Nothing says “It’s Christmastime” more than listening to your favorite Christmas mix of the season. There’s just something about Christmas music that touches the soul, reminds you of when you were a kid, puts a smile on the faces of kids and grownups alike, and gets us all in the mood to celebrate this great holiday.
As many times as I’ve heard these songs on the radio or in my head, it’s amazing how much I didn’t know about where they came from. There’s a fascinating history behind them. I guarantee you’ll be amazed at how many weren’t actually written as Christmas songs at all.
So this year, rather than just mindlessly bopping your head to the hundreds of thousands of renditions of “Jingle Bells”, let’s take a minute to understand the history behind some of our most beloved Christmas tunes:
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!
This song was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, in the snow capital of the world, California, in July of 1945. It was recorded by Vaughn Monroe and became a number 1 hit on the Billboard chart. As much as we all love this song as a holiday classic, it was never written to be a Christmas song. In fact, if you really listen closely, you’ll realize that there’s no mention of Christmas at all.
It’s just a good old fashioned love song.
[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”340px” size=”16″ bg_color=”#A00000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]
The fire is slowly dying
And, my dear, we’re still goodbying
But as long as you love me so
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Sounds to me like there’s holiday merriment about to happen but it’s the kind that produces another kind of gift 9 months later. Listen to Vaughn’s version here.
Richard Smith wrote this song in 1934, after being inspired as a child by Honsedale’s Central Park all covered in snow. If you think writing a song about snow in California in July is strange, Richard wrote the lyrics to this song in the West Mountain Sanitarium, while being treated for tuberculosis. The original recording was done by Richard Himber and his Hotel Carlton Orchestra in 1934. Interestingly, this song was also not written as a Christmas song, although it does mention sleigh bells. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice the word Christmas isn’t in it either.
[mks_pullquote align=”center” width=”340px” size=”16″ bg_color=”#008000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]In the meadow we can build a snowman,
then pretend that he is Parson Brown.
He’ll say ‘Are You Married?’ We’ll say ‘No man,
but you can do the job when you’re in town[/mks_pullquote]
What’s a Parson Brown? Back when this song was written, it referred to Protestant Ministers who traveled around to small rural communities and performed wedding ceremonies.
Now you know.
Listen to Richard’s version here:
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Back in 1939, Montgomery Ward wanted to create their own coloring book for Christmas. Robert L. May was given the task and he came up with “Rollo” err.. “Reginald” … uh.. he finally settled on Rudolph. The book sold 2.4 million copies in its first year. Johnny Mark’s (May’s brother in law) decided to turn the book into a song. It was first sung commercially in 1948 until Gene Autry formally recorded it in 1949. Listen to his version here:
This song is an oldie but goodie. Back in 1857, James Lord Pierpont published it under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh”. He wrote the song in the former Simpson Tavern in Bedford, MA and today there’s a plaque on the side of that building which commemorates the event. According to the Medford Historical Society, he was inspired by the popular sleigh rides of the 1800’s. Two things of note here:
- Jingle Bells was written to be a Thanksgiving song. If you listen to the words again, you’ll realize, that like Let it Snow, it isn’t a Christmas song at all. It’s another song we’ve been tricked into thinking was all Christmas-y.
- Since Jingle Bells is now in the public domain, (not covered by intellectual property rights) you are free to insert whatever lyrics you’d like:
[mks_pullquote align=”center” width=”340px” size=”16″ bg_color=”#008000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Jingle Bells batman smells. Robin laid an egg. Batmobile lost his wheel and Joker ran away.. HEY![/mks_pullquote]
Just don’t try singing Happy Birthday. The copyright laws behind that song make it illegal to sing it just about anywhere. Original arrangement on One Horse Open Sleigh can be heard here.
Merry Christmas everyone.