The Stories Behind 5 of Our Favorite Christmas Songs
Christmas music is a cornerstone of the holiday season, and we all know at least one Christmas aficionado who had seasonal playlists looping long before the Thanksgiving turkey was cooked. Whether you’re a Christmas music junkie or an unwilling partaker of the unavoidable sounds of the season, here are some stories behind five classic Christmas songs that have stood the test of time.
“The Christmas Song” or “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”
A staple of the holiday season, “The Christmas Song” perfectly captures the imagery of a winter wonderland with its references to open fires, Jack Frost, and Yuletide carols.
But the men behind the song, Robert Wells and Mel Tormé, actually penned the lyrics in the middle of a California summer heat wave in 1944.
According to Tormé, Wells had started to pen the wintry lyrics in an attempt to think cool thoughts on a sweltering hot day in July. Less than 45 minutes later, the men finished writing what would be one of the most iconic Christmas songs to date.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
Bing Crosby’s rendition of this endearing Christmas song launched it into a musical success that would last for years to come.
Originally penned by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent in the early 1940’s, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was initially thought to be too somber in light of the fact many WW2 soldiers would not be home for the holidays.
Despite this apprehension, Bing Crosby fell in love with the song and recorded it as the B-side to his hit “White Christmas.” The song proved to be one of hope and not of sadness for soldiers overseas, and it became Bing’s most requested song at his holiday shows for the troops.
Although “Jingle Bells” has become a hallmark song of holiday season, the song was first published in 1857 with no connection to Christmas. Some say the song’s author, James Lord Pierpont, actually intended for the song to be sung on Thanksgiving, not Christmas.
“Jingle Bells” eventually made its way into our collection of classic Christmas songs and made history in December of 1965 when it became the first song played in outer space. Astronauts Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford broadcast a makeshift rendition of “Jingle Bells” with a harmonica and bells while orbiting Earth on Gemini 6.
“Do You Hear What I Hear?”
This song carries a universal appeal in its call to “pray for peace, people everywhere,” but the song was originally written as a direct plea for peace in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The then-married couple Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker wrote and composed the song after Regney, a French WW2 veteran and songwriter, was asked to write a single for the holiday season.
Regney found inspiration for the lyrics when he saw two mothers with their babies on his way home from the studio one night in 1962. Amid the imposing stress of a potential nuclear war, the imagery of the babies’ smiling faces inspired Regney to write a song of peace and hope.
“All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth”
Music school teacher Don Gardner penned this popular holiday ditty while putting together songs for the Smithtown Elementary School’s Christmas program in 1944.
While sitting in on a class of second graders, Gardner noticed that the kids kept using the phrase “All I want for Christmas…”. When the students laughed at a joke the teacher made, Gardner immediately realized over half of them were missing their front teeth, and the idea for the song was born.
The song was performed annually at the school’s Christmas program, and it was officially published in 1948 after an employee of a leading music company heard Gardner perform the song at a music teachers conference.
What are your go-to Christmas songs this time of year?