I love Christmas, I love everything about it. Even the cold weather doesn’t seem so bad when Christmas is right around the corner. There are beautiful lights everywhere that make everything seem more cheerful, the food is great, and of course there is an absolute wealth of music around to listen to – admittedly sometimes too much! When I worked in Theatres and Concert Halls with Christmas shows starting in November, and 2 or 3 shows a day, I will admit to being rather sick of Christmas music by the end of the festive period. Still looked forward to it the next year though.
Last year I put together some playlists to give you some ideas of music to listen to with your little ones, and I link to these playlists here for if you are looking for some festive music to have on at home.
For this week, I thought it would be fun to look up some fun, interesting and perhaps surprising facts about Christmas music starting with perhaps the oldest form of Christmas music, carols.
- The Collins Webster Dictionary defines the word carol as
1. a joyful hymn or religious song, esp one (a Christmas carol) celebrating the birth of Christ
2. archaic an old English circular dancehttps://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/carol
- Christmas itself has its origins in a pagan winter solstice festival and the first carols have a similar origin. At the winter solstice festival there would be songs and dancing as part of the celebrations. In fact carols would have been sung throughout the year, not just at Christmas, but it is mainly the winter fetival ones that seem to have stood the test of time.
- Over the course of history, carols became songs sung at home rather than in Court or church, often telling the story of the nativity, they were songs that were written to entertain people.
- In the 16th Century, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan government banned the singing of Christmas Carols.
- While carols have been around for thousands of years, classical composers have also written a lot of Christmas music. Some would have been religious in nature intended to be played or sing in the Church. Some would have been composed to be played in Court.
- Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky have all composed music for Christmas.
- The lyrics to While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night are thought to have been written by Nahum Tate, and many composers have set these lyrics to music. The melody we most commonly use for this song was based on part of a melody written by Handel for an opera Siroe, King Of Persia.
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel was probably first composed during the 8th or 9th Century with its Latin lyrics being added in the 12th century, making it one of the oldest surviving hymns. The hymn was translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1851.
- During the First World War, British, French, Belgian and German troops held a Truce for a short period at Christmas. The troops took turns sang Christmas songs from their own countries until English troops started singing O Come All Ye Faithful, and the opposition joined in using the Latin words Adeste Fidelis; both sides of an awful, bloody conflict coming together in song for a few minutes.
- On 24 December 1906, the first radio broadcast was made by Canadian inventor Richard Fessenden, and the first piece of music he played was a violin solo of the hymn O Holy Night.
- The song Jingle Bells holds the Guinness World Record for being the first song played in space! It was broadcast on 16 December 1965 during NASA’s Gemini 6A space flight.
- Jewish composer Irving Berlin wrote the song White Christmas. The song was sung by Bing Crosby and has gone on to be the best-selling single of all time selling more than 50 million copies. It has been covered by many artists over the years, but the majority of those single sales can still be attributed to the original Bing Crosby recording.
- One of the people who released a cover version of White Christmas was Elvis Presley. However, the composer hated this version of his song so much that he tried to stop radio stations from playing it!
- Still with White Christmas, in April 1975 the song was broadcast over Armed Forces Radio in Vietnam as a secret instruction to soldiers stationed there to start evacuating Saigon.
- In 1944 the film Meet Me In St Louis was produced starring Judy Garland. This film contained one of my favourite Christmas songs Have Yourselves A Merry Little Christmas. The song started out as a far darker, less hopeful song and the film’s stars and director asked for the lyrics to be re-written to be less sad. As part of the song’s re-write, the lines “It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past” were changed to “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight”.
- Given that Christmas is not celebrated in the Jewish faith, it is perhaps surprising that some of the best known Christmas songs were composed by Jewish composers. As well as Irving Berlin, Johnny Marks wrote Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and A Holly Jolly Christmas, Robert Wells and Mel Torme wrote The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) among many others.
- Talking of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), it was actually written and recorded during a heatwave.
- Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas has become a staple of almost all Christmas parties, but one farmer, Angus Wielkopolski from Seaton Ross, found that his goats actually produced more milk when listening to the song!
- The Christmas classic song, Silver Bells was originally going to be called Tinkle Bells until the one of the composers’ wife pointed out that the word Tinkle was often associated with going to the toilet.
- Band Aid’s song Do They Know It’s Christmas? and Wham’s Last Christmas were released the same year. Wham decided to donate all of the proceeds of their song to the Ethiopian Famine Appeal that Band Aid’s song was raising money for. Last Christmas went on to raise more money for the Appeal than the charity single, despite Do They Know It’s Christmas? beating Wham’s song to the Christmas Number 1 that year.