The Secular Side of Christmas

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“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is the 18th best selling single of all time. It was also written by a Jewish man, Johnny Mark. While this may seem peculiar, Rudolph is not the only well-known Christmas song written by a Jewish person. It isn’t even the best selling Christmas song written by a Jewish person. That honor goes to “White Christmas,” the best selling song of all time, which was written by Irving Berlin.

In the early 20th century there was a Jewish mass migration from Russia to America. Many Jewish people, specifically those in their late teens and early twenties, rebelled against their upbringing. They took on Anglo-Saxon names and more “Christian” professions. There were less Jewish lawyers and bankers and more Jewish songwriters.

The shift was due to a growing resentment among young Jewish people, specifically young men. The Jewish people had been discriminated against by Tsar Nicholas II, so thousands of Jewish families immigrated to America. Facing discrimination, though not as outright as it was in Russia as it was in the states, Jewish people tried to appear more “American” by changing their professions and their names. Irving Berlin is a perfect example, originally born Israel Beilin.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the surge of Jewish songwriters was a desire to be accepted into American mainstream culture, and what is more American than Christmas Jazz?