tree ornament 210x300 On Ill Be Home for Christmas

From the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of Touchstone.

Our Christmas Home

William E. Graddy on the Deepest Longings of the Restless & the Lonely

It seems that every other store or coffee shop I visited three years ago this December was playing either “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The sock-hoppish cheerfulness of the one was even more glaringly out of key with our national mood that winter than the twilight wistfulness of the other, but the continuing popularity of “I’ll Be Home” remains the greater puzzle to me nonetheless. After all, the power of this slow, quiet song lies mostly in the historical moment it captures—the weariness, the dislocation, and perhaps especially the bittersweet hope-against-hope that millions of Americans felt in 1943, when it was released. And awareness of the past, certainly any vital sense of connection with it, has shrunk to the vanishing point in our collective psyche.

At least as strikingly absent is the bond, echoed poignantly in Bing Crosby’s song, between the state and the individual, particularly between the civilian and the soldier, that held strong in our grandparents’ era. Rosie the Riveter’s body may have been stateside, but her heart was in the Pacific, or Europe, or Africa with the troops. Fred or Eddie the GI may have just dodged shrapnel bursts or fought past exhaustion in Anzio, but give either a minute and a scrap of paper, and he’d be writing the folks back home in Ohio. In the waning months of 2012, though, we listened to the same rich but sad voice intone “I’ll Be Home” scores of times over in Starbucks or Target, but we sipped our lattes and stroked our smartphones without a flicker of recognition that (a) we were hearing a song about war, and (b) we as a nation were at war—our longest war yet—right then.

The explanations for that profound disconnect are complex, but the two I’d like to posit here, our relentless mobility and its corollary, our radical identification of identity with separateness, resonate in surprising ways with the facts of Jesus’ birth, facts that we’ve grown adept at listening past and are used to hearing spoken in inappropriately smooth voices. . . .

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