back to top

5 Ostensibly Fascinating Facts About 5 Famous Christmas Songs

Have you ever been listening to Christmas music and found yourself wondering, "Say, how did this song come about in the first place?" You haven't? Well, tough, because we have. In fact, we've done it enough times that we decided to put together a piece exploring the origins of some of our favorite Yuletide faves.

Posted on

1. When Donny Hathaway wrote “This Christmas” with Nadine McKinnor, Jerry Butler initially scoffed at the idea that anyone would even care about the song.


Written in 1970 in Chicago during a songwriters workshop, “This Christmas” was a sweeping track which captured the inherent romance of the holidays, but in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Butler - who organized the workshop – admitted that he had initially dismissed the composition by declaring, “Nobody wants a new Christmas song, and nobody wants a new ‘Happy Birthday’ song.” Given how high the profile of the song has become over the years – it has turned up on ASCAP’s list of the 25 most-performed holiday songs of the past five years on more than one occasions, you can imagine that Butler laughed as he recalled his past statement, adding, “Well, ‘This Christmas’ has become one of the biggest songs ever.”

Although Hathaway died in 1979 without having any clue of just how big “This Christmas” would be become, his co-writer reflected on its legacy in a 2007 Jet interview. “I feel blessed to have written with Donny a song that celebrates the possibilities, the expectations, the anticipation of Christmas and the good fun and happy, loving times,” said McKinnor. “(The song) was a God plan. God was in this plan, and Donny Hathaway was a genius.”

2. When The Eagles released their cover of Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas” in 1978, it went on to be the first Christmas song to hit the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 in a decade and a half.


Originally written and recorded in 1960, Brown managed to hit #76 on the Hot 100 with his own version of the track, but it took the power of The Eagles to get the song into the top 20 of that particular chart. It should be noted, however, that more than a few other artists have found success with “Please Come Home for Christmas,” including Bon Jovi, who hit #7 on the UK Singles charts with their version, and Kelly Clarkson, who hit #6 on the US Adult Contemporary chart with hers. The song has always been particularly popular on Country radio, however, with Gary Allan, Lee Roy Parnell, Willie Nelson, Josh Gracin, and Martina McBride all making it onto the Hot Country Songs chart with their versions.

3. Although the Drifters’ version of “White Christmas” was only a minor hit on the pop charts (#80 on the Billboard Hot 100, it later earned pop culture immortality through its use in Home Alone.

View this video on YouTube

When The Drifters released "White Christmas" as a single in 1954, they quickly found themselves in the top 5 of the Billboard R&B Singles chart, but the cover song failed to duplicate that success on the Hot 100, leaving Bing Crosby's classic rendition as the best-known version of the track for many years.

That changed somewhat in 1990, however, when John Hughes gave the world Home Alone and - not entirely unlike the way he introduced children of the '80s to Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" in Pretty in Pink - he gave kids of the '90s an earful of the dulcet tones of Bill Pinkney. Granted, most people remember the scene first and foremost for the iconic moment where Macaulay Culkin abruptly discovers the power of aftershave, but the music's there, and it's the perfect soundtrack leading up to the moment of impact.

4. There’s an undeniable tone of melancholy to the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but the original lyrics were so miserable that the original singer, Judy Garland, refused to sing the song until they were changed.


Written for the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was composed by Hugh Martin, but some of his lyrics were deemed too depressing not only by Garland but also by her co-star Tom Drake and the film’s director, Vincent Minnelli. Frankly, you can see where they were coming from: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past / Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Pop that champagne cork / Next year we may all be living in New York.” Martin balked at first, but he ultimately made the changes, pleasing those involved with the film while in the process transforming the track into a theme song for loved ones separated during World War II. The song's lyrics further evolved in 1957, when Frank Sinatra asked Martin to tweak the line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow" to make it more "jolly," which is why vocalists now get a chance to soar when singing, "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough."

5. “The Christmas Song” was written in the summer of 1945, on the hottest day of the year, as a way for Bob Wells and Mel Tormé to try and psych themselves into cooling off.


Although it's been said many times, many ways, it's no urban legend: when Tormé showed up at Wells' house for a planned writing session that summer day, he spotted a four-line poem that Wells had jotted down ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire / Jack Frost nipping at your nose / Yuletide carols being sung by a choir / And folks dressed up like Eskimos"), and when Tormé asked him about it, Wells replied, "It’s so damn hot today, I thought I’d write something to cool myself off."

Tormé decided that his collaborator had the beginnings of something interesting and dived into seeing what they could make of it, and as he revealed in his autobiography, "Improbable though it may sound, ‘The Christmas Song’ was completed about 45 minutes later. Excitedly, we called Carlos Gastel [manager of Nat Cole and Peggy Lee], sped into Hollywood, played it for him, then for [lyricist] Johnny Burke, and then for Nat Cole, who fell in love with the tune. It took a full year for him to get into a studio to record it, but his record finally came out in late fall of 1946; and the rest could be called our financial pleasure.”

Indeed, it could: per BMI, "The Christmas Song" is the most performed Christmas song. Needless to say, that bought Wells and Tormé a whole lot of chestnuts.

This post was created by a member of BuzzFeed Community, where anyone can post awesome lists and creations. Learn more or post your buzz!