If a war on Christmas actually exists, it began with Bing Crosby and a Jew.
Crosby and composer Irving Berlin didn’t mean to wage war on Christmas. They meant to have a hit song. “White Christmas” was that.
In a PBS documentary about Crosby, biographer Gary Giddens calls the song, the most popular recording of all time, the first to secularize Christmas.
Imagine: A Christmas song where snowflakes are the central actors, where a season of good will can be rationalized just because it feels right. And among those feeling it — what? A Jewish composer?
Yes. But Berlin wasn't the only one. He was among several Jewish composers writing popular Christmas songs:
“White Christmas.” “Let It Snow.” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” “Silver Bells.” “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”
Lauren Markoe writes about this for Religion News Service:
“In their music and lyrics, Jews captured Christmas not only as a wonderful wintry time for family gatherings, but also as an American holiday.”
An American holiday. A warm and welcoming holiday.
In those terms, the greeting “Happy Holidays” isn’t the affront that some make it out to be — a season co-opted and corrupted by the masses.
Sorry, but the holidays as practiced here are a manifestation of us – a nation of difference.
When I hear that the secularization of Christmas is a problem, I think the man after whom it was named would come up with bigger problems.
Over-commercialization is a problem. And let’s face it. For just about every day of every year, commerce is the closest thing to a national religion we have. But talk about an amazing concept: For one day, Christmas shuts down even commerce.
Yes, Christmas is a great invention. I don’t care what pretext you use. If it’s your pretext to have something with cinnamon and butter in the oven at this very moment, it’s a great thing.
The other day I was sampling a particular sugar cookie, and appreciating the fact that this particular taste is made for one particular observance, one time only, and hooray for that.
If Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa — name it — is a reason for scattered families to assemble, miracles not possible except for this time of year, that’s sufficient “reason for the season.”
If it’s cause for people to greet each other with general decency, even when the decency is wholly secular and “holiday”-related, and when a guess isn’t necessary as to which greeting would offend, a season that inspires “Happy Holidays” is a very good thing.
The song “From a Distance,” written by Julie Gold and popularized by voices like those of Bette Midler and Nanci Griffith, isn’t a Christmas song, but it could be.
Gold’s masterpiece observes that at any moment, from a distance we aren’t a bunch of rivals or enemies, warriors or worshippers in clashing colors. We are tightly bunched and at peace.
Imagine how, from a distance, the smattering of lights that grace each neighborhood over the holidays, whether they be from front-yard nativities, or inflatable Santas, or Menorahs on window ledges, all merge to provide communal fields of sparkle.
“From a distance you look like my friend even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend what all this fighting is for.”
On such a note: That secularizing tune, that American tune, “White Christmas,” was released in 1942 — the first and worst year for our forces in World War II. By all accounts, Crosby’s song was a major morale builder. Homesick soldiers of every creed and ethos felt as one singing along.
Whatever the season means to you or me individually, I invite you to appreciate and celebrate what it means to all of us collectively.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.