Christmas classic has roots in a national emergency
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It was written in October 1962 by Gloria Shayne Baker and her French composer husband, Noel Regney, as an emotional response to the near-apocalyptic Cuban Missile Crisis.
From October 16 to 28 of that year, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. stood toe-to-toe and found themselves at their closest to launching nuclear weapons against each other. The world was at its closest to the most frightening kind of warfare, two civilizations ready to drag the rest of the world into near-annihilation.
Many like Baker and Regney looked on their children as the crisis unfolded, with great fear for them. And they were further shaken when it was all over, learning that the threat of violence was so much more serious than people thought.
The song Baker and Regney wrote was very much an appeal to our common humanity for quiet, for a moment to consider how easy it is to destroy ourselves.
At the root of this modern carol, the Nativity becomes a poetic allegory for the want of break in chaos, for want of absence of the threat of war, for want of peace of mind, for a change, in the tumult of everything going on around us.
I find it quite appropriate to revisit this Christmas song as we face tumult today.
I am reminded of President Kennedy’s address the following year, after the crisis. He said, “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
Peace of mind. That would be the finest Christmas gift in these times.