None of our holidays invokes more fond memories than Christmas. Thanksgiving and July 4th are occasions for bringing friends and family together, but they don’t reside in our memories in the same way. Perhaps that’s because Christmas is a time of charity, giving and gratitude.

Memory is an extraordinary gift that we each have. It never appeared under a tree. We came with it into the world, and it now defines who we are, in many ways.

Our memory is like the world’s largest and most elaborate hotel, full of tiny rooms and full suites. It goes on for miles in all directions beyond the horizon. Each room houses a small piece of what we’ve become and the things that have shaped and moved us. Family members. Childhood recollections. People we’ve known and loved. Stirring stories. Actors who’ve impressed us. Artists, political leaders and comedians who changed us. Writers and songwriters who have a special place in our hearts.

Many of the occupants of your hotel would be recognizable to you. But an astonishing number live there that you’ve never met.

So here’s a small gift to you on this Christmas. Let’s meet some old friends and some new ones who are guests in your memory hotel. We’ll visit just one wing of the floor that is reserved for music. There we’ll go down the Christmas music hallway, which has hundreds of rooms.

Let’s look in on the people in five of those rooms, whom you first knew as a child. You’ll notice a recurring theme in each of these Christmas song rooms: Each came to us, in one way or another, because of war, and each speaks to a desire for war to end and for everyone to be home with their loved ones.


Here’s the room of Father Joseph Mohr. He wrote this song as a poem in 1816 in what is now Austria. His roommate is Franz Gruber, who added the melody to what was first called “Stille Nacht.” We know of their song because of the first Christmas of WWI, in 1914.

There, in the trenches of France, German soldiers lifted trees and lights over their heads and sang “Stille Nacht” to the allies across the trenches. For that night, it was the song that stopped the war. Both sides had expected a short war that would have them all home by Christmas time. Instead it went on for four long years, taking eight and half million of their lives. But the memory stuck and spread.


Now let’s visit the WWII wing of your Christmas song memory, where some of our most beloved Christmas songs live. After the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7 of 1941, the country mobilized for war and millions of young Americans headed across both oceans, finding themselves far from home by the Christmas of 1942.

This song touched the hearts of GIs and their families everywhere, expressing their loneliness and hope for the war to end. You’ll recognize the singer, of course. It’s Bing Crosby. But here are some others that you probably don’t know. There’s Irving Berlin, who created the song while at the La Quinta hotel in Hollywood. And the Scott Trotter Orchestra and Ken Darby Singers. They’re all there every time you hear the song. And so is Marjorie Reynolds who sang the duet in the movie “Holiday Inn.”


As Christmas of 1943 approached, another song of distance and empty homes dominated the holiday. This one was squarely aimed at the missing millions preparing for an assault on “fortress Europe” or making their way across a bloody Pacific. It spoke to the aching homesickness of GIs and their loved ones.

The song was originally rejected by the music industry and even later banned by the BBC because of its melancholy feel (“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”), which the BBC thought might lower morale.

Here’s the author, Kim Gannon, along with co-authors Walter Kent and Buck Ram. Gannon finally got the song recorded after playing a round of golf with “White Christmas” singer Bing Crosby. Before teeing off, Gannon sang the song for Crosby, who liked it enough to add it to an upcoming album. The song lives in your head now because of that golf game.


By Christmas of 1944, Americans were racing across Europe and the Pacific, but the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, a broad German counterattack, made it clear that the war was far from over. That brought almost unbearable disappointment to Americans and GIs, who had widely believed that the war would surely be over by Christmas 1944, after the Normandy invasion that summer.

Here’s Judy Garland, who made the song a hit from the movie “Meet Me In St. Louis.” And Frank Sinatra, who also recorded it later. You probably don’t know Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, who wrote it, but they’ve been living here since you first heard it.


Here we have the first post-war song, in 1946. Its familiar line about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” perfectly reflected the country’s gratitude that the war was over and that most soldiers had returned. That’s the incomparable Nat King Cole, who brought it to your memory hotel. With him are Bob Wells and Mel Torme, who wrote it.

These are but a small fraction of the people who live in your memory today, and for as long as you will live. A few of millions, really, most of whom you’ll never know. But they’ve shaped who you are. And it’s nice, isn’t it, to visit with them once in a while and learn their stories?

Here’s to a year of new memories made, greater civility, and joy and love. My best to you all on this Christmas, and every day.

Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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