It's hard to imagine a world without joyous holiday music. In fact, most of us can't even remember a time before Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" was a staple on our annual playlists—but there was indeed a time when the tradition of singing Christmas carols was still new. Though we've come far since Silent Night first rang through the airwaves, there are plenty of reasons why this precious tradition is worth celebrating every year in new ways. So let's take a look back at how our holiday traditions took shape and see where they might go in the future!
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
The melody was composed by Adolphe Charles Adam, and the first recording of the song was in 1901. Decades later, Burl Ives would reinterpret the song in a way that helped cement its place as a holiday classic.
The First Christmas Songs
The first Christmas songs were written by the early Christian church in order to express their joy and gratitude for Christ's birth.
"O Holy Night" was composed by Adolphe Adam and debuted in a Parisian theater in 1847.
The English carol "I Saw Three Ships" is thought to have been written sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries; however, it wasn't recorded until 1868 when it appeared in Hymns Ancient & Modern.
Though there are many theories as to who wrote or first sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," one thing's for sure: the words were published in a book called Christmas Carols Ancient And Modern (1833) by William Sandys.
In 1818, Franz Xaver Gruber wrote the lyrics to Silent Night. It was originally written in German and translated into many different languages over the years, including English, French and Spanish. The first recording of Silent Night was made in 1859 by an Austrian choir that sang it for a Christmas concert at Vienna's Minoritenkirche (Minorite Church). Over the years, other recordings have been made by artists such as Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole.
The First Christmas Records
The first Christmas record was recorded in the 1880’s by Thomas Edison, who created a wax cylinder recording of “Carol of the Bells”. This was followed by a series of recordings by various artists, such as Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole. However, it wasn’t until World War II that Christmas music became popularly associated with records. This can be attributed to soldiers wanting to share their love for home while they were away at war, as well as their desire to hear familiar sounds from home during their time away.
In 1942, a year after the song was first performed on stage, Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas." The song has become one of the most popular Christmas tunes in history. It came from White Christmas, an American romantic comedy film starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney that was released in November of 1954. In 2006 it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally significant."
Merry Christmas, Johnny Marks!
You might not know the name Johnny Marks, but you've likely heard his work. Marks wrote The Little Drummer Boy in 1940, and it's been one of the most popular Christmas songs ever since. The song was originally written for a television special that aired on CBS featuring a young boy who dreams of being a drummer boy for the king.
The Little Drummer Boy tells the story of a poor man from Bethlehem who doesn't have enough money to buy anything but bread for his wife and newborn son. A stranger approaches him and offers him an opportunity: "If you'll play your drum for me / I will give you some food." In return, he promises to buy milk, sugar and spices during his journey into town so they can make gingerbread cookies together when he returns home later that evening!
Do You Hear What I Hear?
In 1959, songwriters Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne wrote "Do You Hear What I Hear?" for the film The Singing Nun. The song was sung by Bing Crosby in the film and became a Christmas classic.
The song was also covered by several other artists including Johnny Cash in 1976, Olivia Newton-John in 1973, Andy Williams in 1963, Barbra Streisand in 1971 and Shirley Bassey in 1969. The Singing Nun's version of this popular holiday tune was released on her album Divinely Risqué! which sold over 100 million copies worldwide.
The lyrics were used as an inspiration for the plot line of "The Sound of Music" which debuted on Broadway in 1959 but didn't open until 1965 due to an extended run at London's Prince Edward Theatre where it won five Laurence Olivier Awards including Best Musical Revival (1967).
Take It To The Streets
Take It To The Streets, written by Bob Hilliard and Carl Sigman, was popularized by the Andrews Sisters in 1941. The trio had a close harmony that made them unique at the time, and their version of this song is considered to be one of their best-known hits.
The song would later be used as part of the soundtrack for Holiday Inn (1942), a film featuring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire dancing around a Christmas tree to songs like "White Christmas"
Mariah Meets Bing
If you've ever heard the Christmas songs we all know and love, you'll notice that a lot of them sound very similar to Bing Crosby's version. He was a huge star in the 1930s and 1940s, and his influence on modern-day Christmas music is enormous.
He recorded White Christmas in 1942, which has become one of the most well known songs in history. It has also been covered by many other artists including Mariah Carey who made her own version of it in 1998.
Sia's Carol Singing Debut
Sia's version of "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is a highlight on the album, where she sings in a high-pitched voice as if she were performing at a children's theater. You can hear her singing in the background on other tracks too, like "Winter Wonderland," which features Sia's voice singing along with the song's instrumental track. In fact, many of these songs feature only vocals and nothing else—no instruments at all! It makes sense then that Sia would also cover some classics like "Silent Night."
It's hard to imagine a world without joyous holiday music.
Imagine if Christmas carols, seasonal songs and holiday music did not exist. Would you be able to enjoy the holidays without them? Thanksgiving would be a time for feasting and football; Hanukkah would be all about potato pancakes and presents; Kwanzaa would have no special meaning.
But it's hard to imagine a world without joyous holiday music. The soundtrack of our most loved holidays brings us together in ways we can't even begin to describe—and that includes sharing our traditions with others who don't celebrate the same way we do!
So, as you get ready for your Christmas parties, don't forget to play some of these classic songs. And if you've got a new favorite or two, let us know!
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