And now the bustling streets and malls fall strangely quiet. In many a home the living room rests ankle-deep in an effluvia of ribbons and paper and bows, while in the background someone has left the TV running — Alastair Sim throws open his window on a bright and shining world for the 55th time, and asks the lad in the street what day this is.
It’s Christmas morning, sir. And yes, we certainly do know the shop on the corner with the big, fat goose still hanging in the window.
Perhaps by day’s end, when the most expensive new Christmas gadgets and electronic devices finally sit idle, there’ll somewhere still be a toddler or two playing themselves to happy exhaustion in that yet-to-be-unseated, old champion source of Christmas delight: the empty cardboard box in which a present arrived.
A fancy high-tech toy has no option but to remain a fancy high-tech toy, you see, while a cardboard box can become its own virtual reality in the form of a frontier fort, a hot rod with stick shift, a lonely aircraft dangerously icing up as it makes the perilous climb over the Andes …
Here is a day for friends and family, for again celebrating our freedoms and the bounty they create.
There’s a tendency to think today’s crises must be more complicated and dispiriting than those of days gone by. In fact, most of today’s doubt and confusion pales when we consider how the future hung in the balance for a generation of cold and lonely sailors and GIs and Marines, stretched thin on freedom’s line, in the desperate Christmases of 1941 and ’42 and ’43.
Listen to the radio. When were those songs written? Isn’t it interesting, how many come down to us from those desperate days?
Even today, have we no moment of gratitude to spare for the young men and women who stand a frozen vigil on some lonely shore this Christmas Day, wishing they, too, could be home sipping cider by the fire?
It was for such as they that Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote, in the far darker days of 1943:
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yuletide gay. From now on, our troubles will be miles away.
“Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow. Hang a shining star upon the highest bough … and have yourself a merry little Christmas, now.”
It was for such as they that Kim Gannon and Walter Kent wrote, in 1943:
“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 lovelight gleams. I’ll be home for Christmas … if only in my dreams.”
Merry Christmas to all. May your days be cheery and bright. (Irving Berlin: 1942).
A version of this editorial first appeared here in 1998.