Monday, December 21, 2015

Music Monday - Christmas Songs Written by Jews


Happy first day of winter (or summer, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere), to you.

Tioga County, NY Historical Society "O Tannenbaum 2015"

This has become one of my favorite seasonal blog posts, which I update a little each year.

Why do Christians in the United States dream of a White Christmas?  Why is it so important that snow is on the ground?

Why does White Christmas have its own official website?

It could be because White Christmas (the song, as sung by Bing Crosby) is the best selling single of all time.

It may surprise you that White Christmas was written by a Jewish song writer.

It may also surprise you that Jews are responsible for many other beloved Christmas songs.

My quest to find out more started in 2010, reading a NY Times Op Ed.  There are a number of these songs, and other bloggers and writers have done the research for me:  I thank them, including the wonderful people at Mental Floss and this article. (a must read, based on extensive research).

Some may argue that these are NOT Christmas songs, but rather songs about what I would now call the "secular Christmas". True, these are not hymns.  But it is true that the American celebration of Christmas incorporates many aspects of non-religious symbolism - this ground has been covered by other writers.

I consider them Christmas songs.  I think, in particular, few would argue that "I'll be Home for Christmas" isn't one of the most heartfelt Christmas songs every written.

(Note, I have not done any of this research myself.  I am not a musician or a music expert, just someone who likes to listen to well written music.  So if I end up spreading wrong information, I apologize.  I did try more than one source, but - as you well know- you can't trust everything you read on the Internet.)

1.  White ChristmasIrving Berlin lived to 101, married a Catholic woman back when that type of intermarriage was extremely scandalous (to both families) and defined Christmas for entire generations of American Christians.  (Incidentally, he also wrote "Easter Parade" and "God Bless America".) The next time you wonder if you will be having a white Christmas, and if you can't figure out exactly why that should be so important, well....blame Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin.


2.  Silver Bells:  this one is another movie song, and talks about the bells of the Salvation Army "in the city". (I always assume it is New York City.)  Another Bing Crosby classic.


 3.  Winter Wonderland: the author of this song was a Jewish man from Brooklyn.  The air must have been a lot less polluted in those days.   When I grew up in the New York City of the 1950's, a snowy day was more like a Black Crusted Snow Wasteland.


4.  The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire):  The Nat King Cole version is one of my favorite songs, ever.  This brings back so many memories of the holiday season in the late 60's in midtown Manhattan and the vendors who would sell roasted chestnuts.  The fragrance carried for blocks.  For this song, we thank the Jewish songwriter Mel Torme.


Here's a version sung by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

Jack Frost would certainly nip at your nose in NYC.  The climate there is so damp, it feels way colder than it really is.

5.  Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow:  the duo, both Jewish, who wrote that song, also wrote "The Christmas Waltz".


6.  I'll be Home for Christmas.  As an almost-history major in college, this song makes me think of my aunts and uncles who served during World War II.  For this, I chose a version sung by Frank Sinatra.

And last but not least, something I picked up in my research:  remember Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  It would seem that Johnny Marks, the author of that song (and also "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas")  was Jewish.

Here is another list for your enjoyment.

Think of the themes of these songs:  Missing your home.  Childhood nostalgia.  Enjoying a season of lights and happiness. The different child (or reindeer), scorned by others, who becomes the best of all.  These are universal themes, and this is why these songs, I think, are so appealing, no matter who wrote them.

This leads me to another question:  why aren't there a bunch of popular, best selling Hanukkah songs if Jews are so good at writing Christmas songs? Well, there are reasons for that, too.

Perhaps I should blog about that next year, instead.

Do you enjoy any particular holiday songs of the December season?  Which is your favorite?

4 comments:

  1. I love the article, i have to share it with my boyfriend's best friend. Every year friend rants about the lack of Chanukah music on the radio, and rants about Jewish singers making Christmas albums. And every year I tell him all the things mentioned in the article.

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  2. Thanks for this... saving the post for the songs. But I definitely had no idea of these origins and as a trivia buff, you've given me more stuff to talk on for some day in the near future :)

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  3. I don't actually dream of a white Christmas. I think you'd knock us southern Californians over with a feather if it ever did snow for Christmas. At least we're getting a full moon.

    I'm no longer a fan of Christmas music. Too many years at the toy store during this time of year kind of burned me out on much of it.

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  4. That was a lot of interesting trivia. Am sharing this with a friend who is a fan of xmas music

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