Word of the day: “home” from “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” performed by the Beach Boys
Today’s a big day in my family. It’s my parents’ anniversary as well as the anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, so it has me thinking about home. Plus, it’s the Friday before Christmas, and you can bet that people everywhere are packing bags and braving terminals and interstates as they get ready to go home, in whatever way they may define it.
Turns out there are a lot of ways to define it. First off, that bastion of English lexicography, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) lists “home” as a noun, adjective, verb, and adverb. Its origins are old enough that they’re not quite definitive, stretching back in to Old English (OE), but did OE inherit it from Germanic or Scandinavian sources? The homies at the OED aren’t sure. This word takes us back to such generalities of its inception that they can only be described as “Indo-European.” I like that because a sense of home seems as old and primal as anything I can think of, so of course we can’t pinpoint when it first showed up in the linguistic psyche.
Secondly, the definitions under “noun” alone range from the physical structure of a house to a collection of dwellings, from feelings of belonging and comfort to a synonym for “family,” from the grave to a refuge or sanctuary, from one’s native land to where your sports teammates are safe. It’s also where something may originate or flourish or reliably be kept. In short, home is where you want to be for Christmas. To me , that journey home for Christmas feels archetypal, like a mini-version of something we’re always trying to get back to.
This song, first recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943 as the B-side to “White Christmas,” hit number three on the charts in the U.S. that year, but it was banned in Britain because they feared it could lower soldiers’ morale. Even though the Beach Boys’ scooping at the beginning of each stanza kinda grates on my classical choral sensibilities, I chose this version partly because we’ve already had some crooners on this list and Bing will have to have another turn another time, and partly because, inspired by this version, I have a distinctive memory of my brother and I trying to sing the tune exactly one tritone apart from each other while we were teenagers (a tritone is the most dissonant and unstable interval in music). We did a pretty good job, if I recall correctly, and I guess intentionally goofy but still musically informed singing reminds me of home.
With all the definitions of home, I hope you find a way to be home this Christmas.