Where the Love Light Gleams/If the Fates Allow

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Frank Sinatra

December 24th and 25th

“Through the years, we all will be together”

There are countless versions of these songs out there. Some really great versions by some really interesting artists. Of course, there are some that turn up the schmaltz beyond the point of reason — but both of these songs have built in drama and melancholy to spare, and require something special in order to really pull them off: taste. And boy, could this fella work a lyric when he wanted to.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” live in my mind as sister songs, the quintessential A- and B-sides of what Christmas means to me musically. Or rather these songs somehow articulate what Christmas means to me emotionally in a way I never have been able to. Christmas was such an important holiday to my mom, and she put so much effort into making it this magical moment for all of our family, and now I have a family that I try to conjure up the same sense of spirit for. Knowing that we can never share is crippling to me. I have stories built from abstract memories, but she’ll never hold my children. She’ll never sit up late at night with my wife to tell her stories about what my brother and I were like when we were children, or about how we went grocery shopping on Wednesdays and to the mall on Sundays. She isn’t coming back.

Barely a month had passed between my mother passing and our first Christmas without her. My dad, brother, and I did our best to reach some sense of Christmas, but our best would’ve been appropriated classified as “barely hanging on.” I was just barely out of high school. My parents were getting ready for the next chapter of their lives. So sure, we tried to carry on with our traditional routine of visiting our grandparents on Christmas Eve, but everywhere we turned were somber faces reflecting back at as like mirrors. So my dad found solace in a far away corner of the living room, and my brother befriended a large bottle of rum. Some time later, it was decided some time later that we would still be attending the nigh time church service, but that we needed to go home first to open our presents — which we never did on Christmas Eve. Basically, the feeling was “let’s get this shit over with.”

We’re back at the house, and I’m teetering about in our downstairs bathroom. After reaching toward the back side of a high shelf, I manage to knock over a full bottle of my dad’s cologne, bottle that he’s had for several years but never used. It’s called “Night Spice.” The bottle lands on toilet seat and shatters. Cologne is everywhere. The night has been spiced. Upon the bottle shattering, the foul smelling cologne peppers my legs. My legs start to burn. Note: I am wearing pants. I, like the night, have been spiced.

Despite mopping, despite bleaching, despite changing my pants, Night Spice has run amok throughout our entire household. Every window is open. Doors, too. It’s the end of December. In Northern Michigan. We are shivering as we sit together in order to exchange presents. We are barely speaking. I receive a mop. And a bucket. And a bottle of Pine-Sol.
For Christmas. I use my new gifts to clean up Night Spice. We decide to not go to church.

See, here’s the thing: I’ve been luck enough to have had some truly magical Christmases, both as a child and as an adult, but that bleak and ridiculous scenario up above, that’s Christmas, too. And I fully embrace that.

“Christmas Eve will find me/Where the love light gleams.” This line…it absolutely floors me. It’s a perfect lyric. Because it’s clear that this guy isn’t coming home. He’s searching for Christmas in the recesses of his mind. And he still has hope.

It wasn’t too long ago that I first learned that this song was originally written and recorded in 1943, and its lyrics were written from the perspective of a WWII soldier dreaming of returning to his loved ones. Where the love light gleams. Tonight I learned that German soldiers captured my grandfather, a WWII veteran, on Christmas Eve in 1944, just one year after this song was originally released. And that he remembered being marched through villages while members of the Nazi army sang Christmas carols. “Stille Nacht.” And that it was hauntingly beautiful. My grandparents lived this song. By some miracle, he eventually made it back home. This was their Christmas. This was burned in their memories. But they found a way to move beyond it, to create new traditions for their children and grandchildren, just like I get to be awoken by my children in a few short hours and forge something new with them. That sense of wonder. That sense of connection. And of hope. Something to hold onto in the love light when the fates allow.

— Merry Christmas.
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