Except when the holiday falls on a Sunday, Newsday traditionally has not published a Christmas Day newspaper, so employees could spend time with their families. So ever since the presses started rolling in 1940, the day before Christmas has offered the best and last opportunity for the editorial board, columnists and readers to reflect about the holiday season, and whatever else is on their minds.
Christmas Eve is a day and night for reflection. Over the 76 years of this newspaper, our collective concerns have been sweeping, our observations by turns philosophical, plaintive and argumentative. Some issues now seem humorously quaint, like a letter in 2001 complaining about the bulk of a telephone company’s white and yellow pages for Nassau County. But many other worries have proved timeless — the growing commercialization of the holiday season, the declining quality of life and, every four years, the aftermath of a presidential election.
One Christmas Eve focus, sadly, is a recurring one — the poignancy of celebrating a holiday of peace during times of war or an age of terrorism.
This year is like many others in that regard, haunted by the horror that unfolded in Syria and by continued acts of terrorism here and abroad, most recently in an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin.
Across the decades, war has inspired powerful editorial cartoons, from the first Christmas Eve after the end of World War II to those drawn during the height of the Vietnam War. The editorial board has used the day to reflect both despair at the violence that consumes us and hope that humanity will come to its senses.
We wondered whether the relative peace of 1988 signaled a new era of stability, but concluded four years later it had not. By 2009, with battles large and small raging around the world, we lamented the dream of peace on Earth echoed so often in Christmas carols “remains as elusive as it was two millennia ago.”
Yet we never abandoned peace as an ideal worth seeking, even when our wounds were strongest. In 2012, we urged readers to “yearn for it, work for it, pray for it” — 10 days after the slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Connecticut.
At no time was Long Island’s resolve put to the test more than in 2001. Grief shadowed joy in what the editorial board called a “somber season” — three months after 9/11. “Can anything ever be the same?” we asked, and we answered our own question: not that year. It was a wrenchingly different Christmas Eve. Many Long Island families were suffering incomprehensible losses. First responders and those who witnessed the attack firsthand were inconsolable about what they had experienced. All of us were despondent about what we had seen. We advised readers to approach the season differently, to contemplate their faith, and we wrote that “the welcome quiet of this holiday is an opportunity to reflect not only on what we have been through, but also on where we want to go and what we want to be.”
Newsday and its readers often have used what we once called the sweet silence of Christmas Eve as an occasion to pause and consider Long Island itself. Or, to be more accurate, to complain about Long Island. We always want it to be better.
It began at the beginning, in 1940, when Mrs. Ernest White of Valley Stream complained about children stealing Christmas lights and destroying outdoor decorations.
Newsday got in the act in 1944 with a cartoon letter to Santa warning him to watch out for grade crossings over the Long Island Rail Road and asking for an indoor sports arena. Make a list and check it twice — what exactly has changed?
By 1955, “Discouraged” of Rockville Centre was “sick and tired of reading in Newsday what a great place our ‘community’ is.” The culprits? “The highways get more crowded, the LIRR breaks down more often . . . If this is suburban living, I say to h--- with it.”
In other words: Bah! Humbug!
But Christmas Eve also has featured measured and thoughtful writing from accomplished people in many walks of life, all with their own take on the season. Sometimes, the wisest among us have been children.
That was true in 1976, when letter-writer Chris Root, an 11-year-old from Elmont, offered Long Island a profoundly simple wish: “Did you ever think of what you really wanted for Christmas? I did, and what I want for Christmas is for everyone to be happy.”
In 1940, reader John Bain of Oyster Bay thanked Newsday for the Christmas spirit in what he called “a thoroughly unusual and appreciated gesture” — a thank-you card he received from his paperboy. Subscribers often gave thanks right back, including one who presented her paperboy with warm gloves after seeing him make deliveries barehanded in the cold.
Newsday no longer has paperboys, but it’s still saying thank you to all its readers. And we are still seeking Christmas Eve’s sweet silence, still worrying about the essence of the holiday being lost in an ever-advancing swamp of commercialism, still hoping each of us will pause for a moment to reflect on the world and our place in it, still yearning for peace on our precious planet.
And we’re still sending all of you our wishes for a happy and joyous holiday season.