Garrison Keillor claims Christmas for Christians

Lake Woebegone sage Garrison Keillor has stirred things up with a column entitled Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone. An excerpt:

You can blame Ralph Waldo Emerson for the brazen foolishness of the elite. He preached here at the First Church of Cambridge, a Unitarian outfit (where I discovered that "Silent Night" has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God), and Emerson tossed off little bon mots that have been leading people astray ever since. "To be great is to be misunderstood," for example. This tiny gem of self-pity has given license to a million arrogant and unlovable people to imagine that their unpopularity somehow was proof of their greatness. . . .

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. 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.

Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.

I don’t remember hearing Keillor being so crotchety. I’m not sure I agree that only Christians should celebrate Christmas. I think it is a wonderful tribute to the Lord Christ that even people who do not know Him nevertheless unwittingly celebrate His birth, giving gifts and invoking Christmas blessings on their neighbors. It is a case of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.

UPDATE: Read Lars Walker’s comment on Keillor’s rant. Among other trenchant observations, he raises the important underlying question: Do we think that Christianity with its holidays like Christmas should impact the culture as a whole, or not? Political liberals like Keillor, as well as separatist Christians, say “no.” Christmas like Christianity should be a matter of personal reflection and private practice. But it should be kept out of the secular marketplace. What we see here is that some Christian theologies affirm culture, while others do not. Also, note the agreement on this issue between liberalism and fundamentalism.

ANOTHER UPDATE: And yet, I appreciate Keillor’s critique of Unitarianism, the cultural elite, and the influence of Emerson. I especially appreciate his affirmation of creedal Christianity and the Messiah.

HT: Cheryl at A Ropund Unvarnish’d Tale

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://brbible.org/from-rich Rich Shipe

    He is hitting on something though that isn’t said very often. Why is it that Christmas can be fully secularized but all the other “Holidays” around it cannot? It is offensive to some people to say Merry Christmas so store employees say Happy Holidays. But somehow you get extra points if you recognize Hanukkah or even the idiotic Kwanzaa. Christmas is offensive and the other holidays are a sign of your cultural diversity.

  • http://brbible.org/from-rich Rich Shipe

    He is hitting on something though that isn’t said very often. Why is it that Christmas can be fully secularized but all the other “Holidays” around it cannot? It is offensive to some people to say Merry Christmas so store employees say Happy Holidays. But somehow you get extra points if you recognize Hanukkah or even the idiotic Kwanzaa. Christmas is offensive and the other holidays are a sign of your cultural diversity.

  • Terry Culler

    No, Dr. V., Christmas is not for non-Christians. It is only for those who know the Incarnation as a step toward Calvary and Resurrection. Christians have allowed It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol and Miracle on 34th Street to define the way Americans view something that is solely about Jesus–Immanuel. I say let the followers of Unitarianism and the American folk religion celebrate Festivus, starting with the statement of grievances.
    Terry

  • Terry Culler

    No, Dr. V., Christmas is not for non-Christians. It is only for those who know the Incarnation as a step toward Calvary and Resurrection. Christians have allowed It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol and Miracle on 34th Street to define the way Americans view something that is solely about Jesus–Immanuel. I say let the followers of Unitarianism and the American folk religion celebrate Festivus, starting with the statement of grievances.
    Terry

  • Patrick Kyle

    I posted this guest post over at Internetmonk concerning Christmas and it’s celebration by the masses.

    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/why-i-dont-participate-in-the-christmas-wars#respond

    As to Keillor’s article,wow.

  • Patrick Kyle

    I posted this guest post over at Internetmonk concerning Christmas and it’s celebration by the masses.

    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/why-i-dont-participate-in-the-christmas-wars#respond

    As to Keillor’s article,wow.

  • http://joshschroeder.blogspot.com/ Josh Schroeder

    For all you Lutherans out there, don’t forget that Keillor is an Episcopalian, not a Lutheran. And for everyone else, Keillor has not been shy about his political views over the last six years or so, very supportive of the Democrat Party.

    I can’t tell if Keillor’s article is supposed to be a parody of the way some people wage the “War on Christmas” or if this is an issue that truly grinds Keillor’s gears. But at any rate, a sentence like “If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone,” does not surprise me given his recent track record these last few years.

  • http://joshschroeder.blogspot.com/ Josh Schroeder

    For all you Lutherans out there, don’t forget that Keillor is an Episcopalian, not a Lutheran. And for everyone else, Keillor has not been shy about his political views over the last six years or so, very supportive of the Democrat Party.

    I can’t tell if Keillor’s article is supposed to be a parody of the way some people wage the “War on Christmas” or if this is an issue that truly grinds Keillor’s gears. But at any rate, a sentence like “If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone,” does not surprise me given his recent track record these last few years.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I believe there are two holidays, the sacred festival and the secular celebration, and that the fact that the secular celebration paid tribute to the sacred one was one of the strengths of our culture (sadly being lost). I meditated on this over at Touchstone’s Mere Comments: http://merecomments.typepad.com/merecomments/2009/12/one-of-our-readers-at-brandywine-books-alerted-me-to-this-recent-column-by-garrison-keillor-of-whom-i-imagine-youve-heard.html

    Of Keillor, my opinion is, as it has been for some time, that the man is marginally insane.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I believe there are two holidays, the sacred festival and the secular celebration, and that the fact that the secular celebration paid tribute to the sacred one was one of the strengths of our culture (sadly being lost). I meditated on this over at Touchstone’s Mere Comments: http://merecomments.typepad.com/merecomments/2009/12/one-of-our-readers-at-brandywine-books-alerted-me-to-this-recent-column-by-garrison-keillor-of-whom-i-imagine-youve-heard.html

    Of Keillor, my opinion is, as it has been for some time, that the man is marginally insane.

  • CRB

    Speaking of “Silent Night” I notice that
    in Susan Boyle’s rendition, the last
    stanza is ommitted. Instead, she returns
    again to the first stanza.
    Interesting, eh?!

    Silent night, holy night
    Son of God, love’s pure light
    Radiant beams form Thy holy face
    With the dawn of redeeming grace,
    Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
    Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

  • CRB

    Speaking of “Silent Night” I notice that
    in Susan Boyle’s rendition, the last
    stanza is ommitted. Instead, she returns
    again to the first stanza.
    Interesting, eh?!

    Silent night, holy night
    Son of God, love’s pure light
    Radiant beams form Thy holy face
    With the dawn of redeeming grace,
    Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
    Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

  • Bob

    ‘a sentence like “If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone,” does not surprise me given his recent track record these last few years.

    Can you explain what you mean, Mr. Schneider? What you said makes absolutely no sense to me.’

    I can’t believe that people on here are so ideologically
    biased that they can’t appreciate Keillor’s column. Geesh. I thought it was a great rant.

  • Bob

    ‘a sentence like “If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone,” does not surprise me given his recent track record these last few years.

    Can you explain what you mean, Mr. Schneider? What you said makes absolutely no sense to me.’

    I can’t believe that people on here are so ideologically
    biased that they can’t appreciate Keillor’s column. Geesh. I thought it was a great rant.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Keillor has been pretty crotchety for a while, gracious host….I’m with him, though, on vapid modern secular Christmas songs. I don’t know if they’re mostly written by Jews, or Unitarians, or whoever, but I do wish whoever is writing and performing and playing these would knock it off.

    If non-Christians want to join in the fun, wonderful, but do so in a way that respects the significance of the holiday, please.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Keillor has been pretty crotchety for a while, gracious host….I’m with him, though, on vapid modern secular Christmas songs. I don’t know if they’re mostly written by Jews, or Unitarians, or whoever, but I do wish whoever is writing and performing and playing these would knock it off.

    If non-Christians want to join in the fun, wonderful, but do so in a way that respects the significance of the holiday, please.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Keillor is correct to distinguish between orthodox Christianity, Emersonian Unitarianism, and popular Christmas tunes written by Jewish and other songwriters. However, to say that, if one is not a member the Christian “club,” then bug-off, is boorish and hardly Christian. Christians can and do appreciate the seriousness and joy of Advent without putting down those who enjoy the secular spirit of the season.
    Like Lars, we can, also, appreciate the tribute the secular celebration pays to the sacred one

    In recent years Keillor has become a narrow moralist and faux comic who enjoys putting down Lutherans and small-town people from the Midwest as much as Unitarians from the East. In the end it is all about a rude narcissist named Keillor. To view him as a truth-telling orthodox Christian is absurd.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Keillor is correct to distinguish between orthodox Christianity, Emersonian Unitarianism, and popular Christmas tunes written by Jewish and other songwriters. However, to say that, if one is not a member the Christian “club,” then bug-off, is boorish and hardly Christian. Christians can and do appreciate the seriousness and joy of Advent without putting down those who enjoy the secular spirit of the season.
    Like Lars, we can, also, appreciate the tribute the secular celebration pays to the sacred one

    In recent years Keillor has become a narrow moralist and faux comic who enjoys putting down Lutherans and small-town people from the Midwest as much as Unitarians from the East. In the end it is all about a rude narcissist named Keillor. To view him as a truth-telling orthodox Christian is absurd.

  • Kirk

    “For all you Lutherans out there, don’t forget that Keillor is an Episcopalian, not a Lutheran. And for everyone else, Keillor has not been shy about his political views over the last six years or so, very supportive of the Democrat Party.”

    Gracious! I’ve heard enough, already!

  • Kirk

    “For all you Lutherans out there, don’t forget that Keillor is an Episcopalian, not a Lutheran. And for everyone else, Keillor has not been shy about his political views over the last six years or so, very supportive of the Democrat Party.”

    Gracious! I’ve heard enough, already!

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I agree with Bob, Bike and Kirk. One can acknowledge the truth of a statement without being best buddies with the one speaking.

    BTW, the next time I’m seeing even an add on TV for a movie about “the true meaning of Christmas”, I’ll vomit all over the damn set.

    The Oprahfication of the Coming of Our King is a vile deed.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I agree with Bob, Bike and Kirk. One can acknowledge the truth of a statement without being best buddies with the one speaking.

    BTW, the next time I’m seeing even an add on TV for a movie about “the true meaning of Christmas”, I’ll vomit all over the damn set.

    The Oprahfication of the Coming of Our King is a vile deed.

  • Matt

    Mr. Shipe @1

    Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. For what reason do you call it “idiotic”?

  • Matt

    Mr. Shipe @1

    Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. For what reason do you call it “idiotic”?

  • Bryan Lindemood

    It surprised me that Keillor called out both Emerson and Unitarians so strongly! Wow indeed. I certainly don’t agree with some things that Keillor seems to represent, at times, but perhaps he does stand for something, not to mention the fact that he is sometimes very funny. I agree that turnaround is fair play in our “respect-all-viewpoints” culture and Christians are right to demand at least an equal share of reverence for our beliefs and practices.

    Scylding – I love the word “Oprahfication” and I hope to use it soon.

    Patrick K. – Thanks for the very useful anti-Christmas-Wars article.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    It surprised me that Keillor called out both Emerson and Unitarians so strongly! Wow indeed. I certainly don’t agree with some things that Keillor seems to represent, at times, but perhaps he does stand for something, not to mention the fact that he is sometimes very funny. I agree that turnaround is fair play in our “respect-all-viewpoints” culture and Christians are right to demand at least an equal share of reverence for our beliefs and practices.

    Scylding – I love the word “Oprahfication” and I hope to use it soon.

    Patrick K. – Thanks for the very useful anti-Christmas-Wars article.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Gene: This is is not bringing the heathen into the Church’s celebration. I’ll be all for that. This is the surrendering of the the Church’s celebration to the progressive assimilation by the Marketing machinery of the oligarchical technocrats. Of course it all sounds fluffy and nice. Otherwise it won’t sell.

    If what we are giving the non-believers is the Christ child in the manger, fine. But that seems to be progressively dissapearing behind Hallmarkitized (there’s another one for you, Bryan)Hubris. Sentimentality has very little to do with the coming of a Redeemer. I’m all for Christmas trees and all that, as a traditional expression of our joy etc. at the coming of the Redeemer. Not as sentamentalist garbage about the “true meaning of christmas” (the lower case is deliberate), which is family and friends and happy happy plastic smiles ad nauseum….

    Sorry, I’m a bit cranky today. so unlike normally, I’m speaking my raging mind…;)

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Gene: This is is not bringing the heathen into the Church’s celebration. I’ll be all for that. This is the surrendering of the the Church’s celebration to the progressive assimilation by the Marketing machinery of the oligarchical technocrats. Of course it all sounds fluffy and nice. Otherwise it won’t sell.

    If what we are giving the non-believers is the Christ child in the manger, fine. But that seems to be progressively dissapearing behind Hallmarkitized (there’s another one for you, Bryan)Hubris. Sentimentality has very little to do with the coming of a Redeemer. I’m all for Christmas trees and all that, as a traditional expression of our joy etc. at the coming of the Redeemer. Not as sentamentalist garbage about the “true meaning of christmas” (the lower case is deliberate), which is family and friends and happy happy plastic smiles ad nauseum….

    Sorry, I’m a bit cranky today. so unlike normally, I’m speaking my raging mind…;)

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    BTW Bryan, I go the word elsewhere. I’m not 100% sure where, though…

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    BTW Bryan, I go the word elsewhere. I’m not 100% sure where, though…

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Bob Waters

    Cultural liberalism is not necessarily political liberalism. While there is a large overlap, there are plenty of political liberals who believe that faith should impact public policy. One of them is the current President of the United States, who once gave a much-discussed speech on the subject which- while I believe it to be misguided in some respects- comes a great deal closer to the mark when it comes to the proper relationship between the Two Kingdoms than the writings of many political conservatives.

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Bob Waters

    Cultural liberalism is not necessarily political liberalism. While there is a large overlap, there are plenty of political liberals who believe that faith should impact public policy. One of them is the current President of the United States, who once gave a much-discussed speech on the subject which- while I believe it to be misguided in some respects- comes a great deal closer to the mark when it comes to the proper relationship between the Two Kingdoms than the writings of many political conservatives.

  • Bob

    ‘To view him as a truth-telling orthodox Christian is absurd.’

    Mr. Leavitt,

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion, which is all yours is.

    As for me, call me an absurdist.

    Ir’s just a label.

  • Bob

    ‘To view him as a truth-telling orthodox Christian is absurd.’

    Mr. Leavitt,

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion, which is all yours is.

    As for me, call me an absurdist.

    Ir’s just a label.

  • http://blog.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    Gene, I appreciate your sentiments about non-Christians celebrating Christmas: “I think it is a wonderful tribute to the Lord Christ that even people who do not know Him nevertheless unwittingly celebrate His birth, giving gifts and invoking Christmas blessings on their neighbors.” Moreover, there’s always a place for Christian hope that God will lead people to faith through even our secularized holiday. As Chesterton writes, “The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why.” That is my prayer this year – as always – for those celebrating secular Christmas celebrations.

  • http://blog.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    Gene, I appreciate your sentiments about non-Christians celebrating Christmas: “I think it is a wonderful tribute to the Lord Christ that even people who do not know Him nevertheless unwittingly celebrate His birth, giving gifts and invoking Christmas blessings on their neighbors.” Moreover, there’s always a place for Christian hope that God will lead people to faith through even our secularized holiday. As Chesterton writes, “The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why.” That is my prayer this year – as always – for those celebrating secular Christmas celebrations.

  • Booklover

    I do not think this sounds like Garrison Keillor. He suffered a small stroke recently. I am not saying that to be mean—it’s just that there seems to be a change.

    I find it somewhat grating that he pointed out that Jews wrote The Christmas Song and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which I was not aware of.

    Parts of the article are funny and parts are true, but it doesn’t seem entirely like Garrison to me.

  • Booklover

    I do not think this sounds like Garrison Keillor. He suffered a small stroke recently. I am not saying that to be mean—it’s just that there seems to be a change.

    I find it somewhat grating that he pointed out that Jews wrote The Christmas Song and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which I was not aware of.

    Parts of the article are funny and parts are true, but it doesn’t seem entirely like Garrison to me.

  • EGK

    FYI, I first heard the term “Oprahfication” used by Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) on Law and Order” about ten years ago, as he complained about people who did bad things and then blamed other people rather than taking responsibility, and got other people to defend them for it. Oprah: the queen of narcissism.

  • EGK

    FYI, I first heard the term “Oprahfication” used by Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) on Law and Order” about ten years ago, as he complained about people who did bad things and then blamed other people rather than taking responsibility, and got other people to defend them for it. Oprah: the queen of narcissism.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    #19: Rudolph is an advertising gimmick invented by Macey’s. Santa’s red cloak was an advertising ploy by Coke. But hey, I guess it is fine that oligarchical technocrats create our traditions for us. It is not as if they have a vested interest, is it? :)

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    #19: Rudolph is an advertising gimmick invented by Macey’s. Santa’s red cloak was an advertising ploy by Coke. But hey, I guess it is fine that oligarchical technocrats create our traditions for us. It is not as if they have a vested interest, is it? :)


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