December 25, 2013

FROM THE ARCHIVES: IT'S AMERICA, WE'RE ALL CHRISTIAN:

Whose Christmas Is It? (MICHAEL FEINSTEIN, 12/18/09, NY Times)

If you look at a list of the most popular Christmas songs, you'll find that the writers are disproportionately Jewish: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," "The Christmas Song" (yes, Mel Tormé was Jewish), "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Silver Bells," "Santa Baby," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Winter Wonderland" -- perennial, beloved and, mostly, written for the sheet music publishers of Tin Pan Alley, not for a show or film. (Two notable exceptions: "White Christmas," introduced in "Holiday Inn," and "Silver Bells," written for "The Lemon Drop Kid.")

You'll notice that certain famous Jewish songwriters are conspicuously absent from this list. Why? Unlike the Tin Pan Alley songwriters, who churned out songs to order on every conceivable subject for their publishers, writers like Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Richard Rodgers and Harold Arlen mainly created songs for musical plays and films, and unless a story line required a holiday song they had no need to write one. When they did try one outside the framework of a show, it rarely had the same spark. Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Happy Christmas, Little Friend," recorded by Rosemary Clooney in the '50s, is sadly lethargic. Even Clooney couldn't recall it when asked to sing it 30 years later. Or so she claimed.

In my holiday shows, I'm always looking for novel expressions of the season, and when I introduce a new song I don't usually think about the religion of its creator. That said, I'm always pleased to discover a surprising juxtaposition. It doesn't take Freud to figure out that the sugarplums, holly and mistletoe all tap into a sense of comfort, longing, security and peace that so many fervently desire; that we all wish the clichés were true. As Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists and everything in between, we are all more alike than we are different. That's something to celebrate.

[originally posted: 12/18/10]

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Posted by at December 25, 2013 3:37 AM
  

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