5 Popular Christmas Songs

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October 31, 2011

Learn the stories behind these holiday favorites

Popular Christmas songs like “Silver Bells” and “The 12 Days of Christmas” are classic sounds of the holiday season. Each holiday favorite has an interesting story behind it, some whimsical and some even a bit surprising. Here is a look at the origins of five popular Christmas tunes.

“Jingle Bell Rock.” Written by Joseph Beal and Jim Boothe, “Jingle Bell Rock” hit the airwaves in 1957. Bobby Helms, who had seen success as a country singer, recorded the rockabilly holiday song for Decca Records. It was released Dec. 23 and burst onto the pop charts in the sixth spot. Released as a single, its B-side was titled, “Captain Santa Claus and His Reindeer Space Patrol.”

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Johnny Marks penned “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” for his own publishing company, St. Nicholas Music Inc. It was released in 1958. The song was recorded in July by a 13-year-old Brenda Lee, known as “Little Miss Dynamite.” According to SongFacts.com, music producer Owen Bradley set up the studio to get young Brenda in the holiday mood to record the s. The studio was chilled with air conditioning and was decorated with a Christmas tree. The song was not an instant hit in 1958, however. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” did not break the top 20 on the pop charts until 1960.

“Silver Bells.” Jay Livingston and Raymond Bernard Evans collaborated to create the Christmas song “Silver Bells.” It was written in 1950 for the 1951 movie The Lemon Drop Kid, starring Bob Hope. Livingston and Evans found their inspiration in the bells rung by the Salvation Army volunteers each year during the holiday season. The song’s original title was “Tinkle Bells,” but Livingston’s wife cautioned the songwriter that using the word tinkle to describe the bells might not be the best word choice. Tinkle was changed to silver, and a classic Christmas song was born.

“Sleigh Ride.” Leroy Anderson wrote the music to “Sleigh Ride.” In an 1960s interview with Dick Bertel, of WTCI Radio in Hartford, Conn., Anderson confided the song was written during a heat wave and actually was not written as a Christmas song. Anderson called “Sleigh Ride” a pictorial piece, designed for listeners to be inspired by its rhythm. The song’s lyrics, written by Mitchell Parish, came about five years after Anderson composed the music. “Sleigh Ride” was named the most popular piece of Christmas music in 2009 and 2010 by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

“The 12 Days of Christmas.” According to TLC Family, the holiday song “The 12 Days of Christmas” originated sometime in the 16th century. The song tells a story of lavish gift giving in the form of a counting song, popular of that era. The song has been recorded countless times in its original form by artists including Burl Ives and even The Muppets. Several parody versions have been recorded as well.