Interesting (and morbid) stories behind your favourite Christmas songs

QUIZ: Do you know the stories behind these Christmas tunes?

Whether you’re singing quietly along while shopping at a mall, going door-to-door carolling, or belting out a festive tune during a holiday party — you probably know the words to your favourite Christmas song.

But do you know the stories behind them?


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Global News compiled a list of Christmas songs and their origins, and found some of them are bathed in legend while others have morbid undertones.

‘Silent Night’

One of the world’s most famous Christmas songs, Silent Night, was written by an Austrian Catholic priest, Joseph Mohr in 1816 (titled Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht).

On Christmas Eve 1918, the organ at Mohr’s church was broken (legend has it that mice chewed through it) but he was still determined to have music for his midnight mass. So he asked his friend, Franz Gruber, to compose a score for it using a guitar. It was performed that night without the organ but with the help of a choir.


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However, it’s actually not known if the organ was truly broken. Some say that Mohr simply wanted a new carol for the service and was fond of the guitar as an instrument.

‘Jingle Bells’

Jingle Bells was not intended to be a Christmas song.


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The carol (originally titled The One Horse Open Sleigh) does not have a single reference to Christmas; not a mention of Santa, gifts or carols. The song, written by James Lord Pierpont, is about dating rituals of American teenagers during the 19th  century, such as impressing girls with horse-drawn sleds, according to author Ace Collins, who wrote Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas.

As racy as the song was for its time, it was eventually performed by a church choir during Thanksgiving. According to Collins, the congregates loved the song and many assumed it was a new Christmas tune.

‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’

Santa Claus is Coming to Town was written on a subway ride in 1933 by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie. Although it was penned in a matter of minutes, it did not take off right away. The song’s big break came about a year later when American singer Eddie Cantor performed it on his radio show.

‘Let it Snow!’

If you listen to Let it Snow! closely, you’ll notice there is no mention of Christmas. It was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in July 1945 in Hollywood, California, during one of the hottest days of the year.

‘Winter Wonderland’

The origins of the song Winter Wonderland are quite tragic (despite the upbeat melody.)

Richard Smith wrote the song in 1934 in Pennsylvania while he was being treated for tuberculosis (known as consumption at the time) at the West Mountain Sanitarium. While he was there, he entered writing contests for jingles and ad companies.


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According to Collins, Smith wrote Winter Wonderland after seeing children play outside his window in the snow and remembered doing the same as a boy. Smith died from the disease in 1935 and never saw the holiday classic make it to the top of the charts.

‘All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth’

During the beginning of the holiday season in 1944, teacher, Donald Yetter Gardner and his wife were helping second-graders in Smithtown, N.Y., compose a Christmas song.

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He asked them to complete the sentence, “All I want for Christmas is …” and then began smiling as they said their wishes without the help of one or both front teeth. Gardner said he went home that night and wrote the song in 30 minutes.

‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’

I’ll Be Home for Christmas was recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby. It was written to honour soldiers overseas during the Second World War who longed to be home with their families during the holidays.

‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’

The song, Do You Hear What I Hear has apocalyptic undertones. In 1962, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker wrote it in response to the threat of nuclear war.

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Baker once said that because of the fearful mood of the nation at the time, she and Regney had a hard time singing it without crying, according to The Atlantic.

‘Here We Come A-Wassailing’

Here We Come A-Wassailing (also called Here We Come A-Caroling) is steeped in tradition. According to Readers Digest, in England during the 18th century, the Christmas spirit often made the rich a little more generous than usual. During this time, beggars and orphans would dance and sing in the streets, hoping to get a bowl of wassail, loaded with hot ale, apples and spices.


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© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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