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"I'll Be Home for Christmas" Song Lyrics (The Story of A WWII Soldier Longing For His Family)

1940s | December 19, 2020

The holiday greeting is spelled out by U.S. aviation Cadets in the Southeast Air Corps Training Center. (Getty Images)

"I'll Be Home For Christmas" was written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, but it's most closely associated with American singer Bing Crosby, who also struck holiday gold with his recording of another holiday favorite, "White Christmas." Gannon and Kent had approached several other singers to record "I'll Be Home For Christmas," but they all rejected the song because it was so crushingly sad. When Gannon sang it to Bing Crosby during a golf outing, however, Crosby agreed to record it on October 1, 1943, and the rest is history.

A U.S.O. Favorite

During World War II, Bing Crosby was one of the most popular entertainers in the United States and an especially popular U.S.O. performer. The soldiers in the audience begged him to sing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" regardless of the season, and according to Yank, the magazine of the American G.I. serving overseas, Crosby "accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era." A recording of Crosby's performance of the song on the December 7, 1944 broadcast of Kraft Music Hall Radio Show was even released by the United States War Department specifically for distribution to the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.

(Mark Thomas/Pixabay)

What Is "I'll Be Home For Christmas" About?

"I'll Be Home For Christmas" was written well into World War II, when an estimated 16 million Americans (or 11% of the population) were serving in the armed forces. There was hardly a home in the country that didn't have a conspicuously empty place at the dinner table during the holiday season, and the loneliness of being separated during Christmas was universally felt. The melodic longing of a man stuck far away from home and hoping (though not optimistically) to return for Christmas spoke not only to the soldiers serving on the front lines but their loved ones on the home front as well.

The final line of "I'll Be Home For Christmas"—"If only in my dreams"— has been the subject of some debate. Some believe the line simply means the narrator suspects he'll dream of being home for the holidays while circumstances inevitably keep him away, but others interpret the line to mean he believes he'll never make it home at all and the only place he'll be there for Christmas ever again is in his mind. As much of a bummer as this interpretation adds to an already downer song, it was a bleak reality for the 416,800 soldiers who celebrated their last Christmas before the war was over.

(Decca Records/Wikimedia Commons)

Christmas Controversy

After "I'll Be Home For Christmas" became a hit, Sam "Buck" Ram, a songwriter who later became producer and manager for the Platters, claimed that he wrote a song by the same title which he copyrighted on December 21, 1942, well before Gannon and Kent wrote theirs in 1943. Ram's lyrics and tune were very different, but he sued the songwriting pair anyway, the courts ruled in his favor, and his name was added to the credits of "I'll Be Home For Christmas."

Although the song was beloved by soldiers and their families alike, the B.B.C. banned "I'll Be Home For Christmas" from its playlist for the duration of the war at the urging of U.K. military officials. They feared it would make their soldiers sad, especially as the holiday season approached, and sad people don't fight so well. 

(NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

I'll Be In Space For Christmas

On December 4, 1965, American astronauts Jim Lovell and Frank Borman blasted off in the Gemini 7 for a 14-day spaceflight, but first, the two-man crew requested that N.A.S.A. ground control play "I'll Be Home For Christmas" for them upon their return to Earth. Lovell and Borman touched down safely on December 18, just in time to celebrate.

I'm dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it's a long road back
I promise you
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams

Tags: Christmas | music | world war II

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.