The popular Christmas carol “Jingle Bells” has an interesting history that remains a topic of debate even now. Written by New England native James Lord Pierpont, “Jingle Bells” was never intended to be a Christmas song, and in fact does not even mention Christmas or any other holiday. In addition, the song’s birthplace is disputed, so much so that there are two commemorative plaques in two different cities, each of which claims to be the place where Pierpont purportedly wrote the song in the 1850s. One plaque is in Medford, Massachusetts, where Pierpont is said to have written the song from a tavern while watching sleigh races taking place outside. The other plaque is in Savannah, Georgia, where locals believe Pierpont wrote the lyrics prior to leading a sing-along of the song at a local church in 1857.
With its vivid cold weather imagery, seems like it was tailor-made to sing around Christmastime.
But much like “Jingle Bells,” the song wasn’t actually written for the holiday season.
The lyrics were penned in the 1930s by Richard Bernhard Smith, who was suffering from tuberculosis at the time and holed up indoors. Smith stared out his window observing kids playing innocently in the snow and wrote a poem evoking feelings of the carefree days he once knew.
Smith’s friend and musician Felix Bernard took the lyrics and composed a melody to go with them. Even though the song never specifically mentions Christmas, it quickly became a holiday standard.
O’ Christmas Tree
This song is a wildly popular holiday song. In fact, the song is so popular that there are many different versions, each of which is based on a traditional German folk song. That song, “O Tannenbaum,” is centuries old and has nothing to do with Christmas.
O’ Holy Night
The story of “O Holy Night” can be traced to a request made by a 19th century French priest. In the fall of 1847, that priest asked a French merchant named Placide Cappeau to write a Christmas poem. Cappeau’s poem was eventually shared with French composer Adolphe Adam, who quickly set the poem to music. The resulting song made its debut on Christmas Eve 1847 and has been a beloved holiday song ever since.
Up on the Housetop
Images of Santa Claus excite children across the globe each holiday season. Some such images appear on television, in stores or in the front yards of homes decked out for the holidays, while others are elicited through songs like “Up on the Housetop.” Hollywood legend Gene Autry’s mid-20th century version of “Up on the Housetop” might be the most widely recognized version of the song, but the tune actually dates back to 1864, making it the second oldest secular Christmas song (“Jingle Bells” was written in 1857).