Well, this is just bizarre.
Garrison Keillor, author of “Lake Wobegon Days” and host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” has written a column expressing frustration with the co-opting of Christmas by non-Christians — from Unitarians changing the words to “Silent Night” to secular, holly-jolly Christmas carols by …. well, I’ll let him say it, just to make clear it’s Keillor speaking, not me:
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.
This is astonishing. Keillor definitely has a history of leaning left, and for a while his weekly radio show was a little too curmudgeonly political for me, even when I agreed with him on a particular issue. I had always thought of “APHC” as something timeless and above the latest political squabble. But now, here’s Keillor with a conservative-sounding “War on Christmas” screed.
Keillor’s column has caused a firestorm of controvery. Some non-Christians have responded along the lines of, “we’ll leave your holiday alone if you’ll stop shoving it down our throats.”
The trouble is that Christmas has been two different holidays since long before I was born, and really before Keillor was born. There’s secular Christmas, the Christmas of silver bells and materialism, and there’s religious Christmas, the Christmas of the little baby in the manger.
There was a line about Christmas in “Good Night, and Good Luck” which made me laugh out loud. Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) tells a CBS executive (Jeff Daniels) that he and his collaborator Fred Friendly will personally make up the ad revenue for a controversial episode of “See It Now,” since the normal sponsor objects to it.
“We just won’t have Christmas gifts for our kids this year,” Murrow sighs.
“Friendly’s a Jew,” shoots back the executive.
“Don’t tell him that,” responds Murrow. “Fred loves Christmas.”
It’s about a century or two too late to start declaring that Christmas is exclusively a religious holiday. Christians need to be respectful of those who are, by simple cultural fact, obligated to live through our holiday schedule even though they belong to another tradition. Non-Christians need to recognize that this is a special holiday, with a deeper meaning, to some (but not all!) Christians. (Even here in Bedford County, we have some churches that consider Christmas an unnecessary and anti-Biblical contrivance).
How that balance of mutual respect works itself out in practical situations — school programs and nativity scenes in public places and what have you — is a healthy and ongoing discussion, one that I fear is not at all helped by the chip on Keillor’s shoulder, or the risk that his comments will be perceived as anti-Semitic.
I seem to recall the characters at the center of the Christmas narrative being Jewish, after all.