Today’s Christmas song is ‘Blue Christmas’. This a Christmas song that was written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson and most famously performed by Elvis Presley. It is a tale of unrequited love during the holidays and is a longstanding staple of Christmas music, especially in the country genre.
The song was first recorded by Doye O'Dell in 1948 and was popularized the following year in three separate recordings: one by country artist Ernest Tubb, one by musical conductor and arranger Hugo Winterhalter and his orchestra and chorus, and one by bandleader Russ Morgan and his orchestra. All three hovered in the top ten ratings of the time.
Also in 1950, crooner Billy Eckstine recorded his rendition, backed by the orchestra of Russ Case, with these shortened lyrics in a variation close to what is now the common standard for this song; the orchestral backing of this recording has often been wrongly accredited to Winterhalter. But it was Elvis Presley who cemented the status of ‘Blue Christmas’ as a rock-and-roll seasonal classic. This single was also a hit in the United Kingdom, reaching Number 11 on the ‘British Singles Chart’ during the week of 26 December 1964.
There will be many a lonely heart this Christmas; many a tear spilled when one thinks about the past happy Christmases one spent with their partner before death took them away from you. I dedicate my song today to all those people who will be ‘home alone’ this Christmas missing the presence of a loved one who cannot be with them. I particularly have in mind, have all those friends and contacts who are bereaved with the loss of their spouse or partner who either died recently or in the not-too-distant past. They may indeed have other family members around them, but the simple fact is 'when one’s partner is dead and is no longer with you, Christmas always seems farther away'.
I will never forget a dear friend of mine who died many years ago, Mary Milner. She and her husband had always been the closest and most loving of companions throughout their lengthy marriage. When Mary’s husband died, her life significantly altered. Mary had a son who lived down south, and who kept in touch as often as his own employment and family commitments allowed him.
I lived a few doors away and would tidy Mary’s garden weekly. Never a day would be allowed to pass without me taking my children, young William and Rebecca to see Mrs Milner daily and check that she was okay. She loved seeing the children and would always have a sweet to give them to suck upon.
Mary had one close friend whom she’d known and had remained in frequent contact since their teenage years, called Etta Denton (who was to become the closest of friends to me during the last ten years of her life and effectively became my mother substitute after my own mother died).
Although Etta was older than Mary, the older woman was more mobile and would allocate one afternoon weekly when she would visit Mary in her bungalow, a quarter of a mile away. Etta would always have a home-made pie or another food present for her friend. Mary and Etta had known each other so long, there wasn’t anything one didn’t know about the other. They had held each other’s secrets of a lifetime and spoke candidly about anything and everything with each other during Etta’s visits.
Etta never married and had devoted her life to keeping house for her bed-ridden mother, a strict father and an older brother, who also never married. When Etta made her weekly visits to see her friend, Mary, she would always notice if any item was out of place from her previous visit.
Mary was obsessional in everything in her house having their place and never moving them one inch either way ‘out of place’. She used to instruct her cleaner that all objects could be dusted but not lifted or moved. This obsession with every household item remaining untouched was so pronounced in Mary’s behaviour pattern, that had the objects never been dusted down and allowed to eventually house spiders' webs, Dicken’s character, Miss Haversham, from the novel ‘Great Expectations’ would have been Mary's best friend also.
There was one exception to this rule of ‘no movement of objects’ and that was during the twelve days of Christmas. During this festive time of the year when Etta called to see her friend, Etta would notice that the framed photograph of Mary’s deceased husband that lived on the mantlepiece (up against the wall) all year long on a six-inch-wide mantle surface, would have been moved one inch closer towards Mary’s fireside chair. Although the photograph could only physically be moved one inch forward without falling off the mantelpiece, bringing it nearer to Mary and her favourite fireside armchair, would make Mary feel closer to her dead husband at Christmastime. After the twelve days of Christmas were over, and January 6th arrived, the framed photograph of her deceased husband would be moved back one inch where it remained positioned against the mantelpiece wall until the following Christmas.
Once, when I was talking to Etta about Mary’s husband, Etta said that her friend had told her after she had married him that ‘she had been blessed to have married such a good man and that it felt that Christmas was always here when she was near him’.
That statement is so true for many bereaved people and ‘when your lifelong partner and soulmate is no longer with you, it is not unusual if Christmas seems farther away’. So, take a leaf out of the late Mary Milner’s book and wherever you position their photograph in your house, move it an inch closer to you this Christmas.
Love and peace to all this Christmas from Bill and Sheila xxx