Refugees from the Christmas Wars

My kids and I are in Chattanooga tonight, on the way to Tampa to visit my parents for Christmas.

While we will miss the Christmas eve service at our church, we are not entirely sad to get out of town. Greencastle, where we live in Indiana, has just had its own “Christmas Wars” episode. Last week, the City Council voted to rename two dates on the city calendar: days the city offices are closed on Christmas and Good Friday were given the more neutral designation “Winter Holiday” and “Spring Holiday.” Many of the evangelical/fundamentalist Christians in town went, well, beserk. We’ve never had so many nasty letters to the editor and even nastier anonymous “Speak Out” comments. One letter writer, with horrifying and unintended irony, announced that Christians in Greencastle were now in the same situation as Jews wearing the yellow star in Nazi Germany. The council member who proposed the change received death threats and had to be escorted to Monday’s emergency City Council meeting (at which the holidays were changed back to their traditional names) by three police officers. There was actual hissing and booing at the few there who suggested that Jesus probably wouldn’t care what the city calls the vacation days it gives to its employees, and that the religious nature of the holidays were not jeopardized by the action. One friend who was in attendance told me that she could now understand what a lynch mob must feel like.

Episodes like this convince so many people that both organized religion and the whole realm of spirituality are nothing but illusions. And to me, making music and helping others to do the same springs from my spirituality. Finding ways to talk about the entire context of making music becomes all the more difficult the more this sort of thing makes discussion of religion off limits.

But there is always humor to be found. While driving, we caught part of Fresh Air on NPR, which featured an interview with the director John Waters, discussing his CD compilation of tacky Christmas music. He was very clear about his genuine love of the holiday while taking delight in poking fun at the kitsch surrounding it. The album seems hilarious and the kids know it is on my wish list. Somehow I doubt we’ll find it at a Chattanooga Wal-Mart in the morning, though, or even at a Barnes and Noble, so it may have to wait for next year.

My own musical Christmas war:

There’s only one time I ever turned down a gig because it was going to be too tacky. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, a Christian-pop “updating,” called “Handel’s Young Messiah” became quite popular. I just couldn’t bring myself to play when the show came to Indy, and rather than say I wasn’t available, I told the contractor I refused to participate because it would violate my artistic conscience. It did not help my free-lancing career in Indianapolis! I’m more open minded now, but I’m not sure I could bring myself to play it were I asked. This time, older and wiser, and more skilled at diplomacy, I would have “another commitment” (even if it was to spend the evening not playing the “update”).

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