“I'll be home for Christmas;/You can count on me./Please have snow and mistletoe/And presents on the tree./Christmas Eve will find me/Where the love-light gleams./I'll be home for Christmas/If only in my dreams.”
"I’ll Be Home for Christmas" – Bing Crosby
Ok, I admit it, I’m a big softie when it comes to Christmas carols. I’m not the biggest fan in the world of the more happy-jolly tunes, the “Jingle Bells” of the world. Give me “Silent Night,” “Oh Holy Night,” or “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and the Christmas spirit washes over me in waves of nostalgia, flooding me with thoughts of love, loss, longing, and joy.
It should be noted that while credit is given to Bing Crosby for making this song the classic it is, it was originally written by James Gannon while its music was composed by Walter Kent.
In the throes of the Second World War, when “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was released, it became the definition of an instant classic and the anthem for all those stranded far from their loved ones. And like the original intent of the song, this year yet again finds so many Americans in far away lands – somewhere out there in harms way.
Maybe it’s because my dad was often times gone for Christmas – the Army calling him off to something. Or maybe it’s because I’ve missed several Christmas celebrations too, off in some other clime or place. Or maybe it’s because, especially over the course of the last eight years, I get at least one email or letter from a fellow brother or sister in arms, the loneliness of the season dripping from their words that this one Christmas carol impacts me so deeply. Like hearing the singular bugle call of “Taps,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” hits me on a deeper level, a level that affects me all the way to my core.
It wasn’t always like that. I confess that growing up I was the fairly typical self-absorbed type that cared more about what was under the tree than anything else. Add to that, I’ll tell you that I went to school in North Pole, Alaska. No really – North Pole – there is such a place and its adorned with Christmas decorations all year and a Santa Clause house open year-round. As you can imagine, growing up in such a location, my view of Christmas was a little jaded – there’s only so much Christmas spirit an angst-ridden, know-it-all, teenager can handle.
Then along came my sophomore year in high school. For anyone that knows me fairly well, it will come as no shock that I was a die-hard geek type that was hugely active in the drama and choir programs.
As is the tradition in schools across the land, we were performing our Christmas production, some winter wonderland festival that all of us in the program were hugely invested in. We had a wonderful tenor in the way of one Rob Boyer and for that year’s program Rob sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” But not only did Rob sing that song, Rob sang it in uniform, my dad’s uniform – I didn’t understand then why my dad was so darn fussy about his uniform, I do now.
Standing there to the side of the stage watching Rob’s performance, suddenly it hit me what that song meant. Maybe it was the way Rob sang it or maybe I was just at that time in my life were ego finally starts giving way to something larger – suddenly that song resonated. And like the accumulation of ribbons that adorn the uniform of our service members, every year since, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” has come to mean more and more as layer upon layer of life is added to my whole.
I would encourage each and everyone of you to do a Google search on 'Twas the Night Before Christmas – (A Marine version)’ I’ll leave you with the final stanza of the poem: “I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night, this guardian of honor so willing to fight. But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure, said "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all secure." One look at my watch and I knew he was right, Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.”