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The story behind ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas’

You would have to be living on another planet during the Christmas season to miss a day that does not include a reference to the song “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Reference to the lyrics this time of year, appear in major media, advertisements in malls and even billboards which dot the landscape of America.

It is one of the season’s most beloved Christmas songs, and royalties from the song are given back to St. Lawrence University each time it is played on the radio. J. Kimball “Kim” Gannon, a graduate of St. Lawrence in 1924, in New York, composed “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” along with two others. It was not Gannon, however, who made the song popular.

It was Bing Crosby who first recorded the song in 1943 that became a top-10 hit during the mid-1940s, as Americans were in the midst of World War II. The lyrics resonated with soldiers longing to be home, “if only in my dreams.”

“It came out of a time when we had servicemen fighting a war in Europe against tyranny and one day a year, maybe, the serviceman got a breather from fighting and had a chance to reflect on the happy times and the things they would like to get back to.”

Gannon is also given credit for writing the alma mater for St. Lawrence. In his will he declared that the University is to be given a portion of his royalties from all his compositions in his will. Since September 2000, St. Lawrence has gained nearly $500,000 from the royalties of Gannon’s music. Gannon died in 1974.

No doubt, this time of year invokes memories of Christmases past. Whether it is a fond moment or a moment in time that may have resulted in our tears slowing us down, the song captures our emotions even today, with its powerful lyrics.

I am particularly reminded of life as a child when the burden of being responsible was in the great hands of my parents. As I listen to the song, I remember the importance of family. As I have said many times, my mother and father showered us with love and affection-not always verbally, but with their actions. Although my mother was a great cook every day, Christmas really brought out her culinary skills. The smell of her wonderful pies and cakes being cooked and baked on a wooden stove wafting through the house, gave special meaning to the season. It was a time of year that our home was always crowded with guest, black and white, interested in sampling her daily creations.

There was an unwritten rule in our family. No matter where life takes you, always come home for Christmas. Except for being out of the country for an extended period, until my parents’ death, I was always home for Christmas.