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In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story

As told by David McCullough; Shadow Mountain, book plus DVD

On Christmas Eve, 1941, Winston Churchill was at FDR’s White House. He’d raced across the Atlantic after Pearl Harbor to confer with the new ally he’d wooed for so long. That night, 20,000 Americans gathered on the White House lawn to hear the two leaders deliver words of hope. The next morning, Churchill and Roosevelt sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” at church. Churchill had never heard the song, although its opening uncannily echoed his Christmas Eve message: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.” With his usual charm and knowledge, McCullough collates that tale with the endearing story of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”: Once Bing Crosby recorded it in 1943, it became the era’s most popular song—“even more,” McCullough notes, “than ‘White Christmas.’” McCullough told this story at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2009 Christmas concert; a DVD of the performance is included with the book, which also features the speeches of FDR and Churchill and evocative photos from the time. An affirming yet poignant reminder of how, in one of our darkest times, Americans found ways to come together.


Originally published in the February 2011 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here