I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me.
Please have the snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree.
Christmas will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.
The lyrics above are from I’ll Be Home for Christmas, a song recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943. A lonely soldier writes to his family. Please make the usual preparations, he tells them. He will be with them in mind and heart, if not in person.
In November 1941 my uncle Basil Pugh, a lance corporal in the Pioneer Battalion 2nd A. I. F. in Syria, wrote to his family, “I hope this will be the only Christmas I spend away from my loved ones and the fair land we, who are so far away, have learned to know that there is none better.”
His postcards from the Middle East, faithfully annotated by his wife and daughter, were preserved. They make for a moving record of a lonely soldier far from home. Basil was not home for Christmas till the end of the war, after spending three and a half years as a POW in Java, on the Burma–Siam Railway, and in Indo-China, from where there is a total absence of correspondence. Of his first Christmas in captivity he later said, “In 1943, Christmas never was, my thoughts were of home.”
He made up his mind to return to Christmases in Australia. He did and lived till his 90s celebrating many family Christmases. Many of his friends never returned home. He did not forget them.
The words of I’ll Be Home for Christmas, melancholy in tone, strike a chord. There will be many not at home for Christmas. Troops serving in dangerous places overseas. Families separated by distance. Empty seats at the table due to the deaths of loved ones. Those working for emergency services will have a delayed celebration. But there will still be Christmas at home for most of us, presents around the tree and a family Dinner. How grateful we should be.
When Jesus was born there was a delayed celebration of his arrival. By order of Rome, Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary had traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census. There Jesus was born in a stable as the inn was fully booked. Angels praised God in song, announced the news to shepherds minding their sheep. All knew this birth was special. Wise men came from the East with gifts. Herod heard about it. Maybe he was the promised King who would unseat him. Joseph had been warned that Herod was out to kill all who threatened his rule. The little family took refuge in Egypt until the threat had passed and it was safe to return home to Nazareth.
As we prepare for Christmas , with our own special traditions, in this safe and blessed land of Australia, in our own homes, let us be mindful of those who will not be home, and those who have no place to call home, and little means to celebrate Christmas. May the spirit of generosity challenge us to give for others, work for peace and the resettlement of refugees, so that those who lack shelter, or means, will be home for next and every Christmas. And Christmas Eve will beckon all to “where the love light gleams”.