Edited Under Fr. Leonard Feeney M.I.C.M. — Saint Benedict Center
CHRISTMAS IN JULY
To all the readers of The Point, we, the Editors, extend our earnest and prayerful wishes for a happy and holy Christmas. May the joy of the shepherds and the reverence of the Magi fill your hearts, as, in Christian remembrance, the Most Blessed Virgin, who is the Most Blessed Mother, brings forth the Man-child Who is God.
And if our greeting startles you — if sultry mid-July seems worlds-apart from Christmas Eve and the frosty walk to Midnight Mass; if the annual parish lawn-party has put to flight all recollection of last December’s Nativity play; if, in brief, the magic of Christmas lies packed away in some seasonal corner of your mind — then, we beg you, pull it out immediately!
Muster whatever you can of candles and carols. Dust off the Christmas crib figures. Find some fresh straw for the manger. Then call in the children from all the distractions of summer and tell them again the Bethlehem story: of the angels, the star, the oxen, the stable. And when the happy part is finished, tell them how it happened that Christmas resolved in a warfare. How the enemies of Christmas slaughtered the Holy Innocents. How the Christ-Child of Christmas had to be hurried away by night and off into Egypt, far from the grasp of those who demanded that Christmas be over and done with and put out of mind.
And if they should ask how it all turned out — whether Christmas won, or its enemies — you can tell them that the battle is still going on. That, in fact, Christmas needs their prayers this very summer, because …
Then tell them, in a child’s fashion, this thing which we herein report to you, adultly, forthwith, as follows.
One day last January, at the bright, bustling headquarters of the American Jewish Committee, in New York, a worried conference was held. The topic: the recent celebration by Americans of the 1955th anniversary of a Birth in Bethlehem. As the principal nerve-center directing the energies of Jews in the U. S., the American Jewish Committee felt particularly concerned that this annually-recurring celebration should once again be observed. For the AJC and its associates had been warring against it, tirelessly, aggressively, year in and year out, for well onto half a century.
It was true that the Jewish siege had not been entirely without effect. Indeed, in its outward aspects, the festival of Christmas had become debased almost beyond recognition. Yet beneath the tinsel and the Tin Pan Alley blare, there still lay the prime, insistent reality that this was a day of jubilation because on it Christians celebrated the Birth of the Incarnate God. That this should stand as our foremost national holiday, marked America — vestigially, at least — as a Christian country. And so, one cold, troubled day last January, the Jews of the American Jewish Committee met together to analyze, with Jewish deliberation, the problem of Christmas. And, after much discussion, the Jews of the American Jewish Committee came to some conclusions, which, with Jewish anxiety, they formulated into a program and promulgated in the next issue of their paper, the Committee Reporter.
Underlying this program is a simple, forthright proposition: If Christmas celebrations still endure in America, despite all the Jews have done to combat them, then the Jews must do more. If thus far Jewish warfare on Christmas has consisted mainly of sniping and skirmishes, this year, the AJC declares, there must be a blitz. Moreover, the Jews must strike not when the signs of the holiday are already upon us, in November or December, but while Christmas is still out of sight and, for most Americans, out of mind. This year the Jews must launch their attack in July.
The fatal fallacy of holding back their fire too long had been strikingly demonstrated to the Jews in an incident of Christmas, 1955. The Superintendent of Schools of Sayreville, New Jersey, one R. S. Pollack, had sent the following letter to all public school principals in town, directing them to abolish from their planned Christmas programs any indications whatsoever of the day’s religious significance. In its purpose and tone, its appeal to the law and the changing times, the letter seemed to the Jews a masterpiece. Yet it failed in its goal. Before Pollack’s “suggestions” could be put into effect, the Board of Education of Sayreville demanded the letter’s withdrawal.
Office of the Superintendent
Sayreville Public Schools
425 Main Street
December 6, 1955Superintendent’s Bulletin 14
Subject: Christmas and the New Jersey Department of Education.
To: All Principals
The purpose of this bulletin is advisory. We are told, by the State department in charge of enforcing the anti-discrimination statutes, that there is a growing feeling, in various parts of the state, with respect to the celebration of Christmas by special observances and exercises in public schools. While this is not yet a situation which could be characterized as a problem, it is one that is growing and which will require our attention in the near future. It might, therefore, be wise to be somewhat beforehand in this respect with the end in view of lessening the impact in this community if, when and as the situation becomes critical.
At this time, no specific action is indicated but it may be wise to consider, beginning at once, how the Christmas Program to be offered in your school could be re-planned so as to de-emphasize the sectarian religious aspect thereof and to emphasize instead the folklore values. As an illustration, it may be possible to substitute such folksongs as “Deck the Halls with Holly” for one of the more religious type songs which are generally used. It is the opinion of your Superintendent that within the foreseeable future, say the next three to ten years, it will be required by the courts that the specifically religious aspect of the celebration be deleted from public school programs and that it will become illegal to use some of the hymns and anthems that are now quite common and that it will become necessary to avoid pageants involving the nativity, angels and similar props. It is suggested that it might be well to begin to replan this program in this direction so that the change-over is so gradual as to be unnoticeable to the general public over a period of years.
Signed: R. S. Pollack, Superintendent
For the high-tensioned American Jewish Committee, this and similar incidents added up to a lesson. “Holidays spur emotions to a high pitch,” observed the Committee Reporter. “The man who objects to some aspect of a Christmas observance at Christmas-time is unlikely to get anything accomplished — with the possible exception of incensing his neighbors against the interloper who seems to be threatening their deepest social and religious value.”
Thus, as this mid-summer issue of The Point is published, as Catholics are concerning themselves with matters like suntans and sailboats, the Jews of America are turning their thoughts to Christmas. Briefed by the American Jewish Committee, they are at this moment beginning their drive for a beach-head, confident that the seasonal psychology of Christians will result in their being unopposed.
The procedure called for by the AJC is cautious, thorough, and painfully Jewish. It involves such measures as a quiet “reconnaissance” before battle begins, to determine where and how Christmas is observed. This is to be followed by “intensive discussions among representative local Jewish leaders and rabbis,” at which it is imperative that “the possible consequence of any course of action be clearly spelled out” (“otherwise, the first heavy winds of community conflict may sweep away supporters who simply do not appreciate the implications”). Finally, when all preliminary steps have been taken, the entire Jewish population in each community is to move against Christmas as a single, coordinated body. (“It should never be a one-man foray,” warns the AJC).
There is, however, one group of Jews who are likely to be coordinated with difficulty — namely, the merchants. In past years, these enterprising hucksters have enthusiastically taken part in the annual anti-Christmas drives of their co-racists — when the object of those drives was simply to strip Christmas, by any means available, of its Christian meaning. As their contribution, the Jewish shopkeepers managed to transform the festival into a commercial heyday, dedicated to the swapping of unreadable books for unwearable ties. By this endeavor they not only rendered a handsome service to their race, but pulled in their richest profits of the year.
But the strategy for 1956 may find the Jewish merchants less eager to participate. For this year official Jewry will not be satisfied with seeing Christmas reduced to a money-making interfaith “folk festival.” The American Jewish Committee has finally decided that, no matter what trappings are hung on it, Christmas can never become a Jewish holiday. It is at root unalterably Christian. And therefore, concludes the AJC, the Jews of America will never know peace or happiness till Christmas is utterly banished from American public life. If Christians care to continue observing the feast in the privacy of their homes, that is their own affair; but there must be no official recognition of the day by way of civic or public school programs.
That is the goal which American Jews, this very summer, are striving for.
In the American Jewish Committee’s summary report for the years 1954 and 1955, its executive vice-president describes the Committee’s work as “our long range efforts to cope with the problem that has been with us for 2,000 years.” That problem is, of course, Christmas — and all that has followed upon it. Saint Matthew’s Gospel tells us, in fact, that from the very first hint of a Christmas the Jews began to worry. At the mere rumor that the Messias might have been born, “Herod the King was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
Through centuries of dispersion, the Jews carried this anxiety in their hearts. In Babylon, and Spain, and Turkey, and Poland, and Russia. In the ghettos of Rome and Antwerp, Vienna and Prague, they watched each succeeding Christian December, and saw in each new Christmas Day the starting again of their troubles. Bethlehem is the beginning of the changeless Gospel story. And Christ in the arms of His Virginal Mother is a fleeting prelude to Christ in the outstretched arms of the Cross — to Christ put to death by the mobs of Jerusalem — to Christ of the Crucifix, Whose Precious Blood is fallen as a curse upon the children of the Jews.
That this anxiety about Christmas fills Jewish hearts in America, we have long since known. The American Jewish Committee’s Christmas-in-July plan is notable in its boldness and daring, but not in its ultimate objective: that Jewish proposal desired down the centuries: the outlawing of Christmas everywhere. Such a proposal may not be forthcoming from the American Jewish Committee this year — or even next — but individual Jewish leaders have been lately, however indiscreetly, tipping their hand on the matter.
We are grateful to a reader in Portland, Oregon, who mailed us several weeks ago the most forthright “tip” we have yet seen. It was in the form of a news-clipping from the local paper, the Portland Oregonian. The clipping was dated Sunday, April 1, 1956 and the caption in bold type read: “New Testament Branded as Libel by Rabbi Nodel.” Under the signature of Oregonian staff writer, Gerry Pratt, the article began: “Rabbi Julius J. Nodel in the role of defense attorney for the Jews of the world Friday night branded the New Testament a work of malicious libel and the story of events leading to the trial of Jesus and crucifixion, a dragon seed from which has come misery, bloodshed and suspicion. ”
The Oregonian is the largest newspaper in the state and Nodel is the principal Rabbi. This blasphemous explosion against Our Lord and the Gospels cannot be dismissed as idle ghetto-raving.
For the Catholic priests of America the issue is unescapably clear: Christmas, Christ’s Mass, their Mass, is in danger. The protection can come only from themselves, in their Sacrament.