Comment of the Day: “On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide”


Belle is a Jewish reader of the recent Ethics Alarms Christmas post who sent  her comment to me off-site, then agreed to have it posted as the Comment of the Day after I requested permission.

She describes a real dilemma that I am very aware of, and thus am grateful for her raising it clearly and directly. I’ll be back with a bit more at the end, but here is Belle’s Comment of the Day on the post, On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

I would like to try to make you understand at least a little why I am SO heartened that my children are growing up with “Happy Holidays” and Chanukah menorahs along with Christmas trees in public places, and how difficult it was for those of us non-Christians who didn’t. I sense that you were so antagonized by your colleague’s aggressiveness and different world view that you couldn’t hear what might have been behind the aggressiveness. You write that “Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart, What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?”

There was plenty of harm to me and my family. I don’t expect you as someone who was raised in the majority culture to understand what it felt like growing up Jewish at Christmastime. It certainly did not feel like it was bringing us together with other Americans. To put it most aptly and bluntly, the message I  got every year was that I was less of an American because my family was not Christian. This is what Christmas meant to me and so many other Jews growing up, even in a large Northeast city with a substantial Jewish population. I was always sure that Ebenezer Scrooge was a commentary on the Jews: to this day I have no desire to see “A Christmas Carol.” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” told me what Christmas was all about. It was a belief that was not part of my family and, at least at that time, a source of persecution for my family because we did not share that belief.

We were The Other and regarded with suspicion. I assume you’ve seen “Gentlemen’s Agreement?”  The star, the manger, and the best Christmas carols are NOT secular, and I don’t quite understand why Christians consider them to be so, although when my oldest son attended  a Christian school I did understand from conversations with other parents that they truly did consider them to be so. But the words are not secular. When I was growing up, those Jews I know who joined in felt terribly self-conscious and felt like we had to hide the fact that we were non-Christians. It was a painful, painful time.

It is so much easier for my children and so much easier for me to join in Christmas celebrations nowadays, when our heritage is acknowledged as a part of things even if Chanukah is a lame holiday. Every culture has a solstice holiday, not just Christians. The acknowledgement that America is a country of many cultures, not just Christian, helps us join more fully in the festivities, including singing Christmas carols, which  I love to do. I’m not trying to start an argument, but I did want to attempt to make you understand at least a little what it feels like from the shoes of a non-Christian and how hurtful it is to suggest that it’s easy and beneficial for us to just pretend we’re Christians.

I’m back, and I get it. Those in the Jewish culture and faith have had every reason to feel “othered” and to be hyper-sensitive to what may appear as exclusion. I knew Jewish families who felt this way back in Arlington, Mass, and I just felt sorry for the kids, that they couldn’t enjoy the season with the rest of us. I also knew devout Jewish families that celebrated Christmas without worrying about the Christian trappings, including the words of the songs.  It’s clear that my own peculiar orientation is mixed up in this: my parents were Christmas fanatics, but at most mildly religious. My father was cynical about all organized religion. I can listen to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and get choked up because of its message, because I remember seeing Bing Crosby sing it live on TV when I was a kid, because I know the story of how it was written, and because its message is positive and inspiring. But to me, it’s still a secular song, just like “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “O Holy Night” and the Hallelujah chorus are just kick-ass music that make me feel glad to be alive. I never felt like we were pretending to be Christians by singing and enjoying “Silent Night” or “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” any more than I felt we were devil worshipers to celebrate Halloween, or that we believed in saints when we sent Valentine’s Day gifts and cards. Pretending to be Christian is a topic for a whole other post: I think part of the appeal of Christmas is that it gives lapsed Christians a way to pretend they still believe, once a year.

It’s interesting that Belle thought of Scrooge as Jewish and his change a religious conversion. It is pretty well established that Dickens was anti-Semitic, but most critics agree that Scrooge wasn’t intended to be a Jew. Rather, the fact that he didn’t celebrate Christmas invited a comparison of Jews to a mean niggardly man with an Old Testament name. Remember, we see Scrooge celebrating Christmas, and rather enthusiastically too, as a young man. Let’s not search for ways to find the most ethical piece of English literature I know politically incorrect. Please. Please.

Thanks for writing this, Belle.

Happy Chanukah.

61 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide”

  1. My only question is: did anyone ever try to stop her from celebrating her holiday? The answer for diversity of tradition is for everyone to celebrate in their own way, not necessarily to try to silence others from celebrating. The chorus I belong to was sponsored by the local “Ministerium” which included all the clergy in a certain town, Christian and Jewish alike. Time and again we sang at Christmas, at the library, at the town hall, including all the religious stuff and no one complained, heck, the library director’s last name was Cohen and she loved inviting us. Want to guess whose idea it was to do anything specific to Hanukah? Eleven-years-Catholic-educated, goes-to-Mass-every-Sunday me, and mostly because I am a Handel fan and wanted to do some of the choruses from “Judas Maccabeus.”

    Oh, and Scrooge was NOT Jewish, Belle, just sour on the idea of Christmas because of a cruel childhood, the early death of the one person who was ever kind to him (his sister Fan), and his gradual enslavement to greed which led to a failed engagement. It was still fairly common in Victorian times for Christian men to have names from the Old Testament that would be considered unusual now: Ishmael, Azael, Gideon, Ethan (though that one is making a comeback now), etc., in fact Azael Porter was one of the slain at Concord Bridge and Ethan Allen I assume you have heard of. Seriously, when people bash movies they refuse to see?

  2. I feel a bit of that other as I was raised in a Christian flavor out of step with my area. They were almost aggressively on board with anti-secular then, and Charlie Brown Christmas was _only borderline_ acceptable because it had the Bible verse. So I always had a lot of sympathy for Jewish kids even though there was only one family.

  3. Thanks Belle. I always try to use “Happy Holidays” when sending cards, etc. to Jewish friends. I guess it would be better to do so during the High Holy Days, but I guess “Happy Roshashanah” (sorry about the spelling) would be kind of dumb for a Day of Atonement.

    Our friends whose boys went to school with our kids always had to explain to their boys why they couldn’t celebrate Christmas AND Hannukah. Obviously, the boys were in it for the presents. Dredils didn’t really cut it.

    I think on this topic I’ll defer to what Jews have experienced. Plus, I am fairly adamant in my belief we are a pagan culture rather than a Christian culture. It’s all about power, brains (see the preceeding post), money, sex appeal and sexual satisfaction in the U.S. Just like classical Greek mythology. In the words of a baseball guy Jack well knows, “nice guys finish last,” and not the Golden Rule, is the order of the day.

    I only wish the left were half as enamored of Judaism as it is of Islam.

      • I think it’s a convoluted mess of rationalizations that make them strange bedfellows…

        Among the reasons why (though not an exclusive list):

        1) Islam’s homeland is occupied by an Islamic people who sit on a vast pile of fossil fuel resources, and the Left loves hating people who exploit those fuels for the advancement of mankind, therefore any stereotypical group developing those fuels: IE White people automatically make an enemy of their enemy is their friend.

        2) Islamic dominated lands were once the target of a bold flanking maneuver nominally in the name of Christianity. The Left’s most ancient competitor for domination of Western Civilization is Christianity it’s Western offspring: Classical Liberalism, and to this day, despite what the moral equalizers have to say, Islam and Classic Western Civilization ARE AT ODDS, and, again, an enemy of their enemy is their friend.

        • (oh oh oh, and subtly, don’t forget, Islam ultimately gears societies towards centralized strong man autocracies, removing autonomy from individuals…the Left LOVES those kinds of systems)

            • Yeah, no. It’s way simpler than that, at least in my experience: No one of consequence in America is suggesting we ban all Jews from immigrating, or close synagogues, or stop synagogues from being built, or essentially treating all Jews as morally suspect at all times.*

              (And all of these ideas predate Trump’s ascent by at least a decade.)

              What you see as “the left’s love for Islam” is really just the left’s traditional sympathy toward marginalized minority groups.

              *The amount of hate crimes against Jews in the U.S. is still staggering, and a bit puzzling, since I think Islamophobia and racism against blacks and hispanics are much more common in the US than anti-semitism; I suppose the type of people who commit hate crimes are more likely to be the type of people who believe conspiracy theories about the Jews.

              • And yet, that isn’t good enough. I know Leftwingers are capable of watching what is going on in the world to know that things aren’t exactly peachy keen in the culture worldwide that they constantly bend over backwards to defend.

                • The thing is, most people on the Left blame the Islamic world’s relative backwardness on its colonial past and (often secular) authoritarian present (mind you, they don’t just blame the West for this; the Ottomans often get plenty of blame as well: hell, one left-leaning book I read on Syria raked the Assads through the coals as well). Hell, our long-time ally of convenience Saudi Arabia is about as Islamist as Iran, but without even the democratic veneer. In fact, Leftist writers, rightfully or wrongfully, generally consider groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda to be on the *conservative* side of the populist spectrum.

        • Don’t forget also:

          3) With Arabs being the primary core of the Islamic world, they represent precisely the “type” of people the Left will always pretend need their help: “darker” people. The Left’s ongoing narrative that Western Civ’s primary modus operandi was the malicious enslavement of all non-white people pushes this angle. Again, an “enemy” of their enemy is their friend.

          4) Israel. Period.

  4. Arrrrggh! This viewpoint is where political correctness comes from. Being a lapsed Christian myself, I cannot but wonder why in the hell some Jewish person would be offended by saying Merry Christmas to them instead of Happy Holidays. It is meant in the spirit of goodwill and not to put somebody down because they don’t believe that Jesus is the Savior.

    • Here’s possible reason why, Wayne, with all due respect: Ten Million men women and children of all ages murdered by the German nation during WWII, plus another few million murdered by Stalin. For being Jewish.

      • And thanks for posting this, Jack. Nice job.

        And good night from The Netherlands were over 70,000 Dutch Jews were carted off to be murdered by the Germans only seventy-five years ago.

      • Six million Jews, 4 million Polish Catholics, actually, and a few million more gypsies, homosexuals, etc. I don’t think Stalin’s Great Purge specifically targeted Jews, he just killed everyone. I won’t deny that the Holocaust was a terrible, terrible thing. It’s for that very reason that it shouldn’t be trotted out for something like “Merry Christmas.”

        • You lost me there, Steve. I can’t think of a worse horror than the attempt (fairly successful) to obliterate an entire race of humans only seventy years ago. I suppose Mao’s murdering millions or Stalin’s murdering millions were also terrible events of the Twentieth Century and unprecedented in their numbers, but I’ll take the killing of Jews as more heinous. And if Jews are supposed to feel comfortable, at least in America, I’ll leave that to Jews to decide when and to what extent that is appropriate. The Jews in Holland and Germany felt very at home in their respective countries prior to the 1930s. Jews fought for Kaiser Bill in WWI. Jews came to Amsterdam from all over Europe to escape persecution in Spain and Portugal and other places because Amsterdam was tolerant. Until the Germans showed up and began making them wear special cloths with stars of David on them and erected fences around their neighborhood. I think tempering Christmas enthusiasm around members of other faiths is the least anyone can do.

          • I think the point is that there are about 10,000,000,000 steps between saying “Merry Christmas” with a reasonable expectation that someone shouldn’t be offended and actually planning, resourcing and executing the operation of obliterating Jewish people from the face of the planet. So associating the two as a reason for why it’s somehow ok for Jews to be offended by Merry Christmas isn’t even “shaky at best”…it’s completely non sequitur.

            • I’m surprised. I thought this was a gimme. Wouldn’t you find it a little weird if a Jew came up to you and said Happy Hannukah?

              • Yes, and I wouldn’t say “Happy Easter” to a jewish friend, either. I presume that members of the culture, however, either celebrate the cultural holiday known as Christmas, or know that it is a cultural holidsy, and understand that the greeting “Merry Christmas” is a seasonal expression of good will, not proselytizing.

                  • Merry Christ mas. It’s the most significant Christian Holy Day, perhaps second to Easter. A seasonal expression of goodwill would be Happy Holidays. Or Merry X-Mas. The first isn’t acceptable to avid Christians and the second one is unpronounceable. But if Christ mas is just about seasonal goodwill, the argument’s over. You’ve just taken the Christ out of Christmas. If Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior (to quote Tim Tebow), it’s about God being made flesh and arriving on Earth to save us from our sins and die on the cross to give us all Eternal LIfe with our Father in Heaven. And if you don’t believe Jesus Christ is Our Lord and Savior or that there’s such a preposterous thing as Eternal Life and are a member of a highly regarded, thousands of years old group that has an entire belief system that is Jesus free, Merry Christmas is at least meaningless and more likely offensive.

                    Why would any intelligent Christian want to do anything so dumb?

                    • It’s a name. Happy Holidays is a non-specific copout. The Holiday in Happy Holidays is the cultural holiday called Christmas. The name isn’t a prayer, or a pledge of faith. It’s not a holiday tree, or a holiday party or holiday cards. Without the name, the values associated with the holiday are ignored. It’s gotta have a name, and the name carries the name of the central figure in the mass/celebration/Bible account/myth—depending on belief, upbringing, faith or taste.

                      Christmas is the name of the holiday, cultural or religious both. You argument is silly; it’s arguing that one can’t celebrate Christmas without being an active Christian. But millions do. Ergo, you’re dead wrong.

                      Christ is in Christmas, just like St. Patrick is in St. Patrick’s Day. You can celebrate the latter without believing that he drove the snakes out of Ireland.

                    • I’m hoping this will show up after jack’s response.

                      I think your view of Christmas as a hodge-podge of movies and other pop culture stuff is naive. In your own words: “It’s clear that my own peculiar orientation is mixed up in this: my parents were Christmas fanatics, but at most mildly religious.” I’d suggest Christmas has never been religious to you at all, Jack. It’s not to me anymore, but trust me, when I was a Catholic kid growing up in Catholic schools and serving mass as an altar boy who was supposed to grow up to be a priest, it was religious. Christmas is a religious holiday. It’s not just the time to watch re-runs of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life or to listen to Bing Crosby.

                    • You have just described “culture” in a particularly ugly way, Bill. Religion is part of our culture, an important part, along with literature, traditions and yes, Bing Crosby movies. When religion becomes estranged from the culture it serves, as Christianity is in the process of doing, it cuts its own throat….and the culture’s too.

                      The cultural, secular trappings of Christmas and the religious celebration were one and the same to me and my family and most people we knew for a long, long time. Like many ethical people, the lessons of the moral message of Christmas became internalized for us and no longer required the formal religious trappings—this is what Aristotle described as the way we all become ethical beings, if we do. The meaning of Christmas stuck with me, and sticks with me, as Scrooge says, 365 days of the year; the Christian message doesn’t have to be literally true to have value to me or anybody else, and Jesus doesn’t have to be divine, or followed by a star, or born in December of a virgin mother, for the story the Holiday evokes to have material, serious and lasting value. And yes, White Christmas is exactly as inspirational to me as Hark the Herald Angels Sing…and both are important.

                    • And St. Patrick’s Day is a total straw man. It’s just a saint’s day. Like every other day of the year is some saint’s day. It’s just an excuse for the beer drinking demographic to cut out of work early and drink in the early afternoon on a work day with relative impunity. Apples and oranges. But if you’re willing to equate Christmas’s significance to that of St. Patrick’s Day, you’re right, no one should give a rat’s ass about being told Merry Christmas. It’s meaningless. So I guess I see your point.

                    • Everything you are saying has NOTHING to do with making a connection between a religiously associated greeting that has all the trappings of both Goodwill AND the religious side (for those who know it) and an open assertion that we’re going to round up Jews and their families and consign them to the flames.

                      I’m still looking for you to make the logical connection for me.

                    • Okay, here’s my last attempt at trying to make my point. Let’s say Tex lives in Austin and when someone sticks up their index finger and pinkie (the signal for Chapter 11, as we used to say in the mid ’80s in the real estate biz in Arizona, but I digress) and urges (okay, you’re going to have to pretend UT has a competitive football team again) “Hook ’em Horns!!!” Tex is less than enthusiastic. Is he an asshole for not joining in the dominant culture’s joyful celebration of all things wonderful and Longhorn? No. He’s a Texas A&M guy. Sure the sign is part of the dominant culture and a celebration of all things great about Darrell Royal and his progeny, but still, Tex doesn’t celebrate any of that.

                      Or let’s say Jack lives in the greater New York Metropolitan area, or, better yet, the Bronx. And let’s say every year there is an observation of the day the Red Sox traded George Herman Ruth to the Yankees. Let’s call it “Bambino Day.” Jack is less than enthusiastic when someone, oh hell, everyone on the street greets him that day and for the two weeks leading up to it, with “Happy Bambino Day!” And sure, it’s a great way to remember the beginning of the greatest, most winningest series of baseball teams in the Twentieth Century, but Jack’s a Red Sox guy. All those Yankees teams finished ahead of his Red Sox. And there were no play-offs and no divisions, etc. Why can’t Jack just let it go and bask in the goodwill and glory of the great Yankees teams and all the goodness they showered on NYC and embrace how unified and happy they made New Yorkers feel?

                      In conclusion, all I can say is I’m glad we separate Church and State. Cheers.

      • Are you implying that German Christians were responsible for the Holocaust? Hitler exhaulted pagan beliefs and persecuted prominent Christians theologians along with murdering quite a few of them. Anyway, the point you make is fallacious considering the huge number of American and British Christians who died on the beaches of Normandy along with their Jewish counterparts to end forever Hitler’s Third Reich.

        • Dietrich Bonhoeffer and St. Maximilian Kolbe were among the victims of the Holocaust. Himmler, not Hitler, though, was the occultist crank. Yes, I think we all know huge numbers of Christians jumped to the rescue of the victims of the Holocaust, but, by the time they got there most of the damage was already done, leaving some lingering bitterness. That said, I hardly think the majority in America celebrating their holiday is the equivalent of rounding people up to be liquidated.

          • At the end of the day though, Nazi Germany may have been nominally Christian, but much of the Nazi ideology appealed very much to a subtle resurgence in interest with neo-pagan germanic polytheism. The Germans, an industrious, clean and generally friendly people, are also vibrantly autonomous. They were the first real resistance to the Roman Empire. They were the first real invaders that collapsed the same. They were the first real aberration from Europe’s medieval “constitution”, and from that they were also Europe’s true powerhouse in it’s rebellion against the Roman liturgy & theology. Of course it makes sense that the Nietchzean rejection of even Reformed Christianity (born initially in Germanic lands) would be the next wave of rebellion against the rest of the European system. Much good that did as it ultimately gave rise to Ubermensch Naziism…

            • Perhaps my point is that anti-semitism is a centuries-old and still extant phenomenon that accounts for a pretty unique experience for all of Jewry. As a super brilliant (and three or four years younger than the rest of us) Jewish college classmate of mine used to opine, “Just because we’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get us.”

              And yes, the Germans murdered all sorts of people but I don’t think the extermination facilities and their entire supporting infrastructure would have been built without the Jews and The Final Solution in mind.

              I had a Polish (American) kid in a ninth grade Catholic high school in the mid-1970s. Richard brought in some brownie photos of piles of corpses at Auschwitz or some Polish extermination facility. The photos were family heirlooms. He wanted to show them to me. I’m not sure why. I looked at them and nodded at which point he said (age 14) “Makes me glad my family was Catholic.”

              And then there is my Teutonic in so many ways Bavarian friend who observed sometime within the last ten years or so, “The Jews must have done something to piss people off.”

              I’ve also always thought Roman Catholicism and Judaism had a great deal in common and that Catholics were supposed to regard Jews as fellow travelers. I felt sufficiently other growing up going to Catholic church and Catholic schools in ’50s and ’60s America to feel a certain solidarity with Jews.

              I don’t think Germany’s Christianity had anything to do with its murdering millions and millions of Jewish people. (And I think it’s false for contemporary Germans to explain everything that happened from 1935 through 1945 by saying “the Nazis did it.” Who the hell were the Nazis. (There were even enthusiastic Dutch Nazis, for God’s sake.) I find the industrial murdering of the Jews inexplicable. Particularly being over here where it happened. Of course I also find the Allied bombing and obliteration of bunches of German cities hard to grasp as well. But that’s another topic.

              But again, I think the U.S. is pagan. Our big winter solstice holy day is Super Bowl Sunday, observed with sacramental guacamole and Fritos consecrated during the half time show when some priestess shows us her tits.

              Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

    • I’m nominally Jewish, non practicing except for the yearly Yom Kippor fast and occasionally going to temple with family for holidays. Here are my observations.

      1: Someone says merry Christmas, I say happy Hanukkah. The end.
      2: Someone says merry Christmas, remember the reason for the season, I spend a moment thinking about the Earth’s axial tilt, say happy Hanukkah. The end.
      3: Someone says merry Christmas, I say happy Hanukkah, the repeat merry Christmas over and over trying to get the same answer in return. I decide they’re an asshole, that they’re trying to push their beliefs on everyone else, that they don’t feel people with other traditions are equal members of society. I actively do feel othered. I get grumpy, why should some stranger just assume I celebrate Christmas? The arrogance to assume their tradition is universal.
      4: Someone says happy holidays. I smile and think ahh so it was just one jerk being overly pushy, other people do understand that there’s other stuff going on, they’re not making assumptions, they’re being inclusive and offering well wishes without making specific assumptions. My faith in humanity is restored. I return the wish, then pushy merry Christmas guy reappears to start a fight crying about a war on Christmas. He’s incapable of understanding that the choice of other people isn’t stopping him from saying Christmas and he cries about censorship.
      5: Now pushy guy is complaining to the manager of some store that the employees are saying happy holidays because war on Christmas and he’s being alienated by his religion not being front and center even though he’s happy to alienate anyone who doesn’t share his views. I note that happy holidays covers pretty much everyone with the next couple months having Hanukkah Christmas, Kwanzaa New Years and in February Chinese New Year. He complains that by not making it all about what he cares about and only what he cares about he’s being oppressed. And because he’s a privileged entitled twat he’s particularly loud about this belief. I resolve to only say happy holidays because screw that guy.
      6: Someone says happy Hanukkah, I say I love you too mom.

      • Are you the grump complaining about the City Hall Christmas tree lighting and community carol singing because you’re just Jewish enough to be offended at Christmas? Congratulations on becoming the Madeleine Murray O’Hare of Christmas celebrations, with the sandpaper personality to match.

        • Oh hey, it’s that guy who likes to threaten to break women’s arms. Hi Steve!

          You’re still so very clever, I see, finding all those references I made to tree lighting and caroling. I thought they were so well hidden as to be completely invisible, as if I didn’t say anything about them at all. But you just saw right through me didn’t you. Well done!

          Still you missed the part about outlawing Christianity, rounding Christians into camps and forcing everyone else to adopt both compulsory homosexuality and Islam (you can tell that I love Islam more than anything by the fact that I don’t spend all my time screaming about how evil all Muslims are.) There’s just as much of that in there as there is about a city lighting a tree.

  5. It’s one of those situations where I think there’s a bit of a duty to not take offense when offense isn’t meant… But a thoughtful person might not push the envelope.

    Regardless… Happy Holidays all!

    • First impressions aren’t that easy to shrug off. Belle’s comment that she “was always sure that Ebenezer Scrooge was a commentary on the Jews” reawakened a long dormant spectre of mine. So, Google to the rescue, I went searching for the 65-year-old source and damned if I didn’t find it: My oldest Scrooge image is not from Dickens; it’s from the Rackham illustration of Shylock from Charles and Mary Lamb’s incomparable childrens’ (anyone’s!) introduction to Tales from Shakespeare (scroll — or read — down for the image:

      Fiction abounds with misers, a sub-category of villains (often semi-comical: to jeer at), a stock character from Medieval times, especially in children’s stories, who are often more memorable — and way more fun to act out — than are heroes. Miserly villains tend to have the same features and characteristics: mean, suspicious, hoarding good will as well as gold, stooped, narrow-shouldered, and “clay-faced” life-denying penny-pinchers … as is another “Ebenezer” in Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” whose miserliness is ethically and morally beyond villainhood (he changes sides in the middle of a battle), or a father-and-son pair of Chuzzlewits in another Dicken’s classic, or Shylock himself — who has by the end of Scene 1, before he lends the money and (jokingly) adds the “interest” that is the basis of the tragedy, chosen love of money over love of his daughter.

      Silas Marner has a similar appearance to start with but, like Dickens’ Christmas-friendly Carol he has a better nature lurnking not far beneath the surface – and villain becomes hero. Alastair Sim in the 1951 version makes an early change to a smiling, generous Christmas celebrator who straightened up and smiled right. But just as what the Beast (in Beauty and) may do and appear as after the transformation to Handsome Prince is not what is remembered, the pictures of Sim used to advertise the movie are to my memory those of Shylock

      and a ten year old could (and did) easily confound the two. I can’t help believing that Belle, and many Jews, did the same or similar.

      Early on, I was told by a classmate that he was not allowed to come to my house because “the Jews killed Christ” and I learned that lesson well. It overrides any later comparative religion data. At the time, an older cousin told me that probably my (former) playmate was jealous because he was only getting one gift on one day. That was far more satisfying than yelling “Jesus WAS a Jew, you stupid-stupid” as he walked away.

      In later years, I leaned the Yuletide pleasures of chording the piano accompaniment for living-room choirs, stringing popcorn, hurling tangles of tinsel, juggling the delicate ornaments, even hunting (one very cold December just below timberline) the elusive Tree. I bought and sent greeting cards that said Merry Christmas and Oy to the World to the recipients who would most appreciate them (one year the latter went to everyone, but I never found them again). I bought gifts (for children) and still contribute to the annual firehouse collections. But Scrooge still looks like Shylock in my mind (with a little Grinch thrown in), and the classmate probably couldn’t recall, if he tried, the origin of his bias against Jews.

      After reading these posts and replies, however, I have to admit to myself that I have just been using the overcommercialization, the hideous public decor, the commitment to guesting at drunken parties or groaning boards that lead to a groaning stomach — not to mention having to fill in on the crisis lines on December 25th — as an excuse. The truth is the “holiday” season brings out the curmudgeonly in me; underneath the peaked red cap with the faux fur border and pompom on top I am bearish, cranky and cross. So I will admit that what I really really want to do is put up the heat, my feet, and a bottle to cool, grab a plateful of Mexican wedding cookies and pickled herring (maybe separate plates: kosher, you know) … and watch a good movie:

      • Nice work, PA. Surely worth of designation as a Comment of some period of time by Jack. I’m with you on the curmudgeon front. My favorite Thanksgivings have been spent overseas.

        • But sorry you found another supply of them, tex; the cost of greeting cards today is prohibitive. You may be interested to know, however, (and in case you haven’t sent yours out yet) that the Oy cards were appreciated primarily by non-Jews. I do believe one aunt was rather offended at receiving it — she was one who didn’t take kindly to “Season’s Greetings” as it was.

          …. And it warms the cockles of my heartmuscle to know I discombobulated you, Mister Smartypants. So there!

          And a very Merry Christmas to you and you all.

  6. Didn’t mean to put the same movie up, or to have the picture on at all, just the URLs – I am techless in many areas. And the whole thing was supposed to go at the end (here) where it wouldn’t interrupt the flow of the thread … but hey, the cobblestones were were really slippery and you know that delivery boy may have dropped the goose a couple of times on the way to Tim’s house.

    Wyogranny, sad is okay; normal sad toward something that calls for it is temporary and healing. A lot of your comments un-sad me.

  7. For fear of making an analogy that, in the wrong hands, could easily get out of control, the dual nature of Christianity, as it currently exists is sort of loosely like the dual nature of Islam…referring back to the earlier article that Jack mentioned: Islam is a Religion. Islam is also a Political System. Islam is also both a Political System AND a Religion simultaneously – of course, in practical terms it is all three options at once in different situations. It depends on which set of values a practitioner would emphasize or conversely, ignore. Well, Christmas IS a religious holiday. It also IS a cultural celebration. It also IS BOTH at the same time.

    Christmas, of course, began as a religious holiday to celebrate, as we know, Christ’s birth. No need to go into the details. Though Christmas had a clear decline through the years, it was revived, as mentioned here in the mid 1800s, most influenced by Charles Dickens. Christmas’s reinvention, was a clear CULTURAL effort to focus the season’s celebrations on Generosity, Good Will, Compassion, etc. So what if it was easier to associate with the religious Christmas as all the useful symbolism was there. No cultural ceremony that has no ties with the past will carry any real meaning for the people involved. This is why made up nonsense like Kwanzaa is a farce and it’s why the attempt at renaming Christmas via “Happy Holidays” is a joke…we all know WHY it’s the holidays – Christmas. Grumbling over the name, because the name happens to be shared with the religious precedent of the celebration is, quite frankly, miserly and curmudgeonly.

    It makes sense to have a celebration of altruism and selflessness within a culture. It also makes sense to appropriate the majority culture’s ALREADY built in celebration of those qualities for the greater culture. Both of those tasks have already been completed – thank you mid-1800s. I may be going out on a limb here, but I imagine that if the majority culture had been Hindu, and a cultural holiday had grown around whatever even Hindus associate with generosity and compassion and good will, then Jack would be arguing just as vociferously that we ought to continue to celebrate Happy Vishnumas or whatever without grumbling and complaints – because you are still free to celebrate your OTHER DAYS as YOU see fit in a free society.

    Of course that 3rd paragraph brings up a completely out of the way sidebar – would we even be having a holiday celebrating generosity, goodwill and compassion if Early Christianity hadn’t moralized those values? Who knows.

    • To be clear, Christmas has been re-invented and re-invigorated MANY times through history. Often times most of what we associate with the secular aspects of Christmas were infused from *secular* practices (whether or not those secular practices were practices by Christians in a non-religious aspect is immaterial (or is it?)).

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