By ALA National Headquarters Archivist Cathi Taylor
It’s that time of year when we can’t go anywhere without hearing Christmas music. Whether it’s the traditional Christmas carols — or songs such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus — or the more contemporary ones, we simply can’t escape.
Like everyone, I have my favorites — one of which I seldom ever hear sung anymore unless I listen to an old rendition by Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole. It’s a song based on the poem Christmas Bells by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. You might know it by the song title, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. It’s one of many songs expressing hope for peace and goodwill.
The poem was written in 1863 during the height of the Civil War. The sixth verse cuts right to the core:
And in despair, I bowed my head;
In the next verse, however, Longfellow tells us quite mightily that right will prevail with peace and goodwill. It’s that one thing I strongly hold on to when I look at the world today and see wars on one side and mass shootings and disrespect for people on the other.
“There is no peace on Earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!”
Photo: Pach Brothers Studio
As members of The American Legion Family, we say these powerful words at every meeting. Promoting peace and goodwill is one of our purposes – a reason we as members come together.
The hope for peace and goodwill is not new. It has been contemplated by many, including Past National President Laura Poling Goode. She also foresaw ways Auxiliary members could encourage and rouse others to join the cause.
The year was 1948 and it was a tumultuous one. Indian pacifist Mahatma Ghandi was murdered, and North Korea emerged as a new country. A massive airlift of food, water, and medicine to West Berlin began following a Soviet blockade, and fighting between the newly created state of Israel and the Palestinians continued.
Goode’s words are here for you as penned in the December 1948 edition of the Auxiliary National News
magazine … words that are as appropriate now as they were 75 years ago:
Unity for a Better World
At this Christmas season, we are reminded that whatever our race or creed, Christmas is remembered as the anniversary of One who was pre-eminent in friendship.
Perhaps the title that describes Him best among all the names by which He is honored and adored is Kingsby’s simple, limitless tribute: I Had a Friend.
Not only at Christmas but all through the year, American Legion Auxiliary members are endeavoring to bring happiness and friendship into the hearts of our veterans and their families. United in this work, we are accomplishing big things — carrying out an amazing program which at Christmastime alone reaches well over 100,000 disabled veterans and their families in every part of the country.
This world of ours needs so desperately the spirit and the unity of purpose which make our Christmas program possible. If we could inspire women throughout the world with ideals which are given such practical and concrete expression in our rehabilitation work, I am sure much more rapid progress could be made toward the rehabilitation of stricken nations, as well as individuals everywhere. Unity of thought and action could bring a better world.
But now we see the forces of disunity striving to tear the world apart, keeping wars going in various places and preparing the stage for another and more horrible world war. Communications between peoples are cut off. Fear and hate are inflamed by propaganda. Nations of the world are being divided into hostile camps, and the people within nations are being divided against each other.
Still, the people of the world all have the same basic purpose — to live in peace and security, to enjoy freedom, and the opportunity to achieve a better way of life. If they could be united for this purpose, if all of their energies could be directed toward building a better world for everyone, miracles could be accomplished.
We are only an organization of women in one of the world’s many nations, yet as an organization of nearly 1 million members in the world’s leading nation, we have great opportunity. We can wield powerful influence toward keeping our own nation united in purpose, secure in its peace, and happy in its freedom. Can such an America fail to inspire peoples of other nations to thought and action for a better world?
As we go to the hospitals with our Christmas services and gifts, we are joining together to express the spirit that is the only real hope of mankind. Is it not possible that our Christmas lights, shining from the hospital windows, will be seen far in today’s dark world and guide people everywhere toward new unity of effort for that common goal of
“Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men?”