CHRISTMAS EVE IN MY HOMETOWN
By Dan Miller
December 19, 2006
There's so much to remember, no wonder I remember......
Those nine words are part of a beautiful Christmas song that first entered my consciousness when I was just a kid.
Since we're in the season for remembering days, and people, gone by.... that's what I'll do.
In 1953, the first and (at that time) only television station (WJBF-TV) began broadcasting in my Georgia hometown.
Now, to me, the local TV personalities were like folk heroes.
None of them could possibly have known the impact they had on my youthful gravitation toward a career in broadcasting.
One of the original staff announcers at WJBF-TV was a man named Don Upton.
He was a terrific communicator with a pleasant voice and a gentle, likable personality.
53 years have passed, and I don't recall the name of the program....
but I do recall Don was sitting with some other WJBF "announcers" telling how he and a buddy had written a Christmas song while serving overseas in the military.
Obviously, under the influence of extreme homesickness, they had composed a song they titled "Christmas Eve In My Hometown".... and the big, exciting news he shared that night was that the song had just been recorded by Eddie Fisher, an extremely popular singer at that time.
That night on TV, Don talked about how he and his pal wrote that song while in their barracks, thinking about home......
And then.... they played the Eddie Fisher recording, while the camera showed the faces of Don and the other announcers listening....
They played it twice as I recall....
What a beautiful song it was.
The lyrics hung in my mind for years, though I didn't hear it again until 1966.
That was the year Kate Smith, another popular singer, recorded "Christmas Eve In My Hometown."
It was also the year I accepted a job at WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina.
And, to my delight.... one of the staff announcers at WIS-TV was Don Upton.
He didn't disappoint me.
During the short time we worked together, he was the nicest and classiest of men.
He was married to a beautiful woman, Miriam Stevenson Upton, who had been Miss USA in 1954, and who -- the next year -- became the first woman from the U.S. ever selected as Miss Universe.
I told Don how -- that night back in 1953 -- I was watching with my parents in Augusta when they played the Eddie Fisher recording.
I told him I thought it was a wonderful song, and would probably become a holiday classic.
He thanked me and said he hoped that song would put his kids through college.
Maybe it did.
Don's song was later a holiday hit for Bobby Vinton, and has been recorded by countless other singers, orchestras and choral groups.
Don left WIS-TV shortly after I arrived there.
He died in 1978, far too young.
I don't think I ever told him how I considered him a "folk hero" when I was a kid watching him on Channel 6 in Augusta.
But every year, around Christmas, I still think about Don and the words he wrote:
Wise men journeyed far, Guided by a star
But though I'm not a wise man, this I know
Through dreams and just pretending, I'm there
And I'll be spending
Christmas Eve in my home town.
The other day I went online and Googled "Christmas Eve In My Hometown Eddie Fisher" - and was delighted to see that there's now a re-released Eddie Fisher Christmas album that has Don's song as a "bonus track".
More recently I found this video on YouTube.
It's a performance of the song by Kate Smith, introduced by Bing Crosby.