In 1917, Joyce Kilmer, one of the most popular American poets of the early twentieth century wrote this poem, which became one of the best-known poems of the period.
Led by a star, a golden star,
The youngest star, an olden star,
Here the kings and the shepherds are,
Akneeling on the ground.
What did they come to the inn to see?
God in the Highest, and this is He,
A baby asleep on His mother’s knee
And with her kisses crowned.
Now is the earth a dreary place,
A troubled place, a weary place.
Peace has hidden her lovely face
And turned in tears away.
Yet the sun, through the war-cloud, sees
Babies asleep on their mother’s knees.
While there are love and home and these,
There shall be Christmas Day.
Kilmer’s poem became popular during the years when the United States and most of Europe were entangled in the first World War. The poem pointed toward future peaceful Christmas celebrations. But Kilmer himself never saw another peaceful holiday. He was killed on a battlefield in France on July 30, 1918.
Now, more than 100 years after this poem was written, we are facing another wartime holiday season. A new war in Europe has pitted Russia and Ukraine against one another and has threatened the lives of thousands of civilians as well as soldiers. Almost all the countries of Europe have been drawn into the conflict in one way or another and the struggle ahead looks as though will be a long one.
In the United States, the country has entered a permanent state of war. Teenagers carrying weapons designed for war staged more than 600 mass shooting events during 2022. The children of Uvalde will never see another holiday season, neither will the grocery shoppers in Buffalo who were gunned down, nor the visitors to an LGBTQ club in Colorado. There will be very little holiday cheer among their families and friends during the year ahead or in years to come.
How long can these undeclared wars continue? Just as long as people allow them to go on. As we start a new year, perhaps all of us should demand that our leaders take steps to ban the unprecedented slaughter of innocent people. The greatest gift 2023 could bring us would be a Peacetime Christmas.