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Interesting Christmas Song Facts

In case you hadn’t noticed, hearing Christmas songs everywhere you go is entirely unavoidable at this time of year. They’re repeated so often on the radio, through overhead speakers in retail stores, and via the old record player at home, that we often just sing along without a thought to what any of them actually mean.

But, if you do a little digging, several of the more popular Christmas tunes that we all enjoy (or that drive us crazy after hearing them a thousand times) actually have very interesting origins. Let’s delve down into the history of some of the classics.

“O Come, All Ye Faithful”
By Unknown (17th Century)

This hymn, originally written in Latin, is one of the earliest known Christmas carols that’s remained popular to this day. It has an impressive eight verses though most of us are only familiar with two at the most. No one quite knows exactly who wrote this song, and several men have been credited with writing it, including a Portuguese king!

“Jingle Bells”
By James Lord Pierpont (1850s)

This upbeat “jingle” was originally entitled “One Horse Open Sleigh” and was written for a Sunday school choir to sing in celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. If you read the lyrics, you’ll see that aside from a mention of snow, and maybe bells, this song has nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever, but it was somehow grandfathered in as a holiday tune. It was recorded for the first time in 1889 on an Edison cylinder.

“Up on the House Top”
By Benjamin Hanby (1864)

While most Christmas songs prior to this one were of a religious nature, this is the first to mention Santa Claus. The song was inspired by a poem called A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore. Both Moore and Hanby originated and popularized the idea that Santa lands on rooftops and shimmies down chimneys to deliver gifts, an idea that was non-existent prior to their contribution to holiday lore.

“White Christmas”
By Irving Berlin (1942)

Bing Crosby croons this tune better than anyone, and while it may give you the warm fuzzies, it actually has a pretty sad story behind it. For one, Jewish songwriter, Berlin, didn’t even celebrate Christmas. December 25th was a sad day for him because his infant son died on Christmas fourteen years before this song was penned. In addition, the attack on Pearl Harbor happened just days prior to the song’s release. Nonetheless, it remains one of America’s favorite holiday carols.

“The Christmas Song”
By Mel Tormé and Bob Wells (1945)

This song, also known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”, was penned in less than an hour during a summer heatwave. It was first recorded by Nat King Cole the following year. Cole would go on to record it several more times, with one particular recording becoming the definitive version we all know and love. Countless other artists have recorded their own version of the tune throughout the years.

Fascinating stuff! Learn more about your favorite holiday songs by researching their origins and regaling all your friends and family with your newfound knowledge on Christmas day.


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