Two reader responses to the angry rant from a utility customer who objected to receiving generic holiday greetings at Christmastime.
Jeffrey Shallit writes:
This guy represents everything that is bad about Christian North America. He doesn’t understand freedom of religion; he feels so threatened by non-Christians he wants to resort to violence; and he assumes everyone who is Canadian is necessarily Christian (forget about all those damned, Jews, I suppose, not to mention native Canadians who might follow traditional native religions).
Although not Jewish myself, I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia that was predominantly Jewish. Many lost members of their family in the Holocaust at the hands of Christian Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians. (And please, do not object with a version of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Their murderers often called themselves Christians, and the long history of Christian anti-Semitism cannot be denied.) These Jews did not always celebrate Christmas, even the secular version, and many objected strongly to the presumption that everyone did.
In such an environment, if you did not know what people celebrated, it was simply rude to assume one way or another. Thus, I grew up wishing people “Happy Holidays” unless I was sure. Most people I knew did the same. I still do so.
David Major counters:
Unless I am awfully mistaken, the notion of the neutralized nomenclature is a thoroughly urban myth.
The idea was born in a corporate manger fearing the tag of presumptiveness.
Mind, there are situations where the gathering is fairly intimate where a good host might fairly be as inclusive as possible.
After the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, played host to Garrison Keillor this month, the Minnesota writer repaid the favor with a splenetic column excoriating the congregation for varying the words of Silent Night. Unitarians were not his only target.
Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that’s their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite “Silent Night.” If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. 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.
Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you’re not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don’t mess with the Messiah.
Raised as a Plymouth Brethren, at the opposite end of the Christian spectrum from Unitarians, Keillor joined the Episcopal Church as an adult. Though he affects a charming, avuncular manner while spinning yarns from fictional Lake Woebegon on NPR’s Prairie Home Companion, he is said to be vain and disagreeable in person.
When the “Jewish guys trashing up the malls” column appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a friend of editorial page editor D. J. Tice wrote to ask why he decided to run it. Dice replied:
We discussed the column and whether it crossed the line, aware that it had already stirred controversy. We decided it was not anti-Semitic, not least because Keillor spread his nastiness so widely, the way many Christians (and others) try to spread good will at this time of year. He is a regular presence on our Sunday page, with a substantial following, and our bar is very high for spiking a regular column.
In no case, however, does our publishing a column… imply any endorsement of its message. We publish pieces that we think are provocative and/or illuminating. Sometimes what is illuminated is not exactly what the writer intended, and the reaction to Keillor’s piece suggests this may be one of those times. Wouldn’t you agree that readers with eyes to see may have learned something from this piece?
For my part, Keillor is welcome to his narrow, misanthropic Christmas. I hope the real spirit of the season reaches him someday.
The pastor of the offending and offended First Church congregation responded with what could be called Christian charity, were it not for the legions of Keillor-minded adherents to that faith.
The best response Contrarian saw came from a fellow Minnesotan. For Adam Minter, a Jewish writer now living in Shanghai, Keillor’s column immediately called to mind the Christmas party he attended at Shanghai Putuo Spare Time University a few days ago. His description, and one other response, after the jump.