First sung by Bing Crosby nearly 80 years ago, the holiday classic “White Christmas” was the inspiration for two renowned movies, “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn.” It has also endured as the most-recorded song in history, and to this day, remains the best-selling single of all time. The beloved ballad, though, was born out of incredible despair.
Irving Berlin, a Russian-born immigrant who was Jewish and didn’t celebrate Christmas, wrote the iconic song after his 3-week-old son died on Christmas Day in 1928. So every Dec. 25, Berlin and his wife visited their son’s grave.
“The kind of deep secret of the song may be that it was Berlin responding in some way to his melancholy about the death of his son,” said Jody Rosin, author of “White Christmas: The Story of an American Song,” during an interview in 2000 with NPR.
Every December, I’m reminded of the heartbreaking inspiration for “White Christmas,” which is, by just about any metric out there, one of the most beautiful songs of the holiday season.
Its backstory came to my mind after hearing from romance radio host Delilah, who has faced more than her fair share of heartbreak. In 2012, she lost one of her 14 children, her son Sammy, to complications from sickle cell anemia. Then, in 2017, she lost her 18-year-old son Zack to suicide. His death, she said recently, sent her into “a rage.”
But, she told me, at Christmas she turns the focus away from herself and onto others as she reflects on the spiritual importance of the holiday, which she called “a bright promise” in what can be a difficult and dreary world.
“Christ was sent to the people of the world to save us from ourselves,” Delilah said. “Christmas means that no matter how bleak the circumstances, no matter how poor the choices we’ve made, we are loved and worthy of God’s grace.”
That kind of despair isn’t the only thing people are facing.
In November, a British man posted a video to LinkedIn, in which he admitted he has no friends — a post that seemed to strike a chord with quite a few people around the world.
“I have no friends,” said Mark Gaisford. “It’s a scary thing to admit that. I know a lot of people, but it’s mostly through networking and work.”
I am telling you these things not to bring down your spirits, but to remind you we never know what people are facing; we never know what burdens they carry on their shoulders or what price they paid for the wisdom they’re now passing on to others.
So be kind. Be hospitable. Be gentle.
In his letter to believers in Ephesus, the apostle Paul wrote, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Paul isn’t just talking about being nice; he is urging Christians to extend genuine kindness — compassion — to those around them.
Then Luke told Christians to “love your enemies” and “do good to them.”
“Lend to them without expecting to be repaid,” he continued. “Then your reward from heaven will be great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”
You never know who you are talking to, or who you might be ministering to. Your words and actions could be received by someone with experiences like Berlin, Delilah, or Gaisford.
Pray this Christmas that God will open doors for opportunities to share kindness with those around you and that you would be receptive to the needs of the people in your life.
Check back here every Wednesday in December for another Christmas Devotional.