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Just Write a New "White Christmas"
By Mary Dawson - 05/28/2007 - 11:15 PM EDT

Christmas 1990 was fast approaching. The Gulf War had been escalating since August and as Christmas drew closer, thousands of American troops were being transported to the Mid-East every day. Tension was thick as we heard stories of chemical warfare and terrorism. The usually bright and cheerful traditions and celebrations of Christmas were developing an undercurrent of apprehension as families found themselves separated by miles and fears.

One day in late September my songwriting partner and I were discussing the growing military crisis when a thought occurred to us. Perhaps in some small way we could offer the healing power of music to ease the emotional trauma so many Americans would face through the Holidays. Of course, it was far too late in the year for any new Christmas music to be introduced into the Music Market - and we knew it! Christmas recordings are usually produced in early spring and are on the way to retailers by September. But the more we thought about the situation in the Persian Gulf, the more compelled we felt to use our gifts as songwriters to bring hope and encouragement wherever and however we could. As we ended our meeting that afternoon in September, my co-writer walked me to my car. "Just go home and write another White Christmas," he said.

Yeah….Right!

Now, you have to understand that I was one of those songwriters who deliberately avoided any kind of seasonal or holiday assignment. My thinking was simple and logical: Everything that can possibly be written about Christmas has surely been written many times before. The chances that I might come up with something new and fresh to say about Christmas are slimmer than the chances of a blizzard in Dallas.

When I got home that evening, my phone was ringing. It was my co-writer. "I've been thinking about this whole thing a little more," he said. "I think we really NEED to write something very special for this Christmas. Let me just inspire you a little." And with that he went to his piano and began to play a hauntingly beautiful improvisation of Irving Berlin's classic, White Christmas.

I said good-bye to him and decided to change pace a little. My brain was tired from thinking about the war….the song….the task. I put on my jogging shoes and went to the high school track for a run. As I jogged along, I just let my mind drift into the emotions that so many people would experience that Christmas.

What would it feel like to have someone you love on the other side of the world and in harm's way at Christmastime? How would it feel to be celebrating Christmas in the Persian Gulf facing uncertainty and separated from those nearest to your heart?

Although I didn't personally know any military servicemen or servicewomen who would be in the Mid-East that year, my own son, John, would be spending his first Christmas away from home as an exchange student in France. So I soon found it quite easy to enter into the bittersweet emotions that accompany separation during the Holidays. I wondered how many phone calls would be bouncing off the satellite on Christmas Day with people on each end aching with hope, fear and loneliness. Suddenly, a phrase registered on my consciousness…..Long Distance Christmas. Before I had finished my run, I had a verse and a chorus of a new Christmas song.

The rest of this story never ceases to amaze me - even now, a decade later. To make a long story at least a little bit shorter, here are the highlights:

  • Long Distance Christmas was written, arranged and recorded as a duet by November 1.
  • We took a master copy of the song to two radio syndicating companies here in the Dallas area. They loved it and decided to include Long Distance Christmas on their Holiday compilation CD's which were being sent out to their affiliates all across the country. As a result, our song was being played over more than 1400 stations nationwide by November 15.
  • Muzak and several other in-store music programming services picked up Long Distance Christmas. We still hear our song in malls, supermarkets and elevators throughout the Christmas Holidays.
  • US Military Radio began broadcasting the song into the Persian Gulf with amazing response from American listeners.
  • Several major periodicals (including the Dallas Morning News) covered the story of the writing of Long Distance Christmas and the response it was receiving.
  • Several businessmen collaborated to manufacture 4000 copies of the recording, which were sent as gifts to US service personnel in the Mid-East resulting in ongoing correspondence with many of the military until the end of the war. The stories they told us of how our song had encouraged and uplifted them during a difficult and traumatic Christmas were worth it all!
  • At the end of the Holiday Season we received a special letter of commendation and thanks from the State Department for the positive impact that Long Distance Christmas had had in the lives of many during the war.

Amazing!! Especially for someone who thought she could never write anything new for Christmas!

It has been my experience that songs are like children. They sort of take on a "life of their own" and fulfill their own unique destinies. Long Distance Christmas did exactly that….and in the process, it taught me a lot about writing Christmas songs:

1) There will always be a new and fresh way to say "Merry Christmas" in words and music - just as there will always be a new and fresh way to say "I love you." It's the job of the songwriter to find it.

2) Christmas is a wonderful time to enter the Music Market because radio is always looking for new Christmas music to play during the Holidays - especially if the song speaks to a specific social-national need or emotion.

3) Sometimes it is wise to just listen to your heart and seize the moment to do something special - even if there are obstacles in the way!

In wishing my readers a joyous Holiday, I would like to encourage each one to let the wonders of this Christmas inspire you to write a new seasonal song. I sure didn't think I could write one. Maybe Irving Berlin didn't think he could write one either! It's time now for you……just go write another White Christmas!

Long Distance Christmas

It doesn't seem like Christmas without you
The ornaments and lights are not as bright
Something's missing in the Season
And I'm sure I know the reason
I won't be with you on Christmas Night

They're playing carols like they always do
But without you the music isn't right
I find that I keep reminiscing
And if anyone is listening
They can almost always hear me cry

CHORUS:
It's a Long Distance Christmas
And I'm missing your love so much
I am longing to feel your touch through the telephone
But I know we're not alone
Because this Long Distance Christmas
Love will bring our hearts back home

I'm sending you my love this Holiday
Wrapped in hope with ribbons made of prayer
Love's not bound by time or distance
And it only takes an instant
For the love I send from here to reach you there

Words and Music by Mary Dawson and Bruce Greer
©1990 CQK Music / ASCAP
Administered by Music Services, Nashville
Used by permission




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