If you are a Christmas music lover (and even if you are a Christmas music hater), you might appreciate these tidbits about seven songs we love (or hate) to listen to and sing around this time of year.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (1943)
This song makes us feel wistfully warm inside today, but its original lyrics were downright morbid: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last/Next year we may all be living in the past.” Yikes.
I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas (1953)
Written by John Rox and first sung by ten-year-old Oklahoma City resident Gayla Peevey, this song was a huge hit in 1953. In the song’s honor, the Oklahoma City Times and a local television station successfully raised enough money to purchase a hippo for the city zoo, and Peevey presented Matilda, a three-year-old baby hippo weighing 700 pounds, to the zoo on Christmas Eve.
Jingle Bells (1850, published 1857)
Here’s a shocker: “Jingle Bells” isn’t even a Christmas song. It was intended by its writer, James Lord Pierpont, to be a Thanksgiving song entitled “One Horse Open Sleigh,” but it was so beloved by its first hearers that they altered the lyrics slightly and sang the song during Christmastime.
Last Christmas (1984)
Many people find this song incredibly annoying. I am certainly not one of those people, but if you are, you might hate it less if you knew that Wham! gave nearly $400,000 of the song’s royalties to relieve famine in Ethiopia.
Feliz Navidad (1970)
José Feliciano initially wrote this tune in Spanish but added English lyrics to make it more likely that American radio stations would play it. Feliciano, born blind from congenital glaucoma in a family of eleven boys in Puerto Rico, has a prolific music career beyond his world famous Christmas hit.
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (1934)
This song was written by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie when Eddie Cantor needed a song to sing on the radio broadcast of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Within one day of the broadcast, 100,000 copies of the song’s sheet music were sold.
O Holy Night (1847)
The lyrics of this beautiful song were written by Placide Clappeau, a French wine merchant who was the mayor of a town in southern France called Roquemaure. The music was composed by another Parisian, Adolphe Charles Adam, who, near the end of his life, was a professor of music at the Paris Conservatory. The French lyrics were translated into English by John Dwight, a clergyman who is thought to be responsible for making Beethoven well known in America.
Congratulations! You are now semi-prepared to be a contestant on a Christmas song episode of Jeopardy.