Christopher Hitchens Gets Contrarian on Christmas from the Grave (Plus Some Tom Lehrer)

Back in 1959, Tom Lehrer, the Har­vard lec­tur­er and satirist, record­ed “A Christ­mas Car­ol” before a live audi­ence at the Sanders The­ater in Cam­bridge, Mass. The song, offer­ing an ear­ly com­men­tary on the com­mer­cial­ism of Christ­mas, pro­vides the jump­ing off point for Christo­pher Hitchens’ arti­cle “Forced Mer­ri­ment: The True Spir­it of Christ­mas,” which has been pub­lished posthu­mous­ly in this week­end’s Wall Street Jour­nal. Even from the grave, Hitchens goes on being Hitch: blunt, bound to make the major­i­ty bris­tle, but also brim­ming with some con­trar­i­an insights…

But the thing about the annu­al cul­ture war that would prob­a­bly most sur­prise those who want to “keep the Christ in Christ­mas” is this: The orig­i­nal Puri­tan Protes­tants regard­ed the whole enter­prise as blas­phe­mous. Under the rule of Oliv­er Cromwell in Eng­land, Christ­mas fes­tiv­i­ties were banned out­right. The same was true in some of the ear­ly Pil­grim set­tle­ments in North Amer­i­ca.

Last year I read a recent inter­view with the priest of one of the old­est Roman Catholic church­es in New York, locat­ed down­town and near Wall Street. Tak­ing a stand in favor of Imam Rauf’s “Ground Zero” project, he point­ed to some parish records show­ing hos­tile pick­et­ing of his church in the 18th cen­tu­ry. The pious pro­tes­tors had been voic­ing their sus­pi­cion that a pro­fane and Popish cer­e­mo­ni­al of “Christ Mass” was being con­duct­ed with­in.

and some humor.…

In their already dis­crepant accounts of the mirac­u­lous birth, the four gospels give us no clue as to what time of year—or even what year—it is sup­posed to have tak­en place. And thus the iconog­ra­phy of Christ­mas is ridicu­lous­ly mixed in with rein­deer, hol­ly, snow scenes and oth­er phe­nom­e­na pecu­liar to north­ern Euro­pean myth. (Three words for those who want to put the Christ back in Christ­mas: Jin­gle Bell Rock.) There used to be an urban leg­end about a Japan­ese depart­ment store that tried too hard to sym­bol­ize the Christ­mas spir­it, and to show itself acces­si­ble to West­ern vis­i­tors, by mount­ing a dis­play of a San­ta Claus fig­ure nailed to a cross. Unfound­ed as it turned out, this would­n’t have been off by much.

You can read Hitchens’ unabridged piece in WSJ here. H/T goes to @opedr

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