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On First Christmas Without Dad – Remembering the Importance of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”

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white 1It’s one of the best-selling singles of all time, and Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” is still an iconic slice of American holiday pie. Written by Russian Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin, it perfectly captures a time and place in the history of the U.S., and by default, of the world.

On this first Christmas without my father, I miss him terribly but each time I hear “White Christmas” I think of him and his stories of hearing that song during World War II. Having been introduced in 1941, it came at the right time for lonely soldiers as Bing sang the song on radio for the first time that Christmas Day. We have heard of the shot heard round the world, well this was the tune that spanned the globe.

My father spent too many Christmases away from home during that war, but he recalled Christmas 1944 when it still seemed that there was no certain victory for the Americans. Bunkered down in a French town near enemy lines, my father could hear the bombs going off that Christmas Eve just a mile or so away. He and a few of his men (Dad was a sergeant) decided to take advantage of a bottle of cognac they had found in the basement of the house where they were spending the night.

Drinking the delicious drink out of their mess cups, the fellows had a small radio and listened to Christmas songs. As the music played each one shared a story about home, and my father could picture his house, parents, and dogs sitting around the Christmas tree. Dad said when old Bing came on and sang his now famous song, none of these big burly fellows had a dry eye.

When my father and one of his men when outside to relieve the sentry, it was cold and snowing. They noticed a dark figure coming towards them in the woods, and all three raised their rifles. The fellow collapsed as he approached, and Dad and the others discovered that he was a wounded German soldier.

They brought him inside where a medic tended to his wounds. The bombs continued to go off in the distance, and a little after midnight Bing’s song came on the radio again. The wounded enemy soldier glanced up at Dad and smiled saying, “Der Bingle.” My father offered him a mess cup with cognac in it, and said, “Merry Christmas.”

Years later Dad recalled that story wistfully. That German soldier survived and was moved to a field hospital the next day. Dad always remembered that Christmas Eve, and he spoke of the appeal of “White Christmas,” noting that even the Germans liked the tune. There are no doubt many similar stories, but this was Dad’s and he liked to tell it.


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He always noted that “White Christmas” was not just any song. Every time a soldier heard it, no matter where he was stationed, it brought a memory of someone or someplace he loved. Dad noted that soldiers always tried to put up a tree, even near a battlefield. They all weren’t sure if they would ever see home again, but they resiliently celebrated despite the war around them, and the poignancy of the lyrics and Bing’s crooning got to them every time they heard it.

With Dad gone now, I feel a connection to “White Christmas” that is very personal. When I listen to it sometime on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I will raise a glass of cheer and toast my father. I will not just be toasting him but all those of America’s greatest generation. They fought a most pernicious foe and, if they had failed, the world as we know it wouldn’t exist.

bingAll these years later “White Christmas” has an evanescent ability to touch us across time, and we think of the “snow” as being a metaphor for peace and love, which is what Christmas Day means to many of us; however, we don’t need snow for the song to have its magical affect. So raise a glass, toast someone you love, and this Christmas will be “just like the ones I used to know.” Now if we could just hear those sleigh bells!

Photo credits: life magazine; hrworld.blogspot.com, bing-rockonvinyl.blogspot.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • bliffle

    I remember a christmas, must have been 1945 when I was 8 and the boys were back from the war. We were still on war restrictions so there were no toys for kids (everything went into the War Effort) so, as usual, we had minimal expectations for presents. Just the usual homemade sugar/butter cookies and traditional lutefisk (yuck! Good thing mom made meatballs in cream gravy, too!).

    But Christmas eve I peeked out through the window and spotted my Big Brother and our two cousins (all dressed in Santa Claus clothes) pull up in front of the house in the snowfall in Uncle Sid’s big Buick and start getting things out of the trunk. I suppose they did this at the homes of each of the little cousins.

    In the morning I found the best christmas present I’ve ever gotten under the tree: a 1930s era stamped sheet-metal imitation gangbusters machine gun that spat actual sparks from the end of the barrel! Somehow, the guys had figured out how to restore the emory and flint mechanism that produced the sparks!

    Wow!

  • Victor Lana

    Great memory. Thanks for sharing.

  • Irene Athena

    My husband lost his WWII vet dad this summer. In the few days since I read your article, Victor, I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to share it with him. A person can miss the boat when trying to comfort those who mourn, you know?

    I’m taking a second look today at this wonderful story built around a song that has so powerfully reached out to people–especially soldiers from that era–who are missing their loved ones. I imagine it was healing for you to write, and it will probably be healing for him to read. You’ve given us a very special Christmas gift, crafted in the crucible of your own grief. Thank you.