We recently lit the fireplace for the first time this season. Sitting there in the comfort of our home, watching the flames, is a good place to think. I would like to tell you the tale of two Christmases-past. Way past, like sixty-seven years ago.
I had finally gotten old enough to be sent off to Europe to win World War II. We stopped in England, but on December 23rd, we were served our Christmas Dinner. The Captain told us to pack up, because we would be leaving early the next day - Christmas Eve. The Battle of the Bulge was going on. We left Southampton, but at about 5 PM the ship shook, and the engines were stopped. Silence! But nearby, the ship carrying the rest of our Division was sunk. We lost 1000 Americans.
Our ship landed safely, and I went on to carry out my duties as an Infantryman until the war ended. But it wasn't a good Christmas.
After the war, I was sent to Austria - to the beautiful country around Salzburg. We were the "Army of Occupation," but the Austrians didn't really need any occupying. They weren't too happy about Hitler taking over their beautiful country. We were treated more like "liberators," rather than conquerors. It was a great place to be while waiting for our turn to return to the States. The natives were friendly!!
That Christmas I was in a beautiful little alpine town attending Rainbow University - a school set up by our Division to keep soldiers occupied while waiting for their turn to return home. We were housed in the Grand Hotel, a beautiful resort hotel that projected out into a lake.
In order to provide work for the local folks, the hotel was staffed with a good kitchen crew and a wonderful staff of young and older ladies to serve the food. On Christmas Eve, at noon, the Crystal Ballroom had been wonderfully decorated as only the Austrians could do it. The tables were festive and we were all asked to be seated by 12 noon. At the stroke of 12, the ladies all appeared from the serving area ever so neatly dressed in black "dirndl" style dresses with while collars, cuffs and skirt trim with red alpine decorations. It was a beautiful sight for a bunch of infantrymen.
Then came a wonderful dinner, beautifully served, followed by the singing of Christmas carols with some special renditions by the servers and kitchen crew.
The Good Lord had let me survive a rather harrowing Christmas. He then gave me one in a fairy tale town high in the Alps. My wish for you is that the God Lord lets you appreciate the true meaning of Christmas as I did that Christmas Eve Day in Zell am See, Austria.