Monday, December 19, 2016

Music Monday - Christmas Music Written By Jews

This seasonal post has become one of my favorite features on my blog.
Tioga County, NY Historical Society "O Tannenbaum 2015"
Why do Christians in the United States dream of a White Christmas?  Why is it so important that snow is on the ground?

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.)

Additionally, in the past year, I have discovered a wonderful blog and - hey, great minds! - John Holton of The Sound of One Man Typing has also blogged about this very topic. I welcome you to visit John's blog and read even more - a lot more - on this topic.

Here's my list:

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.

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.

Finally, 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.

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.


  1. Nice to read about the origin of the Christmas songs! A Merry Christmas to you!

  2. Very interesting. When you think of it, many great music writers were Jewish - I'm thinking Broadway way back when. And we celebrate a secular Christmas in our house. Except for my sister, none of us are particularly religious.

  3. Yes, it's interesting how many Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers.

  4. Wow! I had no idea. A reminder of how little we know. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

  5. I have tried chestnuts several times, and really dislike them. I don't care what Mel Torme and Nat King Cole say!

  6. No Neil Diamond? Too bad you missed his...

  7. Neat! I knew about White Christmas, but not the others. Interesting!

  8. Great choices here. I never knew Irving Berlin was married to a Catholic woman. It was still scandalous in the Sixties: our neighborhood in Chicago was Catholic and Jewish, so we knew a lot of Jewish kids, but it was made clear not to get romantically involved. Kind of a shame, too. Some of the girls were gorgeous...

    "Silver Bells" was done in the 1951 version of "The Lemon Drop Kid" with Bob Hope; William Frawley sang it before Bob and Marilyn Maxwell took over. Frawley was also in the 1934 version... The things you learn from IMDb.

    I missed the connection with Johnny Marks. He wrote some classics. See? Learned a couple of things today...

  9. Yes, I knew about Irving Berlin. Of course, he wrote the score for Holiday Inn, which featured the song. The movie overall is still loved, although that minstrel number for Lincoln's birthday would not be done today! Berlin also wrote Easter Parade.

  10. I just saw this. Probably the Mental Floss article. (I didn't click on the link, though.) Very interesting.


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