy-washy national holiday of good feelings and shared hopes?
Writing in the New York Times last December, musician Michael Feinstein captioned his piece: “Whose Christmas Is It?” Feinstein also embraces the fatuous idea championed in the Post editorial that Christmas is becoming better because it is becoming secular and inclusive. But he probes a little deeper into the genesis of the popular songs that abet the transformation of Christmas into a national holiday instead of a Catholic holyday.
The evolution of Christmas is reflected to a degree in its music. As the holiday has become more secular, so have its songs, with religious and spiritual compositions largely supplanted by the banalities of Rudolph, sleigh bells and Santa. Many Christians feel that the true essence of Christmas has been lost, and I respect that opinion. It must be difficult to see religious tradition eroded in the name of commerce and further dissipated by others’ embrace of a holiday without a sense of what it truly means to the faithful.
Yet I also hope that those who feel this encroachment will on some level understand that the spirit of the holiday is universal. We live in a multicultural time and the mixing, and mixing up, of traditions is an inevitable result. Hence we have the almost century-old custom of American Jews creating a lot more Christmas music than Hanukkah music.
If you look at a list of the most popular Christmas songs, you’ll find that the writers are disproportionately Jewish: Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” (yes, Mel Tormé was Jewish), “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Santa Baby,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Winter Wonderland” — perennial, beloved and, mostly, written for the sheet music publishers of Tin Pan Alley, not for a show or film. (Two notable exceptions: “White Christmas,” introduced in “Holiday Inn,” and “Silver Bells,” written for “The Lemon Drop Kid.”)
Feinstein suggests that Jews wrote popular Christmas songs simply because that’s what sold: “Tin Pan Alley songwriters … churned out songs to order on every conceivable subject for their publishers.” Is that all there is to it? The change in Christmas resulted from a commercial transaction?
In Operation Shylock: A Confession, which won a 1994 PEN/Faulkner Award, writer Philip Roth provided still deeper insight:
The radio was playing ‘Easter Parade’ and I thought, But this is Jewish genius on a par with the Ten Commandments. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and then He gave to Irving Berlin ‘Easter Parade’ and ‘White Christmas.’ The two holidays that celebrate the divinity of Christ – the divinity that’s the very heart of the Jewish rejection of Christianity – and what does Irving Berlin brilliantly do? He de-Christs them both! Easter he turns into a fashion show and Christmas into a holiday about snow. Gone is the gore and the murder of Christ – down with the crucifix and up with the bonnet! He turns their religion into schlock. But nicely! Nicely! So nicely the goyim don’t even know what hit ‘em. They love it. Everybody loves it. The Jews especially. Jews loathe Jesus. People always tell me Jesus is Jewish. I never believe them. It’s like when people used to tell me Cary Grant was Jewish. Bullshit. Jews don’t want to hear about Jesus. And can you blame them? So – Bing Crosby replaces Jesus as the beloved Son of God, and the Jews, the Jews, go around whistling about Easter! And is that so disgraceful a means of defusing the enmity of centuries? Is anyone really dishonored by this? If schlockified Christianity is Christianity cleansed of Jew hatred, then three cheers for schlock. If supplanting Jesus Christ with snow can enable my people to cozy up to Christmas, then let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
The Church has often baptized pagan holidays, transfusing them with Christian meaning and transforming them into Catholic holydays. Today’s crusade to drain holydays of Christian meaning and transform them into feel-good commercial events renounces that baptism. And that crusade marches to the music of Jewish genius, which has made the most essential contribution of all to the creation of America’s schlockified Christianity.
May you have a happy and holy Christmas.CW
James G. Bruen, Jr. writes frequently for Culture Wars.
This article was published in the December, 2010 issue of Culture Wars.