December 24, 2004

A Christmas Song Decline Theory:

I like pop classic Christmas songs, such as "Winter Wonderland" or "Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire" for a lot of reasons, including that Christmas is one of the few time of the year when singing in public is tolerated these days. So, like a lot of people lately, I've been wondering why there haven't been any new hit Christmas songs in many years. One of my reader theorized that this is because many of the Christmas standards that were written in the golden age of secular pop Christmas songs between 1934 and 1958 were written by Jews (e.g., Irving Berlin's "White Christmas)," but modern Jews find it ignominious to write Christmas songs anymore. (The reader, in case you were wondering, is Jewish.) "As a great Jewish songwriter sang, 'It ain't me, babe,'" she wrote to me.

That's an interesting theory, and it would be sad if it were true. It probably also wouldn't be, as they say, good for the Jews, because Jews like Irving Berlin helped transform Christmas from purely a Christian holiday into one that was also a secular American holiday, promising peace on earth for men of good will ... of all backgrounds.

I wanted to test this theory, but since nobody of any background is writing good Christmas songs anymore, it's hard to see if the ethnic balance has changed. (Indeed, it's hard to come up with an objective list of good songs of any kind from recent years -- e.g., the recent Rolling Stone magazine top 500 songs list only included three from the last half decade -- two by Eminem and one by Outkast).

However, we live in an an age that still produces some decent Christmas movies -- 2003's "Elf," for instance, hardly compares to "It's a Wonderful Life" (but then what does?), yet it's still a modest delight. The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles reports:

Both are written and directed by persons of the Jewish faith. “Elf” is directed (Jon Favreau), written by (David Berenbaum) and has stars (James Caan, Edward Asner) who are Jewish — a rare trifecta, particularly for a Christmas film — a feat that parallels the success of the 1954 “White Christmas” (Michael Curtiz, Norm Krasna and Danny Kaye, respectively).

Favreau, by the way, is Italian on his father's side and Jewish on his mother's side, and says he "keeps a Jewish home."

2002's "Santa Clause 2" was a funnier film than you would expect and made a deserved pile of money because it featured G-rated jokes that adults enjoyed. It's director, Michael Lembeck, is Jewish, as would appear to be some of its many writers.

Nor is it just the better sort of Christmas movie that features heavy Jewish involvement: I haven't seen this year's "Christmas with the Kranks" and "Surviving Christmas," so I'll skip over evaluating how good they are, but they both appear to have lots of Jews working on them in key creative roles.

(On the other hand, Robert Zemeckis, director of this year's slow-motion Christmas hit "The Polar Express," is, to the surprise of many, of Polish Catholic background. And the big three behind 2000's "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," Dr. Seuss, Ron Howard, and Jim Carrey, are not Jewish.)

So, it looks like Jews in the film industry are still quite happy to make secular Christmas movies. This analogy therefore, doesn't support my reader's theory about the decline of Christmas songs. We'll just have to keep looking elsewhere.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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