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Black Lamb


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Dealing with Christmas

December 1st, 2004


In the spirit of this special issue of Black Lamb, here are a few Christmas letters from my mailbag.

Dear Millie,

I have a point to make. Christmas is on its way, and once again my husband and I will have to put up with sermons in pulpits and newspapers about the horrible commercialism of this holiday. Don’t people ever give a thought to the thousands and thousands (perhaps millions) of people who, like my family, make their living supplying and producing Christmas-related consumer goods?

Holiday Spirit

Dear Spirit,

No, I suppose preachers in and out of church don’t give much of a thought to the makers of holiday fruit baskets, the harvesters of Christmas trees, and the manufacturers of tinsel, wrapping paper, and a million other holiday “necessities.” Why should they?

You and your kind are doing very nicely, thank you, and will continue to do so. Just don’t expect the rest of us to be as enthusiastic as you are about all that holiday stuff, ninety-five percent of which is pointless crap. If all the greeting cards, tasteless gewgaws, and other Christmas paraphernalia disappeared tomorrow, people would still find a way to celebrate, and not have to haul truckloads of junk to landfills in the week before New Year. So suck it up while you rake it in.


The following two letters go together, really, and deserve a single answer.

Dear Millie,

I for one am fed up with political correctness, especially at Christmas time. In the interest of not alienating non-Christian Americans, we’ve elevated a bunch of other December holidays to the level of one of Christianity’s two great festivals. The result is that remembering and celebrating the spiritual significance of Christmas is frowned on. What’s the way out of this sad tendency?

Bring Back Christmas

Dear Millie,

As a fourth-generation American of Jewish descent, I’ve grown accustomed to being inundated at the winter solstice with devotional nonsense sponsored by the diminishing majority of Christian Americans. But it’s wearing me down. Why should I have to use Hannukah, which isn’t even a religious holiday, to fight off the onslaught of sweet baby Jesus? In this land of religious toleration, can’t the Christians find a way to put the X back in their Xmas without forcing it down the throats of the rest of us?

Acid Reflux

Dear Back & Acid,

So one of you wants more Jesus in America’s public Christmas, and one wants less. Reminds me of some evangelical Christians I know who refuse to let their little kids enjoy Halloween because, they say, it’s a pagan holiday that celebrates occultism. Even notwithstanding the connection between Halloween and such mainstream religious holidays as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, they’re wrong. Halloween doesn’t celebrate occultism any more than the Harry Potter books (which they’re also vehemently against). I’ve seen no compulsory rituals of witchcraft or devil-worship, and damned few optional ones. For kids, Halloween, like Christmas, is fun: a time for special traditions and goodies, and Halloween has the advantage of being deliciously scary, too.

If you don’t think Jews (and atheists) can get a kick out of Christmas, read Michele Gendelman’s and Ed Goldberg’s and Greg Roberts’ articles in this All-Christmas Issue. The fact is, Christmas is a secular as well as a religious holiday in the USA. If you want more Jesus in it, go to your church and insert him as directed. If you want less, ignore what’s left of the public display of Christian Christmas doctrine, play Irving Berlin songs on your stereo (he wasn’t a nice Christian boy), have a big family meal, and enjoy the unmistakable feeling of public charity and friendliness that accompanies the annual shopping frenzy. No one said everyone had to celebrate Christmas the same way.


Dear Millie,

What can you suggest to alleviate the numbing effect of listening to Christmas music in every public place from November through New Year?

Prisoner of “White Christmas”

Dear Prisoner,

It is pretty relentless, isn’t it? For a number of years now, I’ve adopted a kind of reverse Gresham’s Law to help me get through this most musical of seasons. In the belief that Good Music will drive out Bad, I contrive to offset the jingles in grocery stores and dentists’ offices, as well as the treacly bonhomie on the radio, by self-administering doses of real music at home. Twenty years ago, a friend who was a jazz disc jockey turned me on to jazz Christmas albums. Turns out there are dozens of them, and I mean real jazz, not the hoary Perry Como or Bing Crosby or Andy Williams records that are still in print. It’s amazing how salutary Dave Brubeck’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” can be after the public Muzak. Or Duke Ellington’s “Jingle Bells” and Herbie Hancock’s “Deck the Halls.” You might also take a page from this magazine’s editor, who long ago recommended to me Handel’s Messiah, preferably in live performance with a small choir and a baroque orchestra. I went one year and all those elephantine, ponderous Messiahs of yesteryear vanished in an instant. Glorious stuff. I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving every year to get out my CD and get Handel cranking.

These remedies, taken as they are just once a year, never get stale, and there are always more becoming available, like a Stevie Wonder cut I heard a few years ago of “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings from Zion,” from Messiah, not to mention other superb classical Christmas music by the likes of Charpentier. Or get out the Oxford Book of Carols and gather round the piano for something far removed from “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” which have worn out whatever welcome they might once have had. Relief is at hand!


Send your query to Millicent Marshall care of Black Lamb. Letters may be edited for length. Replies not guaranteed confidential. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Ask Millie, Marshall | Link to this Entry


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