In what is becoming an annual Christmas tradition, popular web media outlets are crowing about how many of America's "beloved" Christmas songs were in fact composed by Jews. See here for a recent example from HuffPo.
I don't know about you, but I can't stand those campy Midcentury novelty tunes. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" must be one of the most annoying songs ever recorded.
None mention Jesus or Christianity, nor do they pay tribute to pre-Christian sacred traditions either, like the old carol "Deck the Halls," which is about the pagan holiday of Yule. Some do celebrate kiddie mythology — Santa, Rudolf, Frosty — but what is there for grown-ups? The rest are only wintertime songs — snowfall, fireplaces, huddling together inside to keep warm.
It is not enough to invoke the good cheer, sentimental feelings, and family togetherness without providing the context for it all. It's not just another family get-together, like the Fourth of July, another one of those times when people feel good, like Spring Break, or another time when they feel sentimental, like school graduations.
There are only two halfway moving new Christmas songs that came out back then — "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" And to be fair, a Jew did compose the music (though not the lyrics) to the latter. But being half of a songwriting team that made one good Christmas song is hardly proof of Jewish skill in the area.
All the great Christmas songs are either hymns or carols that go back to the 19th century or earlier, before Jews left the ghetto and began appearing in elite and pop cultural fields. And sure enough, the two good new songs could easily be sung in a caroling setting.
We learn something from the fact that a choral setting would allow so few of the Jewish songs from the Midcentury — or their Gentile counterparts, for that matter ("Jingle Bell Rock" — another cringer). They aren't the kind of music that bonds a group together through song. Trying to sing them in chorus would be as absurd as a group of folks coming together to sing advertising jingles.
They're the worst example of commercial tune-peddlers trying to cash in on a sacred group ritual, and you can't ignore their irritatingly pandering style. They sound just like what you'd expect a holiday song to sound like based on the producer-consumer relationship, rather than the relationship of in-group members bonding.*
The only group that does perform them in chorus is small children, again emphasizing how kiddie and campy their appeal is. It might be charming to hear third-graders singing about Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, but it would be even more moving to hear them sing "Silent Night" instead.
We learn more still from the fact that these annoying Midcentury songs are still played endlessly in the months leading up to Christmas, year after year, despite the melting away of all sorts of genuine, sacred Christmas traditions, and the general profaning of the holiday. Carols and hymns have joined all the other myriad traditions that are hard to find anymore, whereas the mundane novelty songs are more ubiquitous now than they ever were. Somehow the "Boo, Christmas" phenomenon of the past couple decades doesn't seem to mind those as much as the carols and hymns.
* In a lapse of awareness, the author of the HuffPo article plainly states that Jewish songwriters didn't bother composing Hannukah songs because there was so little money to be made from catering to just 2% of consumers.