On Christmas Day in the Morning
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 03:57:14 PM EST
Last year I posted a response to the preposterous annual war on Christmas claims broadcast on Fox News and elsewhere, and decided to repost with a tweak or two. Happy Holidays -- FC

Christmas has at least as many meanings as there are people, whether they celebrate the holiday or believe in any of the story, or not. It affects us all.  There is hardly a more defining day in all of our culture, and it embraces the best and the worst of what we have become as a people.

In that regard, I'm glad that this year the Religious Right and the dour propagandists at Fox News did not engage as much as usual in their repulsive annual revival of an anti-Semitic tradition begun by Henry Ford: Falsely claiming that there is a War on Christmas.

As Chip Berlet reported here at Talk to Action in 2007:

Here is a gem from the past:

"And it has become pretty general.  Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth."

Where and when did this appear?  Take a guess. Bill O'Reilly?  Wrong.  again. World Net Daily?  Nope...read on... Here is some more of the text:    

"Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event.  There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find."
Still not clear?    
"Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards.  And even in this business one comes upon that same policy of declaring Anti-Semitic everything that is Christian.  If Rabbi Coffey says the New Testament is the most Anti-Semitic book ever written, what must be the judgement on an Easter card that is truly an Easter card?"
Getting an inkling?  How about this text?    
"There has not been any 'persecution' of the Jews in the United States and never will be any, but all that the Jews have had to carry in the way of misunderstanding has been the result of the leadership which has misled them into paths of bloated ambition, instead of substantial human achievement."
Year? -- 1921 Source? -- One of the nastiest antisemitic tracts ever published in English: The International Jew:  The World's Foremost Problem, Chapter 36.

Originally published as an article, "'Jewish Rights' to Put Studies Out of Schools," THE DEARBORN INDEPENDENT, issue of 19 March 1921. Collected in: Henry Ford and the staff of the Dearborn Independent, The International Jew:  The World's Foremost Problem.  1920-1922,  Vols. 1-4.  Chapter 36: "Jewish Rights" to Put Studies Out of Schools.

I have always been a little surprised that we have not done a better job in response to the Fox News-led war on Christmas meme. (The bogus, and related meme that liberal secularists are trying to drive people of faith from public life and all religious expressions from the public square, was even internalized by elements in the Democratic Party for awhile, and this undoubtedly confused the issue.)

But what I really want to surface today is that even within the alleged cabal of the reviled secular liberal media -- there is a 25 year public radio broadcast tradition that honors and celebrates the holiday in a remarkable and joyous fashion.  My local NPR affiliate, WFCR - FM (Five College Radio, operated by the University of Massachusetts, and Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire, and Amherst Colleges) joins in the annual airing of the Christmas eve BBC broadcast from King's College, Cambridge of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

WFCR classical music host John Montanari writes:  

No two hours in New England Public Radio's entire yearly schedule are as eagerly anticipated as are 10:00 to noon, Eastern Standard Time, on the 24th of December.  That's when one of the oldest continuing traditions in broadcasting, dating back to 1928, is renewed for new and old audiences alike.  We could or would no more not broadcast A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols than we could or would forestall the lengthening of days following the winter solstice.

Like all beloved traditions, "Lessons and Carols" remains comfortingly consistent, while also constantly refreshing itself with new elements.

It is aired nationally on many NPR stations by American Public Media.

I'll be listening when it is re-broadcast:  On Christmas day, in the morning.

on so many levels. Thanks for the rich perspective and important reminder.

by gregmetzger on Sat Dec 24, 2011 at 08:03:18 PM EST
And Merry Christmas!

It's remarkable to me how often the tools that we need to answer the Religious Right and Fox News, are far more available and accessible than we sometimes realize.  I had been thinking about writing something about the annual Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast on public radio in this context for a long time. Glad I finally got around to it.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Dec 25, 2011 at 01:50:51 PM EST

Thank you for the history lesson. I never realized that the "war on Christmas" theme dated back so far, or to such vicious anti-Semitic roots.

Your mention of the broadcast of The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols this morning (which I also thoroughly enjoyed) set me to thinking about "Amahl and the Night Visitors." It was the first opera written for television, commissioned by one of the commercial networks (CBS, I think) in the early 1950's. Gian Carlo Menotti wrote both the libretto and the music, drawing on customs from his boyhood in Italy where the emphasis was on the visit of the Magi as a time for gift giving.

Though it is not "the Christmas story" per se, it is deeply religious. And surprisingly relevant to today's struggles. From the mother's aria: "I wonder if rich people know what to do with their gold. Do they know how a child could be fed? Do rich people know? Do they know how a house can be kept warm all day with burning logs?" And a bit later from Melchior's aria: "The child we seek doesn't need our gold. On love, on love alone he will build his kingdom. ... His might will not be built on your toil.... and the keys to his city belong to the poor." It sounds suspiciously like a vision the Occupy movement might dream up, doesn't it?

For years it was broadcast annually on commercial television (no PBS in those days). I guess maybe Henry Ford was wrong.

by MLouise on Sat Dec 24, 2011 at 11:18:58 PM EST
It was NBC, not CBS ~ first broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1951. I should have looked it up before I posted.

by MLouise on Sat Dec 24, 2011 at 11:42:47 PM EST
Yikes - I was a very small child and yet remember this. Didn't understand it but do remember it. I had NO idea it was that long ago, and it is a fond memory. I think it was repeated several times in later years. Too bad it's fallen by the way. What does BillO do with Charley Brown's Christmas since it's overtly about the birth of Jesus as well as love for the misbegotten tree? We see that every year complete with Linus' recitation of the story. How un-Grinchy of us. There is no war on Christmas, there is only a broader understanding today that there are MANY reasons for the season and that, if we're not wrapped so tightly in our own fear, we can enjoy them all.

by Churchlady on Tue Dec 25, 2012 at 01:55:04 AM EST

Although as a Pagan I find it a bit annoying that more people aren't aware that many religions in addition to Christianity have a Winter Festival, it is even more annoying that, in an effort to appear religion-neutral, so many stores, shopping malls, and even public places resort to the most God-awful "Holiday music" available.  This stuff is "seasonal" -- meaning "secular holiday" music, and it is one of the reasons why I avoid shopping after Halloween.  Happily for me, I am able to accomplish virtually all of my shopping during the summer months at the local Renaissance Faire and at various antiques shops, which offer gifts that suit the off-beat interests of my family and friends.

I am a classical music lover (as well as a lover of other musical styles and traditions) and I happen to love Christmas music -- real, church, Christian Christmas music.  But then, anyone who follows musical history through the Renaissance and earlier (Hildegarde Von Bingen, et. al.) is going to find that a goodly portion of the surviving music is sacred because the church was at the center of culture.  The remaining folk music is also great, since it tends to have strong Pagan overtones, although the typical listener, such as my very Christian parents, just enjoy it as folk music.

So the loss of sacred music in public places in an unfortunate casualty of commercial interests who are terrified of offending anyone, and instead simply offend those of us with a modicum of taste.

I have listened to my sacred Christmas music this season in the company of my friends, who include Sufiis, Jews, other Pagans, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Atheists, and Agnostics (and probably other affiliations I don't know about).  We all enjoy the beauty of the music, even as we follow our own paths.  In my case, since Pagans of the Celtic/Wiccan tradition hold that the "Child of Promise" (the God of the Waxing Year) is reborn at Yule (Winter Solstice), enjoying sacred Christmas music isn't much of a stretch.

As for Henry Ford and his rabid anti-semitism, I think we should take a lesson from that and be wary of business magnates who seek to sway public opinion by demonizing various groups through lies or misrepresentations.  We are seeing it now in the form of some business leaders who are intent on demonizing those who cannot live on minimum wage or who voice a desire for health care or the right to join a union.  The past repeats itself.  The Jews have been vilified through poetry and song ("Little Saint Hugh" comes to mind) for centuries, as have those who are poor and want better lives.

by coralsea on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 10:15:25 PM EST

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