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Christmas Spirit

In the later stages of World War II, Bing Crosby was in Europe to make one of his many appearances before U.S. troops, in this case a paratrooper outfit in France. Before the show, a tough-looking sergeant asked America’s most popular singer whether he planned to perform “White Christmas.” Crosby said he did; it was a song requested by GIs at every stop, regardless of the season. In that case, said the soldier, he would have to absent himself. “I’ll listen from behind the portable kitchen,” he said. “It’s no good for the men’s morale to see their sergeant crying.”

That incident, recounted by Jody Rosen in his book

“White Christmas: The Story of an American Song,” is as good an explanation as any of why Bing Crosby’s voice is still heard this time of year in supermarkets, shops, eateries, elevators and just about every other place people congregate. “White Christmas,” for many of us, captures the spirit of this day. It met a deep need and evoked powerful emotions through four years of war, and in some way — perhaps indefinable — it has continued to do so ever since.

Crosby introduced the song 70 years ago on his Christmas Eve radio show, just 18 days after Pearl Harbor. Although it was the work of the country’s most beloved songwriter, Irving Berlin, there was some doubt as to whether it would catch on. But in fact America was well on its way into the age of mass nationwide media — radio, records, movies — and for families separated by war, the song’s evocation of longing for home and loved ones (also voiced in another Crosby wartime classic still heard today: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”) proved to be exactly what was right and necessary. “White Christmas,” especially after it was featured in the 1942 Crosby movie “Holiday Inn,” became a sort of universal lament for Americans here and overseas, broadcast and distributed on phonograph records to thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen.

It’s a Christmas song that is neither religious nor particularly inspirational, written by a Russian Jewish immigrant who proved to have a marvelous feel for what moved Americans of all sorts. What he captured in that simple and sentimental song was the universal longing for times past and familiar faces, voices and places (however idealized — and to be honest, how many people generally have white Christmases?). In that sense, it stands as an example of how Christmas has become for many, if not most, in America a national holiday, a source of goodwill and (in the words of an earlier songwriter) comfort and joy in times of war, peace, uncertainty, darkness and doubt.


By: Editorial Board, The Washington Post, December 24, 2011

December 25, 2011 - Posted by | Christmas | , , ,

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