From Powerline, Garrison Keillor’s latest column:
Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that’s their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite “Silent Night.” If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. 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. 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.
Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you’re not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don’t mess with the Messiah. (Emphasis added, but hardly needed – ed.)
I sympathize with Keillor’s disdain for the secularization of Christmas. But White Christmas, The Christmas Song, and Rudolph are harmless enough. I might as well complain about Sunrise, Sunset being played at Orthodox weddings.
But what on earth does the secularization of Christmas have to do with the religion of the songwriters? Nothing. Mel Torme, Johnny Marks, and Irving Berlin were part of a wave of Jewish popular songwriting in the last century. But there were plenty on Christians writing secular Christmas music, amd the Christians who recorded all these songs didn’t seem to mind.
I used to like Garrison Keillor. He loved, recreated, and advanced the art form of radio. I listened to Prairie Home Companion through college and until he retired from it. He was largely single-handedly responsible for the revival of storytelling in this country. The audio version of WLT, a Radio Love Story was great company on long road trips. Some of his work will live forever, and deserves to.
But he has long since traded his wistful, sweet notalgia for a poisonous bitterness driven by a country he can no longer understand, and spiced with a political nastiness all too common on the left.
Unlike if a conservative had said these things, there’s no likely recourse here. Good luck getting the ADL to condemn these comments, and don’t hold your breath waiting for the many Jews (or the management) at NPR to ask for a “clarification” of his remarks.
This casual enabling will have long-term consequences for Jews, none of them good. One hesitates to discern a pattern based on two data points, but this is the second time in a week that liberals have gratuitously brought up the Jewishness of someone whose activities they didn’t approve of. Jonathan Chait of The New Republic and Lee Siegel of The Daily Beast both attributed Joe Lieberman’s opposition to the health care bill to his Orthodoxy, without a shred of evidence. (In Siegel’s case, religion was less a vehicle for an attack on Lieberman than Lieberman was a vehicle for an attack on Orthodoxy.)
If Jews are unable to take certain political positions, indeed engage in certain common cultural activities without having their Jewishness attacked, it represents a watershed change in the American political culture, one that is not “progressive” in any positive sense, but “regressive,” back to the culture of Europe that so many of our ancestors fled. These attacks are coming from the Left, and it’s up to the Left to clean its own house, although I suspect they consider this a feature more than a bug.
And just in case Keillor happens to be visiting any public space or listening to any music radio in the next few days, I wouldn’t want him to enjoy a Christmas song under the delusion that it wasn’t composed by Jews. So here’s a list:
- The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
- Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Feed the World)
- Holly Jolly Christmas
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas
- It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
- Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
- Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
- Santa Baby
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town
- Silver Bells
- Sleigh Ride
- There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays
- White Christmas
Merry Christmas, and happy listening, Garrison!