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White Christmas

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

12/23/2017

Professor Harnett


On the drive in this morning I haphazardly tuned into XM radio channel 18. The Holiday Transitions channel plays non-stop holiday music this time of year. Frankly I’m not a big fan of Christmas music and in particular the one that came on as I clicked on number 18 - Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”. I was just about to change the channel and then paused…


I was abruptly thrust back in time to when I was a kid growing up in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. In the 1960s, my parents often played Bing Crosby on the “hifi” and during the holidays, they loved that song, my dad in particular who was a WW II veteran.


Interestingly, when Irving Berlin wrote that 2-verse, 8-line song he had no idea the impact it would have on American culture. I had to find out why.


This song is different. Beyond the brevity, arguably, the most popular Christmas carol in America stands apart from the others in a number of ways: It’s not upbeat, there are no fanciful characters and it isn’t religious. Instead, it’s melancholy and wistful – full of longing for bygone days. And there’s more. While many American families gleefully opened gifts around the Christmas tree, Berlin had his own a tradition. Every year he visited the grave of his son who died on Christmas Day, 1928, at only three weeks old.


But the longing and coziness of White Christmas had yet another meaning when Bing Crosby first crooned it on Christmas Day 1941... Families tuning into the broadcast were still reeling from the tragic event that happened just 18 days before: the Pearl Harbor attack.


By the following winter, young American troops found themselves overseas during the holidays. Armed Forces radio played White Christmas over and over to remind them of home. By the end of the war, White Christmas was the bestselling song of all time and held that distinction for 56 years until Elton John’s remake of “Candle in the Wind” when Princess Diana died in 1997.


74 years later we get together with our families to again celebrate the holidays. We hear on the radio countless holiday favorites and likely never give a second thought to the real meaning or messages. This year, when you hear White Christmas, don’t tune it out like I did for many years – instead, just listen.


I'm dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten

and children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow


I'm dreaming of a white Christmas

With every Christmas card I write

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white

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