Christmas is a time of wonder, when the best and the worst of our sputtering culture is on display. For every magnificent four-part rendition of Stille Nacht, we seem destined to endure umpteen episodes of godless grinches screaming about tolerance and diversity in order to keep authentic Christmas symbols out of the public square during a holiday season that, for centuries, has been devoted to the public celebration of the birth of the Son of God.
Such was the case in Sarasota, Florida, just days before All Hallow’s Eve, when the University Town Center Mall got caught with its red-velvet trousers down. It was then that choral groups scheduled to perform at the UTC Mall during the Christmas Shopping Season (formerly known as “Advent”) received the glad tidings that there was to be “no recognizable Christian music” sung.
Be warned, carolers: The mall cops have declared Threat Level Midnight!
Now, right away, you might think, OK, this means Sarasotans will be given a large dose of Irving Berlin, Dasher and Dancer, and other songs celebrating snow and nuts. But if you are one of those barbaric bigots who gets hung up on the actual meaning of words, phrases, and clauses, you may have tripped over the word “recognizable.” Christian music’s A-OK so long as it’s . . . unrecognizable? Read on, Parson Brown.
The next line in the memo clarifies the limits of recognizability: “Classical holiday music or music sung in a foreign language such as Latin, French, Spanish, Italian or German is fine.”
You have to be a special kind of person to write a sentence like that—the sort who thinks you can roast someone’s chestnuts over an open fire without him noticing. And, let the record show, the public did notice, and the UTC Mall has already fallen all over itself explaining away the Soviet-style requirement as the work of a third-party management company, whose services (for which the mall pays) were not properly vetted.
Yet think for a moment about the logic of the statement, which did not appear from nowhere and clearly reflects the dilemma of liberalism in a multicultural society, and the practical problem of imposing that liberalism on a people not-yet-fully dispossessed. Folks still believe in the Christ of Christmas, and the Western cultural heritage that grew out of that faith is too beautiful to ignore. The guardians of the galaxy must protect the sensitive ears of white liberals who both hate Christmas and are Christmas shopping. But Mexicans? These primitives won’t understand, and must be granted a temporary indulgence, until the children born in their stables only habla Inglés. Feliz Navidad!—for now.
But wait, there’s more. And that “more” comes in the form of Latin, which these p.c. minders determined to be acceptable. Here we see that recognizability ultimately means understanding. Left-liberal priests of political correctness cannot change history or reality, try as they may. But they can promote a culture of stupid, in which the ancient tunes are permitted, so long as the words are not understood. “God and sinners reconciled” offends them to the core, but they don’t care that it’s being sung, provided no one has ears to hear.
Christian churches could learn from this. We are still free to sing and speak the truth, in the full cultural richness of our Christmas traditions. Rather than whore after the secular culture, trying to lure in seemingly unsuspecting unbelievers under the false pretenses of success or self-help or contemporaneity or “relevance,” we might consider just how attractive our ancient message—and the rich culture that preserves it—is, especially in a time of great darkness and fear, when bland, meaningless p.c. (a culture that is so coarse and crude that it is actually boring) is imposed everywhere else, including on our own children.
In times like ours, what could be more “relevant” than the triumphant defeat of sin, death, and the Devil, first announced by angels to poor shepherds in the skies outside Bethlehem?
Why not pour our efforts into teaching ourselves, our children, and anyone who shows up the meaning of our sacred words—even the Latin ones? And why not put on the grandest—and most self-consciously Christian—Christmas celebrations we’re capable of? Let the choir sing, and invite the community.
In the words of Clark W. Griswold, “Do it right, and do it big.”