It’s December, which means it is finally safe to sing (as loud as you want) your favorite holiday tune. Feel free to break out in song while you stroll through Greenwood Mall or while you are admiring the thousands of beautiful Christmas lights in Uptown Greenwood.
Holiday songs are an interesting lot. It’s almost as if they take on a life of their own. Favorites get passed down from house to house, generation to generation. For my wife, Elvis Presley singing “Blue Christmas” is synonymous with this season. She remembers hearing the song’s distinctive cadence playing on a turntable in her childhood home. “I’ll (uh) have (uh) a (uh) blue...”
My favorite is Nat King Cole singing “The Christmas Song.” There’s just something about those strings in the beginning and the silky smooth tone as Nat delivers the first line, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose.”
The history of holiday songs and Christmas carols is a deep rabbit hole. Early literature reveals caroling accompanying pagan dances across Europe as early as 1020 C.E. The new Puritans in America would have none of that. They made laws banning Christmas celebrations (public and private) punishable by a fine of five shillings or a whipping.
Anglicans in the South and other European settlers eventually outnumbered the Puritan rule with each group bringing a different form of Christmas custom. Many songs we sing today were part of this migration including “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” from England, “O Holy Night” from France, and “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! (Silent Night) which was written by Father Joseph Mohr of Oberndorf, Austria and performed the very first time on Christmas Eve, 1818.
The origin of one holiday tune is wrapped in controversy. James Pierpont first published “Jingle Bells” (to celebrate Thanksgiving) in 1857 in Savannah, Georgia. You will find a historical marker in Troupe Square across from the local Unitarian Church signifying the property as the official birthplace for the song. Yet, the fine folks in Medford, Massachusetts have a similar marker and believe Pierpont was singing that familiar song at the Simpson Tavern as early as 1850 when he resided in Medford (a winter town filled with snow, sleighs and jingly bells).
The first draft of Hugh Martin’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was a much darker song. The tune, written for Judy Garland’s vocal, appeared in the 1944 movie musical, “Meet Me in St Louis.” “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last” was the original first line which was changed after heated discussions between the songwriter and both Garland and director Vincente Minnelli.
The most popular holiday classic of all time is Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” It was a deeply moving holiday for Berlin, who was Jewish. Only three weeks old, the son of Berlin and his wife died on Christmas day, 1928. While other families opened gifts, the couple made a habit of visiting their son’s grave each anniversary. Perhaps Irving Berlin was an unlikely candidate to write such a Christmas classic.
“White Christmas” was released in December of 1941 – only 18 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Bing Crosby’s recorded version appealed to a grieving nation and (a year later) would be the song that Armed Forces radio played over and over to remind American troops of life waiting for them at home.
The reputable staff at the Guinness Book of World Records lists “White Christmas” as the best selling song of all time with more than 100 million copies sold around the world. Counting cover versions, the song has sold more than 150 million copies.
Paul Crutcher is the broadcast specialist and XLR Radio general manager at Lander University. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at@PaulCrutcher.