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Why Garrison Keillor's Rant Makes Me Say 'Bah Humbug'

By Sarah Seltzer

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During this most wonderful time of the year, when non-Jewish people wish me a Happy Hanukkah with a knowing look in their eyes; I refrain from saying “Seriously, it’s a minor holiday. Merry Christmas, and get back to me on Pesach.” I 100% accept the fact that Christmas is really and truly a Bigger Deal than any other winter holiday; even in New York, where bodegas stock menorahs, December 25 will dwarf all other seasonal celebrations.

But what I don’t accept is watching the vast majority of the country get psyched about Christmas while pundits complain that their day is being taken away from them. It’s enough to bring out my inner Scrooge. Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog tipped me off to this Garrison Keillor piece kvetching about the de-sanctification of Christmas by casting aspersions on Jewish songwriters contributing to the Christmas-song canon:

And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

This rant, incidentally, came after Keillor complained about Unitarians rewriting the lyrics to “Silent Night” for their own use, to fit their own tradition. You know, Garrison, all this mean-spiritedness is making you sound like that most memorable of Christmas characters: The Grinch. If you’re really going to go out of your way to diss Irving Berlin and his ilk, then I have two words for you: Bah Humbug.

The “War on Christmas” is nonexistent, a term referring to a minor attempt to tone down the overwhelming smell of mistletoe by adding a touch of latke grease to the air; it’s an effort to put a paltry Hannukiah and maybe a Kwanzaa Kinara next to a giant nativity scene. No well-meaning effort at multiculturalism is going to take away the behemoth that is Christmas, and that’s okay! Everyone has their major holiday, after all. However, blaming Jewish songwriters and Unitarians for muddying Christmas is not okay —this is America, where everyone theoretically gets to celebrate his or own way without affecting everyone else.

On Friday, you’ll find this warrior on Christmas at the movies, eating Chinese food, and grooving to my favorite holiday song of all, Darlene Love’s SNL parody “Christmas for the Jews.” It’s a good ditty, but it requires a sense of humor, so maybe Garrison Keillor wouldn’t like it. At least not at this time of year.

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Esther K Klein Tue. Dec 22, 2009

He reminds me of the ignorant old men from his Lake Wobegon stories. They were funny until they started talking about anybody outside of their immediate sphere of orbit. the best take down of Keillor was written in minneapolis for his own paper. You can find it here:

David S. Tue. Dec 22, 2009

I have never, for the life of me, understood the appeal of Keillor's schtick. He's an angry white Christian guy. Always has been. Just watch his TV broadcasts. How many black or hispanic musicians do you see? Barely any. He always gets these lame, nasal dorks to play this twangy, stiff, dreck, and then he babbles on about some great grandfather in lake Wobegon who drinks to much and hates immigrants, but is so loveable and God fearing. So fun to listen to!

chelemer Wed. Dec 23, 2009

Those who listen to Keillor's nonsensical and endless ramblings deserve it. Listening to one Deillor program is more than enough.

chelemer Wed. Dec 23, 2009

My apologies, I meant "Keillor".

Shoded Yam Thu. Dec 24, 2009

What a transparent, disingenous pile of crap. All this sophistry in order to rationalize the insecurities of a gaggle of hyper-sensitive whiny jackasses who are just waiting for the chance to scream "ANTI-SEMITISM!!", all because some guy pointed out that Jewish guys write shlocky christmas tunes.

Well that settles it.....

Garrison Keillor = HITLER!!

Perkus Tooth Fri. Dec 25, 2009

Shoded: Uh, Keillor's not Hitler by any stretch -- just a garden-variety schmuck who doesn't understand what it means to live in a pluralistic society.

Shoded Yam Fri. Dec 25, 2009

Yeah einstein, thanks for that. If you get a moment, check this out;

i⋅ro⋅ny1  /ˈaɪrəni, ˈaɪər-/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [ahy-ruh-nee, ahy-er-]

1. the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning: the irony of her reply, “How nice!” when I said I had to work all weekend. 2. Literature. a. a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated. b. (esp. in contemporary writing) a manner of organizing a work so as to give full expression to contradictory or complementary impulses, attitudes, etc., esp. as a means of indicating detachment from a subject, theme, or emotion.

or perhaps;

sar⋅casm  /ˈsɑrkæzəm/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [sahr-kaz-uhm]

–noun 1. harsh or bitter derision or irony. 2. a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark: a review full of sarcasms.

mark z Sat. Dec 26, 2009

I live in the Twin Cities and believe Keillor to be fair-minded towards most things Jewish. Prairie Home Companion has featured klezmer groups over the years. One of Prairie's house musicians - Rich Dworsky - is Jewish and played Jewish-sounding piano pieces from time to time. In the op-ed piece in question Keillor came off as a typical angry male WASP curmudgeon reacting to what he perceives as the trend towards over- commercialization of Christmas.

Question - has anyone ever heard of Jewish characters appearing in any of his Lake Wobegon tales? I have not. Would be interesting. We grew up in a small midwestern college town. My father was a salesman and often ventured into little farming communities, way off the beaten track, which probably resembled Lake Wobegon in many ways. Thus I believe "the Jewish salesman" could and should have made its way into Keillor's stories.

Shoded Yam Sat. Dec 26, 2009

".... Thus I believe "the Jewish salesman" could and should have made its way into Keillor's stories."

While I'm sure your Dad was a decent, hard working guy, whose efforts should be noted in this life in any case, I see no reason Keillor should be obligated to include the narrative of "the Jewish travelling salesman" in his Lake Wobegon series. The demand that he should doesn't highlight his insensitivities. It accentuates our neurosis, weaknesses, and insecurities, and our collective dignity is diminished and damaged for having done so in the first place. That it is necessary to expose anti-semitism and excoriate those that would employ it, is not in question. What is questionable is our ethno-centric penchant for demanding recognition and inclusion into every facet of American life, regardless of religous affiliation. Having said that, bitching and moaning about how are contributions to the celebration of the birth of Christ are not being properly respected and appreciated is the height of absurdity.

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