IDEMA: The story behind 'I'll Be Home for Christmas'

This is the time of year we love hearing Christmas carols and songs, even if being subjected to them in stores well before Thanksgiving is a bit over the top.
Dec 18, 2013


Each carol or song has a story behind it. 

Did you know that some of the most beloved Christmas music was written by Jews? Felix Mendelssohn wrote the music for "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas." Walter Kent, Kim Gannon and Buck Ray — all Jews — wrote "I'll Be Home For Christmas" in the 1940s.

For you trivia players, Buck Ray went on to create the group, The Platters, in the 1950s and wrote their hits "The Great Pretender," "Only You," "The Magic Touch" and "Twilight Time."

Bing Crosby scored a gold record in 1943 with his release of "I'll Be Home For Christmas." What you might not know when you listen to this song on countless Christmas albums by just about any singer you can name, from Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan, is that the song is sung from the point of view of a soldier during World War II.  In 1943, this song struck a nerve in America.

This soldier, like all soldiers down through the centuries, longs to be home, but is unable to get there due to war.

How many more Christmases are going to pass us by while being at war? Over 12 years in Afghanistan — and it looks like, if our government gets its way, thousands of soldiers will be there indefinitely. Maybe this is necessary, I don't know; but I do know that the sacrifice in the military is not shared by most of us.  

Plus, fewer and fewer members of Congress have served in the military, and those who aspire to be president in 2016 have not served either. This unwillingness to serve in the military means that those who send our soldiers into harm's way do not have an inkling of what it is like to be shot at, or away from home at Christmas. Members of Congress certainly give themselves plenty of time to be home in time for Christmas.

When our soldiers finally come home, they often return to a home where money is tight, jobs are few, spouses have bailed out and children do not know their parents. Many of our returning soldiers suffer from horrible physical and mental injuries, and sometimes help is in short supply. What a disgrace!

All the soldier wants who is singing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" in 1943 is snow, mistletoe and presents on the tree. Today, in Afghanistan, perhaps a soldier might add hope for a job, some appreciation, health care and a willingness on our part to share in sacrifices for the common good.

"I'll Be Home For Christmas is a sad song because this soldier isn't coming home. And who knows? Considering that it is 1943, perhaps he or she would never make it.

Next time you hear these lyrics, think of our soldiers; think of those who are homeless; think of those whose homes are filled with strife, loneliness and poverty. Think of how much we should be thankful for if we have a home filled with warmth and love:

"I'll be home for Christmas,
you can count on me;
where the love light gleams,
I'll be home for Christmas,
if only in my dreams."

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist



I knew the story of WWII, but have always thought that the song emphasizes the strength and power of love, home, and family - a strength that can overcome all obstacles.
I do hope for the end of all war, and perhaps that will be in our future if more of us exemplify the love this wonderful song celebrates.


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