Staff Editorials

Gazette editorials reflected on the holiday in good times and bad

A handpainted ornament decorates a Christmas tree inside Terrace Hill in Des Moines on Dec. 17. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
A handpainted ornament decorates a Christmas tree inside Terrace Hill in Des Moines on Dec. 17. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

On Dec. 25, 1956, a Gazette editorial writer deftly summed up the dilemma facing those of us who produce Op-Ed content for Christmas Day.

“It is a tacit assumption in the trade that only the congenitally glum are likely to be reading serious editorials on Christmas Day,” The Gazette opined. “Others will be inclined to let the children set the pace and enter recklessly into the lively acts of holiday cheer — or lapse early into a post-turkey coma — or both.”

We concur. In recent years, we’ve stuck with the tried and true “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” published by The New York Sun in 1897. It’s among the most famous newspaper editorials ever written. And with holiday opinion page deadlines often falling days in advance, it’s the sort of sturdy Christmas evergreen that won’t be felled by the winds of late-breaking news.

So we’ll go with Virginia in tomorrow’s edition. But today, we’re looking back on how The Gazette’s editorial page marked Christmases past.

Some Christmas Day editorials struck a critical tone, pointing to how the nation and world were falling far short of seasonal hopes for peace and goodwill. Others were more optimistic.

On Dec. 25, 1936, The Gazette insisted, beneath the headline “One of the merrier Christmases,” that the country was “making headway in its effort to get out of the economic woods.”

“This year is different, thank heaven,” The Gazette opined. “Almost since Thanksgiving Day this community has been bubbling with the holiday spirit, and from all reports the situation has been duplicated in all sections of the country. People feel better, more hopeful, more secure …

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“In part, this may be a reaction from the tenseness of the recent political campaign. Antagonisms of a bitterness almost unprecedented in recent times were developed during the campaign. The nation’s sense of humor was submerged for a time and many partisans on both sides lost their sense of perspective,” The Gazette wrote.

This sounds very familiar to our 2017 ears.

In other years, pessimism and optimism mixed. On Dec. 25, 1945, The Gazette marked the first postwar Christmas with two editorials.

One was headlined “The Way Out.”

“This Christmas again finds peace on earth, loosely speaking. It is a technical sort of peace, which as yet has not relieved peoples in some parts of the world of the continuing menace of flying missiles and falling bombs. But, for the record, large-scale organized manslaughter is for the moment in general abeyance,” The Gazette wrote.

“That ought to inspire a widespread spirit of rejoicing. Our impression, nevertheless, is that it doesn’t.

“Everywhere people are deeply dissatisfied with their present lot, many of them with more than ample cause. Everywhere people tend to lay the blame for their miseries on their neighbors, and in many areas hatred burns deeper than it ever did between soldiers locked in combat. Everywhere the seeming hopelessness of finding satisfactory solutions for what should not be difficult problems has plunged people into a profound state of dejection …”

“Never before has the world been in a morass from which the only way out so clearly lay in lifting humanity by main strength to a higher level of morality. The comfortable ruts dug by age-old prejudice and self-indulgence lead only to dead ends,” The Gazette opined.

A second editorial that day was headlined “On the brighter side …”

“Still, after we’ve thrilled to the sight of youngsters emptying their stockings, opened our own gifts and settled back to wear off the effects of Christmas dinner, let’s pause for a few reflections on just how lucky we are.

“Just a year ago, we were still at war on both fronts. The late President Roosevelt, broadcasting to a war-weary nation from the White House lawn on Christmas Eve, said the world would never again have a wartime Christmas,” The Gazette wrote.

“The war is over. An international organization of nations to prevent future wars is being perfected. Nothing’s to be left on the ration list after Jan. 1 but sugar,” The Gazette wrote. “As you sit here, think how lucky we are this Christmas Day, compared with virtually any other nation in the world. Maybe we’re on the upgrade, at that.”

In 1963, the editorial shop must have been out for a winter stroll, according to its Christmas Op-Ed.

“It was two days before Christmas and we encountered a friend, all smiles, at a downtown Don’t Walk light,” The Gazette wrote.

“’It’s a happy time, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘Even if it’s away below zero and people can’t get their cars started and have all kinds of annoyances that ordinarily would upset them, they keep their good spirits and feel kindly toward one another. If only they could maintain the same attitude through the whole year!’

“Cynics, and even just plain realists, will not be looking for any such 12-month extension of the Christmas spirit anytime soon. But there is encouragement in this brief spell of goodwill among men, just the same,” The Gazette opined.

In 1968, Americans’ eyes were on the moon, where U.S. astronauts were in orbit on Christmas Eve.

“For a very few minutes on each of its orbits, rounding the edge of the moon as we see it from earth, Apollo 8 must catch the sun and twinkle like a dust speck caught against the black sky beyond. From here, it is invisible, of course, but somewhere on the path between us the reflected light would shine for a moment like one more star at Christmastime.

“And this in the season of people’s re-awareness of the first fabled star over Bethlehem, the star-spark of another milestone for men is burning for the first time now,” The Gazette wrote in an editorial that also quoted the astronauts.

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“‘When you’re finally up at the moon and looking back at the world, the nationalities blend,’ (astronaut) Frank Borman remarked. ‘You get the concept that this is really one world and wonder why in hell we can’t live together like decent people…’”

Other years, we were less than poetic.

In 1978, The Gazette opined on Christmas Day about a campaign to return the holidays to a non-commercialized religious observance with homemade gifts and donations to charities.

“Since many businesses depend on Christmas shoppers for 25 to 33 percent of their yearly sales, this theoretical de-commercialization would be a heavy blow,” The Gazette wrote. “Thousands of part-time jobs would disappear … The Christmas tree industry would vanish. Christmas card businesses would become extinct. Suffering along with everyone else would be the news media whose budgets depend largely on advertising revenue.”

And no, the headline was not “Yes, Virginia, ad revenues are very important.”

In 1966 we quoted the curious findings of a University of Wisconsin sociologist determined to overanalyze Santa Claus as “a wish-fulfilling fantasy … a benevolent father image toward whom affectionate and dependent feelings may be expressed.”

“But why Santa Claus? Isn’t it permissible to express affection toward the real father?” The Gazette asked. “No,” according to the Wisconsin expert.

Sorry, dear old dads.

A far better Santa analysis came from a letter to the editor published on Dec. 25, 1957. It was sent to us by Bob McShane of Marion, who wrote of a 9-year-old boy and other kids who don’t believe in St. Nick.

“But when they start having families of their own, then they know they’ve been wrong,” McShane wrote. “Then they know that Santa is real because they can see the truth in the eyes of their children …

“You see, Santa is really a lot of things. Our jobs, which make those presents possible … All the love and good cheer and happiness are a part of Santa …. What we have done is simply taken all these parts and put them in a red suit and black boots; added a snow-white beard and a jolly chuckle and called this Santa Claus. So if all these parts are real, Santa must be real also,” McShane wrote.

Only the congenitally glum could argue with that. Merry Christmas.

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