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Happy Winter Festival

Christmases have marked the inner passage of history, recording the parts that leave no physical trace and working like a bellwether of civilization's hopes and fears.  In the first year of the Great War, the truce of 1914 served as a kind of looking back, a goodbye to all that, a phantom limb, a brief pause before the combatants plunged into implacable hatred.   Soldiers on the Western front climbed out into No Man's Land from force of habit. "There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing."  In short it was everything sacred that they were about to profane.

Then came a carnage so great that F. Scott Fitzgerald feared the old world could never be rebuilt.

"This western-front business couldn't be done again ... This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties ... You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather's whiskers. ...

Why, this was a love battle--there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle."

But that fear proved unfounded. As Michael Crichton observed, life finds a way.   Within 20 years after the First War it rebuilt the human fabric to the point where people could acutely anticipate the loss of love and family once more.  The Chicago Tribune, in a retrospective of December 1941, noted how desperately people clung to the preciously familiar on the brink of the abyss.

"We wondered if we would get the oranges, the nuts in a box, the pajamas and slippers we would always get," Fricke said. "There were plenty of somber questions." ...

"I noticed how much stronger people felt about their faith," Fricke said of that Christmastime. ...

One newspaper called it a "strange, dark Christmas," and said the only gift people really wanted was peace on Earth. ...

Art Nylen, 85, who grew up in Chicago's Roseland community, remembers that Christmas was kind of an escape from the worries of the world for people ... "The war was out of your mind for a day."

Yet again life found a way.  By 1943 the somberness had been lightened with an element of hope.  Although the dark night of WW2 was far from over, there was a sense that the Hinge of Fate had been turned.  Once again the holiday reflected the change.  Bing Crosby's "I'll be Home for Christmas" climbed to near the top of the charts in 1943. "The song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II," and the refrain "'I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams'" reflected a sense of expectation they had heretofore not dared feel.