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Day 9, Monday - "I'll be Home For Christmas"

It’s Monday, the second week in Advent; but more importantly, it’s December 9th. I was 14 years old in December of 1963. A couple of weeks before, nearer Thanksgiving, President Kennedy had been assassinated bringing the nation to a period of national mourning. His death overshadowed the death of one of Christianity’s most brilliant writers, C.S. Lewis who also died on the same day as Kennedy.
Then, just as life seemed to return to normal, the dearest person in the world - my Grandmother - also suddenly died. I was grief-stricken. Her funeral is still vivid in my mind 56 years later. What is also vivid is my pregnant sister. Joan Kratz was 9 months pregnant with our family’s first-to-be grandchild. Doug Kratz was born on December 9, 1963 (happy birthday Doug).
In the midst of grief - personally, nationally - there was something of a joy to celebrate. Still, that Christmas as we gathered to open presents there in our home was both a newborn child (I was an Uncle for the first time), and at the same time presents from Grandma Paul she had made before her death.
Grief at Christmas is not that unusual. The first Christmas after the death of a loved one leaves people feeling the loss even more. My best friend’s death in August is still on the minds of his wife, and his daughters, and is magnified during this month. If you know of someone who lost a loved one this year realize the emptiness and grief they feel as Christmas approaches.
In 1942, World War II had changed the entire nation. All of a sudden the country saw 1000’s of young men leave their towns, farms, cities, to go off to war. Of course, it didn’t take long for grief to hit home. Young men died in combat and families back home got the news. Do you remember the scene in “Saving Private Ryan” when the mother standing at her kitchen sink sees the car driving up their long winding farm road? She goes to the front porch, and then she sees them: A military officer and a Chaplain get out of the car and (I can picture the scene in my mind), she falls to her knees and then completely down, for she knows they bring news that one of her sons has died...in fact, in the story, 3 of her sons had died. It’s emotional, gut-wrenching, and you cannot help but feel her pain. That sort of scene was repeated daily all across the country.
In New York City, a songwriter saw and felt that pain as December came. Kim Gannon saw the boys go off to war. He saw the mothers as they worried every day; the train station goodbyes and the chaplains visits to homes. He sat down, pen in hand, and instead of trying to capture every scene and emotion, He wrote down the words to a simple song of hope entitled, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”.

Gannon took the words to Walter Kent and he wrote a melody that embraced the hopefulness in the midst of reality. In 1943, Bing Crosby recorded the song and it became an instant hit. Mothers, Families, Soldiers on the front all embraced the hope. The song has been recorded hundreds of times and was the most often requested song in USO gatherings through WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

There have been countless recordings of the song, along with 2 movies titled "I'll be home for Christmas".  One of the best stories associated with this theme happened in 1943.  The story is that a chaplain on board the Battleship North Carolina knew that his crew was feeling homesick.  He got an idea and collected $5 from every crew member that had children back home.

The chaplain made a list of all who gave money for their children and sent the money and the soldiers home addresses to Macy's department store.  He asked that Macy buy gifts and send them to the crew's addresses in time for Christmas.  Macy's said yes, but the store had an additional idea.  Christmas came and the crew onboard the Battleship gathered for a Christmas program of songs, skits, entertainment.  Then the Chaplain told them that their gifts had been delivered, but that he had a gift for them.  Macy's had taken the gifts to the families, but also reached out to the families to ask them if they'd like to come to the store and send a special message to their loved ones.

The sailors sat and saw their wives, children and loved ones appear on a screen as Macy's had videoed each family who wanted to send a message.  Young men, grown men, soldiers, sailors, veterans watched, wept and rejoiced.  Indeed, they were not home for Christmas, but they received a gift from home that they would never forget.

This is a long post, but all of us know grief, and we all know that conflicts carry our young men and women to places where their families can only hope and pray they’ll be ok. It’s a simple song, a simple melody, and will never - apart from Christ’s coming - not be a part of our world at Christmas.
“I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan 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
You can plan 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
If only in my dreams”
I still love Bing Crosby’s ordinal version.

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