Posted byat 29th December, 2008
This column might disturb you. If so I’m sorry; that’s not my intention. But I know from personal experience that some people will likely be disturbed by what I’m about to say. I don’t understand why, and I guess that’s the point.
Quite some time ago I was doing the midnight Christmas morning shift on what was then WEAW-FM (now WOJO) in Chicago. The program was called Radio Free Chicago, and if I say so myself it was quite popular. As was the case throughout my radio career, I usually did the midnight Christmas morning shift because it freed up others who had family plans. I maintained our usual format of straightforward hard rock and blues, effectively counter programming the other several dozen stations in the market.
A union grievance was filed against me by one of the head engineers, a man who had, up to that point, been a very good friend. He took my show as a personal insult. I never understood why; anybody interested in Christmas music could spin the dial in either direction and get their fill. I already reached mine. I decided to serve the minority, the approximately 25% of Americans who weren’t raised with – and I do NOT mean this sarcastically – the magic of Christmas. Add to that those people who simply had enough of such programming and wanted to hear something different for a while.
Four points need to be made about this incident. First, I received a lot of thank-you calls from my listeners. Second, the grievance was dismissed on lack of grounds. Third, the friendship I lost was never regained. And fourth, my now-former friend was at the time (and may very well still be) a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. So when I say I don’t get it, well, in this case I really don’t get it. I remain bewildered by the whole thing.
I wasn’t raised Christian. I didn’t have a tree or any of the other Christmas icons. It just wasn’t part of my life. Christmas is a religious holiday, and it wasn’t my religion. I didn’t miss it, and I found the “oh, you poor little boy” bit to be offensive.
In a pluralistic society like ours, not being Christian is supposed to be okay. We’re supposed to respect all religious philosophies and, by definition, that should include those that do not believe in the majority’s uni-god. I once got into a lot of trouble when I took issue with a local head of the Council of Churches and Synagogues because they were exclusionary: despite their good works, their name stated they were not interested in Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, Scientologists, Wiccans, atheists, or anybody else who didn’t go to a church or a synagogue. That, to me, was un-American. It was benign bigotry.
America is not a Christian nation. To say so is to suggest that the founders of this nation, the ones who wrote the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence, were utter morons who didn’t know what they were saying when they approved the text of the First Amendment. The Bill of Rights is to protect the minorities, and America is no more a Christian nation than it is a white nation. If 50.1% of the electorate voted to put all the black people on boats and sail them to Africa, it might reflect the democratic will of the majority but it would be unconstitutional. Unless you’re gay, but hopefully that will be rectified before too long.
This Christmas I made an offhanded comment that I was kind of tired of Christmas music. We-who-are-not tend to get a bit tired of the same dozen songs repeated incessantly over the previous month, although I’m quite the fan of Darlene Love. I did not ask that the music be changed, and I declined the opportunity to change it myself. Nonetheless, I was told I singlehandedly destroyed Christmas. In short order, the Christmas present exchange was canceled, the tree was dismantled, and I lost a friend who was far, far more dear to me than my PLO buddy.
All this has a devastating affect on me. It didn’t ruin my Christmas, but it likely ruined my life. I’m not the type to volunteer to go to the back of the bus, but I was happy to sit behind the line in order to get along with something that seemed important to a person I deeply love and respect.
“Christmas spirit” is full of contradictions and is woefully commercialized… but I am not against it in the least. I appreciate and honor the intent that is at the core of the event: it is a good and noble intent.
All I really want is a bit of understanding, and a wider range of music.