The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Oy to the world: the Jewish composers of Christmas songs

The cabaret singer Michael Feinstein points out something many may not know: some of the best-loved songs about Christmas were written, in fact, by composers who were Jewish:

The evolution of Christmas is reflected to a degree in its music. As the holiday has become more secular, so have its songs, with religious and spiritual compositions largely supplanted by the banalities of Rudolph, sleigh bells and Santa. Many Christians feel that the true essence of Christmas has been lost, and I respect that opinion. It must be difficult to see religious tradition eroded in the name of commerce and further dissipated by others’ embrace of a holiday without a sense of what it truly means to the faithful.


Yet I also hope that those who feel this encroachment will on some level understand that the spirit of the holiday is universal. We live in a multicultural time and the mixing, and mixing up, of traditions is an inevitable result. Hence we have the almost century-old custom of American Jews creating a lot more Christmas music than Hanukkah music.

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 Torm√© 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.”)

Check out the rest.

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posted December 18, 2009 at 10:55 am

There is some dispute over whether Adolphe Adam, author of the music to O Holy Night, was Jewish. He was apparently buried from Notre-Dame, but he may still have been of Jewish ancestry. The author of the French lyrics was a socialist, but not Jewish.

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Joseph J Cleary II

posted December 19, 2009 at 11:59 am

Beyond insensitive, one wonders what mental midget attends the ” Michael Feinstein Christmas Special” and then complains the songs are too Jewish?
It may just be ironic or coincidence that so much of the treasured music of Christmas was composed by Jewish composers. I will not disagree with Mr Feinstein that it speaks to the universal themes of Christmas.
Still I do wonder if there is a deeper message here being communicated to those of us who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday from the man whose mother was a Jew, who grew up and lived his entire life as an observant Jew and died a Jew so many years ago. Would He have described a Christmas concert with music composed by Jewish songwriters as ” too Jewish”?
Something I will ponder as advent draws to a close.
A blessed Christmas Deacon Greg to you and your family – Joe

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