Songs of Christmas – I’ll Be Home for Christmas


This is part 6 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.

I was one of “those” people on March 19, 2003. It was my birthday, but neither Cindy or I felt much like celebrating. It was one of those things, we went out for dinner but not because either of us felt like it, but because it was the social convention (yes, we are fans of The Big Bang Theory).

You see, at that time, our oldest son Wayne, was in the Marine Corp. We knew he was supposed to be in Kuwait at that point. We watched news of the imminent war in Iraq every night. The common speculation across most a media outlets was, the ground war would start the next day, in fact, some were reporting that U.S. troops had already moved across the border and were making their way deeper into Iraq. That is not a report any parent wants to hear. Cindy and I literally feared for our son’s life.

When we got home that evening and we were watching the news again, the telephone rang. I answered it and I heard the words, “Hey Dad…” It was Wayne. No, he hadn’t thought about it being my birthday, he just had the opportunity to call home and he didn’t know when another opportunity would come so he was taking advantage. I didn’t care. If he had millions to spend, he couldn’t have given me a better birthday present than that phone call home. Still, knowing what he could be facing the next day or the day after or… it was also a heart wrenching phone call. It is safe to say, we didn’t want it to end, we wanted it to hang on. It was one of the few times I have actually seen my wife cry over one of the kids.

So, what is the point in all this? Though Wayne was not still in Iraq at Christmas that year, he was safely back at Camp Pendleton near San Diego and he didn’t come home for Christmas (Wayne was never able to come home at Christmas during his time in the Corps), I do have some idea of how this song came to be so popular and meaningful during the darkest days of World War II.

When lyricist Kim Gannon sat down in 1942 to write the words to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,”in some ways, things were really no different during Christmas that year than at any other. There were Christmas decorations everywhere. Christmas trees were available for purchase. People were rushing around buying gifts for those on their lists, local Santa Clauses dressed up, rang their bells and smiled at little children but things were also noticeably different. The United States had been in the war for just over a year. Families by the thousands had sent their sons and daughters off to do their duty. Even on the “home front” things were different. People were needed for the manufacturing jobs of the war industry. People moved from farms and small towns to the cities causing families, even non-military families, to be separated during this time of year that was all about family. What made all this even worse, no one was completely sure the United States could even win this horrible war!

In the midst of all this, the scenes Gannon saw play out over and over again, the prayers of frantic parents (Cindy and I prayed more than a few of those during those early days of the Iraqi War), tearful goodbyes at train stations, the rush toward the mailman hoping to get a letter from the loved one far away. All the while, there was the listening to the news on the radio or reading it in the paper with both hope and dread and at the same time hoping, praying the telegram man would continue to drive past their home. Gannon sat and wrote, trying to capture the scenes that surrounded her. There was so much to say but so little in the ways to say it. Rather than trying to cover it all, she stuck to the basic idea. In a poem of really only a few lines Gannon captured the thoughts and emotions of people everywhere.

After Gannon had written her poem, she took it to songwriter Walter Kent. He understood the emotions of the song. With pictures of empty places at the Christmas dinner table and unopened presents under the tree, he set about his task. When his work was done, he had written a hopeful melody that fit Gannon’s words well.

On October 4, 1943, Bing Crosby recorded the song. It was a great follow-up to Crosby’s 1942 Christmas hit, “White Christmas” which stayed on the Hit Parade for 17 weeks in 1942 and early 1943 and then returned again to the Hit Parade during the Christmas season of 1943. Crosby’s “White Christmas” may be one of the all-time best selling singles, but during the remainder of the war, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” had generated more air play and sold more copies than “White Christmas.” It was also the most requested song on the U.S.O. tour in both Europe and the Pacific.

Throughout the remainder of World War II and then during Korea and Vietnam, the song continued to be held close by military families all over the country. It may seem sentimental and sappy to young ears today but its simple message of hope fits this season of the year so well. And, for those of us who have experienced a child being in the war zone, the song has special meaning even today, and even if it wasn’t Christmas when he/she was there.

Have a blessed day in the Lord (yes, I know I’m quite late today so have a blessed evening),

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved


Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.

Silent Night: The Stories of 40 Beloved Christmas Carols, Uhrichsville: Barbour, 2013.’ll_Be_Home_for_Christmas



Spirita Spiro (Esperanza for "Spirit's Breath) is rather new in my life. But the blog is not. I began writing a blog several years ago. It lived under the title, "The Pastor Ponders." Over the years I have tried several different names and "The Pastor Ponders" always seemed to fit best. I am trying again with Spirita Spiro. For 27 years I was a full-time pastor in the United Methodist Church. This year, August 2018, I semi-retired (I can't actually retire quite yet) and began teaching social studies. It is something I have always wanted to do and if I was going to do this, I needed to make it sooner rather than later. So, I made the move. I thought with the career change there also needed to be a name change to the blog and other things, such as spiritual direction. Spirita Spiro is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 27 years as a full-time United Methodist pastor. Most recently I served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas. I have also served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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