During the holidays, people enjoy traditional songs that they do not listen to during the rest of the year. Many of these songs have long and interesting histories. Here are the “biographies” of a few of our favorite Christmas songs:
History of “White Christmas”
By many standards the top Christmas song of all time, White Christmas was written in 1940 by songwriter Irving Berlin, who considered it one of the best songs he ever wrote. It was first introduced to the public in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, where it was sung by Bing Crosby as part of a duet.
Later, he would record it solo and it is this version that became famous. Crosby’s recording sold millions of copies and is considered by many the top-selling single in any music category in history (some lists have it second behind “Candle in the Wind”). It is still popular today, and has been covered by such diverse artists as Country star Shania Twain and metal band Helloween.
History of “The Christmas Song”
This Christmas classic was written in 1944 by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells. The song was a hit for Tormé, but was made famous by Nat King Cole. Cole recorded the song several times, and it is the 1961 version that most people are familiar with.
It is often referred to as “chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” the first line of the song. It has been covered countless times. The song has definitely left its mark on pop culture: an episode of popular television show “The Simpsons” was named after it (“Simpsons roasting on an open fire”).
History of “Deck the Halls”
Without a doubt one of the oldest Christmas carols, Deck the Halls is a traditional Welsh song. The earliest copies of it in written form date from the eighteenth century, but no one knows for sure how old it really is, and the identity of whoever composed it has been lost to time. The English lyrics are themselves over 100 years old.
Because of its easy, catchy tune, the carol is often parodied, substituting raunchy and/or humorous lyrics.
History of “Good King Wenceslas”
Another older carol/hymn, Good King Wenceslas was written by Briton John Mason Neale sometime around 1850 and set to music with a traditional tune that was already centuries old. It tells a story from the reign of Duke Wenceslaus I of Bohemia (907-935 A.D.), patron saint of Czechoslovakia.
The song tells the story of the King, who, enjoying St. Stephen’s feast (traditionally observed on December 26 or 27) and seeing a poor man, goes out to give him alms. According to tradition, Wenceslaus did indeed give to charity and occasionally walked barefoot in the snow.
The next time you hear these favorites, remember their long and interesting histories!