1. “White Christmas”
“White Christmas” was used as a secret, coded message during the Vietnam War. When it was played on the American radio signals in April 1975, it meant the city of Saigon had been captured and American soldiers should start their evacuation.
2. “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
This song, about the Nativity, was originally written as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
3. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Hugh Martin, the author of the song, was asked twice to make the lyrics to this rather depressive carol a bit more cheerful. First, he replaced the line “It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past” to “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight” for Judy Garland. Then he changed the lyric “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” because Frank Sinatra told him the lyrics weren’t jolly enough for his album, A Jolly Christmas.
4. “Silent Night”
Though this carol is typically sung as a solemn dirge today, it was originally written to be performed in 6/8 time, a much faster tempo.
5. “Dominick the Donkey”
The original studio recording of this Italian-American Christmas staple is rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family.
6. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
The singing voice of the Grinch, Thurl Ravenscroft was also the voice of the Frosted Flakes cereal mascot, Tony the Tiger, for almost 50 years.
7. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”
Randy Brooks wrote this novelty hit after listening to the Merle Haggard song “Grandma’s Homemade Christmas Card.” He was so upset the grandma’s death wasn’t revealed earlier in the song that he decided to write a song in response, as a sort of formal challenge. “I got angry and said, ‘Merle, that’s so unfair to do to people,’” Brooks said. “If you were half the songwriter you think you are, you would admit in the first line of the song that grandma was dead and then if you could come up with three verses and a chorus, you’d really have something. So that was my exercise, a parody of a Merle Haggard song.”
8. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
This song, composed by Tommie Connor in 1952, was originally commissioned for a Saks Fifth Avenue ad campaign to sell greeting cards.
9. “Last Christmas”
Wham! released this single the same year as Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, so they decided to donate all proceeds of the song to the same Ethiopian famine appeal. It has gone on to actually raise more money than “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It’s also the highest-selling single in the United Kingdom to never reach No. 1.
10. “Jingle Bells”
James Lord Pierpont actually wrote this classic as a song for Thanksgiving with the title “One Horse Open Sleigh.” The song became so popular that it was lightly rewritten for the entire holiday season.
11. “Jingle Bell Rock”
Bobby Helms originally didn’t want to record this song because the music was too low for his voice. The writers, who were motivated by royalties, told him to change the song however he needed to. He would later claim he deserved a writing credit. Also the B-side to the original single is a bizarre song called “Captain Santa Claus (and His Reindeer Space Patrol).” Keep in mind this came out in 1957.
12. “Silver Bells”
The original title of this holiday stardard was “Tinkle Bells” until one of the writers, Ray Evans, showed the title to his wife and she asked, “Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word tinkle is?”
13. “The Christmas Shoes”
14. “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
This is Mariah’s biggest hit ever in Japan, and she always performs it in concert there despite never visiting the nation during the holiday season.
15. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a character created by the Montgomery Ward company to star in a coloring book distributed as a holiday gift given away in their department stores. The story was penned by a copywriter named Robert L. May, but his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, adapted it into a song. Marks wrote several other holiday standards, including “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Run Rudolph Run,” and “Silver and Gold.”