Last night, I went to see “Sanders Family Christmas” at Fredericksburg Theater Company. I had worked the show the night before, so I knew I would enjoy the old-timey gospel music. Very “O, Brother Where Art Thou” kind of songs. But just like the songs in that movie affected me in unexpected ways, so did last night’s show.
The context is Christmas Eve, 1941, only 18 days after Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II. The Sanders family is preparing to send off their son, Dennis, to join the Marines the day after Christmas. This will be their last time to sing together for a while.
So, in that context, they do a medley of war songs at the end of Act I: “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” “I Am on the Battlefield for my Lord,” “Keep on the Firing Line,” and “Hold Fast to the Right.” Normally, I’m one of those folks who gets a little ruffled about combining war and Christianity. But in the context of the story, it genuinely moved me. Because sometimes Christmas feels a little like a battle.
I still love Christmas — don’t get me wrong. But this year, well, war imagery seems appropriate. Sure, I’ll sing carols with gusto. Sometimes that is its own form of battling against the darkness of the season.
“Never run nor even lag behind,” admonishes one hymn. “There is work to do,” says another. And don’t even get me started on these lines: “And as long as His mercies permit me to live / And I shall never cease praying for you.”