Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nostalgia (part 2) - Christmas Past in War and Peace Festival
Old movies and television shows give us a peek into Christmas Past - not long past, but perhaps our past, our parents' past, and even our grandparents' past.

And some of our best loved classics have meant much to the Greatest Generation who lived through the Great Depression, fought in World War II, then settled down with a special loved one during the post-war period of the 1950s.

My pick from the pop culture of the past are two iconic holiday scenes from the 1950s, one from the movies, the other from television:

Christmas Past in Wartime

White Christmas (1954) opens with crooner Bing Crosby as Captain Bob Wallace singing the title song.  This classic captures the nostalgia of the soldiers, who were fighting overseas, yet yearning for home during the holidays.  That feeling is timeless.

And Bing Crosby was also a great patriot.  America had entered World War II when he was 37 and, with a family, he was deemed too old to put on the uniform and fight.  But much like his contemporary Bob Hope, Bing Crosby worked tirelessly to entertain the troops and boost their morale.  [reference:  As Veterans Day approaches, niece remembers Bing Crosby's service to soldiers]

The composer of White Christmas, Irving Berlin (1888 - 1989), like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, was a patriot as well.  Born Israel Baline,  he was an immigrant to America, fleeing religious persecution of the Jewish community in his native Russia and settling in New York City.  For more on his biography - Irving Berlin - Biography - Songwriter -

From a misspelling of his name, I. Berlin, as lyricist, Israel Baline decided to keep the name and become known as Irving Berlin. And what followed were many ironies of a Jewish composer choosing the surname Berlin. Most obvious, his career spanned two World Wars, which the United States fought against Germany, whose capital was Berlin.  And Hitler's Germany was hell-bent to exterminate the Jews, like Irving Berlin.

During World War I, Irving Berlin had first written God Bless America, as a great peace song.  But with a glut of patriotic songs coming out at the time, he tabled it.  Two decades later, Kate Smith introduced his peace song in 1938 at the cusp of World War II.  Another irony.  For more on this story: The story behind Irving Berlin's "God Bless America"

Though Jewish, Irving Berlin composed one of his best loved songs, White Christmas, celebrating a Christian holiday.  Yet another irony.  And it was Bing Crosby who introduced White Christmas to the world - on Christmas: December 25, 1941 - just as America had entered into World War II a few weeks earlier.  [reference:  Bing Crosby introduces "White Christmas" to the world — This Day in History — 12/25/1941]

Christmas Past in Peacetime

And in the movie, White Christmas, the war came to an end.  And the plot focused on the characters making their way during peacetime and ending their adventures with a big Christmas production, such as shown here:  White Christmas ending

But during the postwar years, the early days of television produced another classic holiday scene from  the Honeymooners (1955-1956) .  Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason, a bus driver in New York City, struggled to strike it rich. Meanwhile, his wife Alice, played by Audrey Meadows, pulled him back to earth.  The couple would fight and argue, such as in these scenes:  Bang Zoom ...You're Going to the Moon!

But Ralph and Alice, bereft of material goods, living in a spartan apartment, deeply loved each other.  And during Christmas, Ralph waxed nostalgic about his feelings during this closing scene from 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (24 Dec. 1955).

The entire episode can be seen on youtube:  The Honeymooners S01E13 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

In spite of the everyday struggle of the middle class, those seemingly more innocent times as shown in popular entertainment reflected the post-war optimism during peace.

Christmas past ... Christmas present ...  

Let me wax nostalgic during Christmastime. During this dark time of the year of short days, long nights (at least for us living in the northern hemisphere) the goodwill spirit of the season has an effect on us.  Ralph Kramden  expressed it so beautifully in the clip above.  We may seem kinder, more generous, more compassionate toward one another than at any other time of the year.

And Christmas seems to reflect the optimism that during a dark season such as the dead of winter, we've turned the corner.  Spring will soon come and our days will get longer and nights shorter.   And my Christmas wish is for a kinder spirit to prevail throughout the New Year.

Merry Christmas!
And God bless us everyone!


Previous post in this series:

Nostalgia (part 1) - A Father's Thanksgiving Prayer  (2014)


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