I am going to depart, again, from my political topics and talk about something from my heart and somewhat more fitting to the season. I hope no one minds a little more Christmas spirit.
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the lovelight gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
In many ways this song has become the unofficial Christmas carol of the military. I know it has long signified military holidays to me, although I was lucky to actually have very few Christmases without my father or my husband. Quite a miracle, considering I spent 40 years of my life following Air Force blue as a daughter or wife.
This song was always a favorite of mine. But, it really came to the forefront of my holiday preferences when my father was in Vietnam in 1972. We had word he was coming home for Christmas and that made the song personal. The last line, "If only in my dreams" wasn't important. It was that first line, "I'll be home for Christmas" that mattered. This is something I found, over the years, which is shared by many military members and families. It is all about the hopes and dreams in that first line. We just sort of shove that last line out of the way and ignore its implications.
As we celebrate this holiday season in which many of us honor the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, let us remember some of the most important gifts we have ever been given. Christ Himself was a gift from our Heavenly Father. Christ went on to give us the gift of His sacrifice to atone for our sins. These are gifts immeasurable. But, others have bestowed great gifts upon us as well.
Our American military has been giving us the gifts of sacrifice, freedom, and safety for well over 200 years. They have not just done this for American citizens, but for people around the world. Some have given their all and their graves bear witness of this. Others have given more than we can imagine. We have wounded warriors from coast to coast trying to regain some semblance of normalcy in their lives after having their bodies and/or minds shattered by the horrific wounds and terrors of war.
Winter, war, our military, December, and Christmas are inextricably linked in my mind. From Valley Forge to Pearl Harbor. Whether with or without snow, winter war is harsh.
I lived in both Hawaii and Japan in my years as a military dependent. Sort of the bookends of World War II in the Pacific. While living in Hawaii as a teenager, I remember the radar field on the island of Oahu looking like Christmas angels. The kind of paper angels school kids used to make from doilies. We called them Guardian Angels. Military and their families have long memories about wars.
One thing I always remember about military Christmas times is the generosity. If a father was gone there were always neighbors to help put together bikes. When my husband was on missile crew, where the guys were out for 24 hours at a time, there were often trade-offs during the holidays. The bachelors would pull duty on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so family and married men could be home. Then, the family guys would do New Year's Eve to reciprocate, so bachelors could celebrate. Not a big thing, I guess, but it mattered to all of us.
I also remember baking lots and lots of Christmas cookies over the years as a military brat and wife. Traditionally, squadron wives would do a cookie swap party in December. We would bring two dozen cookies. One dozen was to eat as refreshments at the party, while the other dozen was to freeze until Christmas, when they would be sent out to all the folks on holiday duties.
I also remember years and years of being Santa and Santa's elf when my father or husband was on TDY (temporary duty) prior to or on Christmas. A TDY is sort of the military equivalent of a business trip and can last two days, two weeks, or two months. So, families learn to cope. And, sometimes this means Mom does ALL the Christmas-ing, while other times it means the older kids learn the real story of Santa a little sooner than expected.
Since my husband retired from the military and our children have grown up, my Christmases have changed quite a bit. But, the holiday happenings still bring to mind those traditions from Air Force life. I think of Christmas cookie swap parties when I bake loaves of quick bread to pass out as gifts. When my firefighter son-in-law has to work Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I know my oldest daughter has be Santa AND Santa's elf, just like I used to do. And, this year, we even have the feeling of having someone be home for Christmas, 'cause our youngest daughter and her children have moved back from Alaska and just live up the road about 15 minutes.
I was blessed to always be home for Christmas, 'cause home has sorta always been where I was. I am a nester, apparently by nature and nurture. Even when we were travelling for the holidays, I was home 'cause I had family with me and we were usually at one of my favorite places to be anyway, like grandparents.
But, I also know that not everyone is like me. For many folks, home is a very specific location. And, many military folks are far away from that much loved place. A place that makes them want to get home for the holidays.
I understand that better now that we have a permanent place to call home. So, now, when I sing the words, "I'll be home for Christmas", I know exactly where it is talking about. I know a little better what everyone else has felt all those years. And, I know more sympathy for those who are far from home. Especially those serving in hazardous duty spots.
I hope for all the military families that they get to experience the joy of having that song come true for their military member. I know many are coming home this Christmas season from war zones, but others will still be deployed in far away places, some of which are dangerous. Let us each say a little prayer this season for peace. For the sake of all our people going in harm's way. May God bless our American military . . . and their families. May everyone someday be home for Christmas!
© Suzann C. Darnall, DECEMBER 2011 UPDATED