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.