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Christmas Songs Have Unusual Origins

Mykl Roventine,

You’ve been singing them all your life. But have you ever wondered how some of your favorite Christmas music came into being? There are funny origins and there are DEPRESSING origins. And there’s everything in between.


This holiday perennial about the general look and feel of the Christmas season was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. I’m assuming it was written at the tale end of the 40s since it was recorded for a movie called “The Lemon-Drop Kid” that was released in 1950. However, it’s original title was not “Silver Bells.” This classic began its life as “Tinkle Bells”–not exactly what you want to be singing on someone’s doorstep when you go caroling. The title was changed when it was learned what “tinkle” meant in American slang.

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So, we’ve crossed off “urination” as an appropriate theme for a Christmas classic. Let’s now eliminate hopelessness. Yes, the yuletide standard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which was recorded by Judy Garland for the 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” was a thoroughly depressing contemplation in its original form. Check out the lyrics and you’ll understand why Judy refused to sing this song until it was rewritten. You see, she sings this to a little girl–her character’s younger sister. And, Judy went to the producers or the directors–whoever was in charge–and told them that there was no way she could sing this to a child; it was too big a downer. If you have now seen the lyrics, you can see where she was coming from. Well, the lyrics were changed and then changed again until the songwriters arrived at the version with which we are familiar today. And, thank goodness, right?

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You call it “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” don’t you? Yeah, so do I. Heck, I just call it “Chestnuts.” And everyone knows what we’re talking about when we do. I guess that’s what happens when, over time, a song becomes, arguably, the most popular Christmas song ever written. But what’s interesting is not THAT is was written, but WHEN it was written. Maybe we all just assume that Christmas songs are or were written around Christmas. Well, not this one. “The Christmas Song” was written by the great Mel Torme in the dead of summer. Yeah, it was so hot, ol’ Mel just wanted to write something that would cool him off. He expounded a couple of catch phrases and 40 minutes later–BOOM!–a Christmas classic. Maybe, THE Christmas classic. And maybe Mel suspected its timelessness when he called it, simply, “The Christmas Song.” Maybe it isn’t your favorite holiday carol, but, be honest–don’t you know every single word?

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