Every year, the day after Thanksgiving brings changes in the Clare household. First the furniture must all shift to accommodate the Christmas tree. Mr. Clare and I set it up while engaging in the annual “how did all of these lights burn out?” discussion. Then, out come the ornaments and the Advent calendar with its countdown to Christmas. The children gather evergreen and holly from our yard to construct an Advent wreath, and I trim the greenery down so that it won’t catch fire from the Advent candles when it starts to dry out. Over all of the bustle is the sound that we’ve been waiting for—the sound of Christmas music.
From carols to crooners to country western, (that’s the influence of my husband’s side of the family) we’ve amassed quite a collection of Christmas music, both sacred and secular. There’s something about these melodies, no matter how many years pass—they create a unique seasonal soundtrack that melds memories of the past with hope for the future.
Christmas music has its own place in history—I think of soldiers on opposite sides of the battlefields in WWI singing together during the famous Christmas truce. While I’ve not found any stories of similar wide-spread good will during WWII, music was still an important factor in morale, both for those serving and for those waiting for their loved ones to return home.
One song that played a part in WWII history is recorded on the album that I’m currently listening to.
Christmas of 1943 came to a world in turmoil. Families and friends were separated. Loved ones were unable to travel home for the holidays. Fear and uncertainty swirled around muddled reports of current events. (Sound familiar?)
The war in Europe had begun over four years earlier. Hostilities in the Pacific had been going on even longer between Japan and China. After the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, the U.S. had fully committed to the Allied cause. By 1943, over 9 million men (and quite a few women, including members of the Army nurse corps) were serving their country on land, sea, and in the air. (Stop by the National WWII Museum’s site for a more detailed break down.)
It was to this world that composer Walter Kent and lyricist James “Kim” Gannon introduced a new song, a song that encapsulated the nostalgic longing many people were feeling. It was titled, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
According to some sources, the nostalgia evoked by the song almost kept it from being recorded. Reportedly, producers felt the song was too sad and it took Bing Crosby’s endorsement of the tune to get it recorded.
It seems that the American public agreed with Mr. Crosby rather than the naysayers. He recorded the song in October of 1943. In spite of its rather melancholy ending, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” caught on almost immediately and quickly rose through the charts. It peaked at #3, and earned Crosby his 5th golden record. As far as its impact on the war, the Library of Congress says:
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows in both Europe and the Pacific and Yank, the GI magazine, said Crosby accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era.From the article: I’ll Be Home for Christmas
. Library of Congress, Washington, DC, 2002
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and Crosby’s big hit from the previous year “White Christmas” were released on V-disc in 1945. Interestingly enough, in spite of the popularity with American listeners, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was banned by the BBC during the war, because they felt that its “sickly sentimentality” was bad for morale.
Sentimental it may be, but I still like Bing, and his recording is a standard in our household. What about you?
Below is a video of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” set to a background of colorized photos from the era.
Whether you’ll be home for this Christmas or not, I’m wishing you one full of joy, good health, and peace.