Do Muslims and Jews Have This Problem?

In the mood of the season, I found a video with Frank Sinatra’s rendition of Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.

Maybe yours doesn’t but my mind boggled (again). Frank Sinatra, the singer alluded to in The Godfather, with real ties to the Rat Pack, and no model of family mores, is singing Charles Wesley (one of the original Methodists’ better verses). Again, the mind boggles.

This is how familiar Christmas is for Americans (and people in the West more generally). Not only did Sinatra sing Wesley. But producers in the recording industry believed that Frank singing a batch of Christmas songs would be a revenue enhancer. And these entertainment geniuses decided not only to include some of the secular and corny songs, like Jingle Bells, but also the sorts of material that Anglican cathedral choirs include in Lessons and Carols services.

Is your mind boggling yet?

Do Muslims have songs to sing about the birth of Muhammad? Do Jews sing about the birth of Abraham? One way to tell is to live in a Muslim or Jewish society during the holy days? How much religious music seeps out into the larger commercial world?

I don’t know (and am willing to learn from readers).

But one of the things that makes Christmas great (in all senses of the word) is that recording celebrities have put out so many albums and cds devoted to the birth of Jesus.

For the New Schoolers out there who like to chalk such cultural expressions up to the church’s (which one?) transformatalistizational powers, the pervasiveness of Christmas cheer is a sign of the longing that many people have the good news that the nativity narratives begin. Yes, we need more Christ and less Frank in Christmas, but for Americans to devote the better part of six weeks every year to the celebration of Christmas is an indication of Christianity’s abiding appeal.

For Old Schoolers, though, the relentless persistence of Christmas in all its schmaltz and devotion is an indication of how little discomfort Christians feel about making their own holiday an affair for Muslims, Jews, and secularists to enjoy or endure. Imagine thinking that Frank Sinatra’s Christmas albums would sell in Istanbul.

At the same time, Old Schoolers who know the history of the church calendar should not blame Roman Catholics for the ubiquity of Christmas sales and music. Protestants in the United States did not observe Christmas (minus some Episcopalians and Lutherans) until the late nineteenth century when department store entrepreneurs like New School Presbyterian, John Wanamaker, connected the dots between God’s gift to man in sending his son, and the gifts that Americans could give to friends and family to participate in that incarnational spirit.

Protestants made the world safe for Frank Sinatra singing Wesley, not the bishops.

4 thoughts on “Do Muslims and Jews Have This Problem?

  1. It’s true, though. Christmas albums tend to be big money-makers for the record companies, especially those that contain all the traditional secular Christmas songs with just a smidgen of Christian songs represented. Those albums, because of their very generic-ness, can stay in the catalog for decades.


  2. Works in the other direction, too. The story is that when filming was taking place for Irving Berlin’s 1942 film, “Holiday Inn” Bing Crosby at first refused to sing the song “White Christmas” because he, a devout RC, considered it sacrilegious (since the lyrics had nothing to do with the incarnation, but were entirely about secular events). He did finally sing it as we all know, but it took a great deal of persuasion from the director along with a stubborn Berlin who refused to modify his lyrics in any way.


  3. Not worse than watching that horrid mouth sing O Holy Night on A Very Murray Christmas. I must be getting old, when she rapturously spewed ‘Christ the Looooord’ I almost shut it off, until I remembered the mute button. I know, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, but at least at that time she will mean it wholeheartedly; and the backdrop won’t be fake snow and Christmas trees…


  4. Garrison Keillor: “What makes Christmas in New York City so wonderful is that it’s not unanimous. There are so many Jews and Muslims and militant agnostics around to keep the holiday from being totalitarian. So we Christians
    can enjoy it without requiring everyone to line up and salute. The presence of heterodoxy makes my orthodoxy more beautiful to me. If, walking along Columbus Avenue, I heard “Silent Night” ninety-seven times sung by every pop star plus the Mormons, it would obliterate the miracle of Christmas Eve when a church packed with believers sings it acappella holding candles. ”


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