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"the separation of church and song" and/or unintended consequences?

amberglow's picture

The inescapable and ubiquitous Christmas songs, specials, etc -- and how us Jews helped create and embed them, have fought against them, and how some deal with it now -- fa-who dor-ay, fa-who dor-ay, ...

The white Christmases that Irving Berlin dreamed of weren't the earliest ones he used to know. ... watching his neighbors burn his family's house to the ground in a good old-fashioned, Jew-hating pogrom.
So it's no surprise that when Berlin got around to writing his great Christmas song in 1941, nearly half a century after his family had fled the shtetl of Mohilev for New York's Lower East Side, it was flatly devoid of Christian imagery. It is, for all that, a religious song. ...

-- An All-American Christmas

Have a Jewish Christmas lists most of the holiday favorites -- and their songwriters (guess who?)

The Brownsville Public School Boycott of 1905 -- great story of how we were able to remove some of the most explicit Christian Christmas stuff from NYC Public Schools. But --

... modified Christmas observances would be allowed – Santa Clauses and Christmas trees would still be permitted – so long as "sectarian views" were not introduced. ... the citywide Elementary School Committee issued a report recommending that the schools ban the singing of hymns and the assignment of essays on sectarian themes during Christmas. They did not, however, exclude Christmas trees or Santa images from the schools. The battle over a more secularized, folklore representation of Christmas festivities, ... continues ...

And from Slate, A Jewish parent's guide to Christmas specials (unlike my family, many apparently don't want their kids watching them all, and weren't themselves allowed to watch them all either) --

... the consensus was this: Jewish kids of my generation were permitted to watch one or all of: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and The Year Without Santa Claus. Therefore, their children are also allowed to watch them. But ask them why these movies pass muster and prepare for whomping exhibitions of illogic as only the People of the Book can practice it.
I learned this week that there exists an unspoken "no Jesus" rule, a "no Santa" rule, a "no saints" rule, a "no resurrections" rule (even if it's resurrection by proxy; thus no Frosty), and also a "no bad music" rule. ...

and a response to Lithwick, including this:

... I think that Jews identify not with the Grinch, but with the Whos. Seuss modeled the Grinch on the dictators of his time, and he modeled the Whos -- both here and (more explicitly) in the Horton book -- after the oppressed peoples of Europe. ...

Quite a complicated tangle, no?

At least Hermey the elf is one of us. ; >

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Submitted by hipparchia on

and wasn't that from slate and not from salon?

my parents raised their kids in various protestant churches, sent us to jewish summer camp, and introduced us to various muslims and buddhists and daoists [and hindus, almost forgot the hindus]. this was overall a good thing [and nobody was very surprised wheni renounced santa claus and the easter bunny and the tooth fairy and god all at the same time] but i think it probably blinded me to just how much santa claus and the easter bunny have taken over the population at large.

a real eye-opener seeing it put together all in one place like this.

Submitted by hipparchia on

my computer is now sporting one of the aqueduct pictures. way cool pics, way cool feat of engineering.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

i'm still amazed at how gigantic it was in real life -- i had no clue that it was so tall, and long -- and in such good condition.

(it's like the reverse of the mona lisa, actually -- it was much smaller and less impressive in real life, i thought. We know so many things from pics alone or tv, and the real thing is so different)

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

Good post. It's one thing to have all the pieces - putting them all together like this is another.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

Christmas for Jews: How Hanukkah became a major holiday.

... First, Christmas had to become Christmas, which originally wasn't a big deal in America. The Puritans who settled Massachusetts made it a crime to celebrate the holiday (punishment: five shillings). Only with the arrival of German immigrants after the Civil War did it emerge as the major American feast. With the revolution in retailing--marked by the rise of department stores and advertising--celebrations focused on throwing parties, buying and giving gifts, and sending greeting cards (first sold in 1874, they became a million dollar business within a few years). The Coca-Cola Co. adopted as its logo a jolly bearded man in a red and white suit, and Santa bypassed Jesus as Christmas' main icon.

Enter the Jews. Around 1900, millions of eastern European Jews came to the United States, congregating in urban enclaves such as New York's Lower East Side. Most adopted American traditions, including the newly secularized Christmas. "Santa Claus visited the East Side last night," the New York Tribune noted on Christmas Day, 1904, "and hardly missed a tenement house." Jews installed Christmas trees in their homes and thought nothing of the carols their children sang in the public schools.

The second generation of American Jews challenged this embrace of a festival that, despite its secular trappings, was fundamentally Christian. But parents couldn't very well deprive their kids of gifts or seasonal merriment, and Hanukkah benefited from convenient timing. ...