#47: O Christmas Tree

The practice of decorating Christmas trees seems to have originated during the Middle Ages in Germany, when people would hang fruit, nuts, sweets, and paper flowers all over the tree for children to enjoy.  A legend was also born around this time that on the night Jesus was born, every tree in every forest all across the world bore their most delicious fruit.

The song “O Tannenbaum,” known as “O Christmas Tree” in English, is an old German folk song. Although the original German lyrics written by organist Ernst Anschütz in 1824 had nothing to do with the decorated Christmas trees (tannenbaum simply means “fir tree”), Anschütz himself later added more Christmas-themed lyrics. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the song came to be known as a Christmas carol.

Lyrics

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;
Not only green when summer’s here,
But also when ’tis cold and drear.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can’st give me;
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can’st give me;
How often has the Christmas tree
Afforded me the greatest glee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can’st give me.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!
From base to summit, gay and bright,
There’s only splendor for the sight.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!

#42: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

It was a time of intense sorrow and despair in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s life. His wife had tragically died in a fire in 1861. The American Civil War had just broken out, and his oldest son Charles had decided to join the Union cause without his father’s blessing. He was severely wounded in battle after several months of fighting. For Longfellow, this was just an endless punishment. In 1864, he sat down at his desk and penned the poem “Christmas Bells.” In this poem, Longfellow somberly recognizes that God is not dead, that right will prevail, and bring peace and goodwill to men. This is the message of Christmas and its promise of new life. The poem has been set to a few tunes, the two most common being the English organist John Baptiste Calkin’s melody in the 1870s, and Johnny Marks’ traditional melody in the 1950s.

Lyrics

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

#38: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

Felix Mendelssohn composed the tune to this song in 1840, but the original tune was a solemn one written by Charles Wesley at the inception of the carol one hundred years earlier in 1739. The lyrics have changed as well. The original lyrics by Wesley read “Hark, how all the welkin [heaven] rings,” but his colleague George Whitefield changed this line to the one we know today. Mendelssohn’s song was originally part of a cantata commemorating printer Johann Gutenberg. The music familiar to us was applied to the lyrics 15 years after Mendelssohn’s composition by W.H. Cummings, an English musician.

Lyrics

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

#31: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Johnny Marks created an undeniable hit with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” when Gene Autry debuted it in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1949. The star of one of the best-selling and most-recorded Christmas songs of all time, Rudolph has found its way into the hearts and delight of children and adults all over the world, and inspired several television specials, numerous toys, clothing, and other merchandise bearing the famous reindeer and his glowing red nose.

Lyrics

You know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer, and Vixen,
Comet, and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
Play in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas eve
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Then all the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
You’ll go down in history!

#29: Frosty the Snowman

Frosty the SnowmanA young boy just out of high school, Gene Autry worked in a railway telegraph office in a Midwest Oklahoma town. Occasionally he’d pluck away at his guitar and sing during slow days. One night, a stranger appeared, listened while Autry performed, and said, “Young feller, you’re wasting your time here.” It was Will Rogers.

The rest is history. Gene Autry took Rogers’ advice and began singing professionally. He became well-known for his Christmas songs. When song writers Walter “Jack” Nelson and Steve Rollins saw what success Gene Autry was having in 1949, after his recording of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” they decided to write another for him. And thus, “Frosty the Snowman” was written, and first recorded by Gene Autry and the Cass Country Boys in 1950. The song, which is a story about a snowman that magically comes to life and enjoys some adventures with children, was an instant hit. It has seen numerous recordings after Autry, as well as adaptations into TV shows, and has worked its way into the standard musical repertoire of Christmas favorites.

Lyrics

Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul,
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And two eyes made out of coal.
Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale, they say,
He was made of snow but the children
Know how he came to life one day.
There must have been some magic in that
Old silk hat they found.
For when they placed it on his head
He began to dance around.
O, Frosty the snowman
Was alive as he could be,
And the children say he could laugh
And play just the same as you and me.
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.

Frosty the snowman knew
The sun was hot that day,
So he said, “Let’s run and
We’ll have some fun
Now before I melt away.”
Down to the village,
With a broomstick in his hand,
Running here and there all
Around the square saying,
Catch me if you can.
He led them down the streets of town
Right to the traffic cop.
And he only paused a moment when
He heard him holler “Stop!”
For Frosty the snow man
Had to hurry on his way,
But he waved goodbye saying,
“Don’t you cry,
I’ll be back again some day.”
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.

#27: Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Everyone knows what happens if you pout or cry around Christmastime: Santa Claus passes you by, that’s what. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” was written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie in 1934. Coots had been writing material for Eddie Cantor, a comedian with a radio show. Coots shared this song with Cantor, who nearly turned it down. Cantor’s wife, Ida, convinced him to air the song, and it was an instant smash hit with orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day, and more than 400,000 copies sold by Christmas. The song is a traditional standard at Christmas time, and has been covered by numerous recording artists. In 1970 Rankin-Bass produced an hour-long animated television special based on the song, with narrator Fred Astaire telling the original story of Santa Claus.

Lyrics

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

Oh! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

#25: Silent Night

Silent NightOn December 24, 1818, the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The congregation at that Midnight Mass in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Fr. Joseph Mohr, and the choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, rang through the church to the accompaniment of Fr. Mohr’s guitar. On each of the six verses, the choir repeated the last two lines in four-part harmony.

On that Christmas Eve, a song was born that would wing its way into the hearts of people throughout the world. Now translated into hundreds of languages, it is sung by untold millions every December from small chapels in the Andes to great cathedrals in Antwerp and Rome.

This song wouldn’t be what it is without Norm Bagley, a local resident of Ogden, Utah. In fact, it’s more his song than it is mine. He originally created this rendition in December 2004. For the 2009 25 Days of Christmas Music project, he made new recordings of the vocals and guitar, and sent it to me to add some piano to it. The purpose of the new rendition was meant to help create a unique sound and feel, while re-emphasizing the important role of our King and Savior. He came into the world as humbly and meekly as they come, yet His 33 short years on this earth were spent serving others, healing the sick, lifting the wounded souls, teaching people how to be better, to love and serve others (John 13:34; 15:13).

Vocals and Guitar: Norm Bagley
Piano: Justin K. Reeve

Lyrics (Revised)

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

A tiny baby, the Son of God.
He came into the world,
that He might save us all.

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

A tiny baby, the Son of God.
What can I give to Him?
As I look into His eyes,
they tell me to believe in Him,
Go forth and share his light.

A King is born, upon the earth
He’s come to save us, and lead us home.

#23: Happy Xmas

Happy Xmas“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was recorded by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band in late October 1971, with the help of producer Phil Spector. It features soaring, heavily echoed vocals, and a sing-along chorus. The children singing in the background were from the Harlem Community Choir and are credited on the song’s single. The song is a protest song about the Vietnam War, based on a campaign in late 1969 by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who rented billboards and posters in eleven cities around the world that read: “WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko”. The cities included New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong. At the time the US was deeply entrenched in the unpopular Vietnam War. The line “War is over, if you want it, war is over, now!”, as sung by the background vocals, was taken directly from the billboards.

The record starts with a barely-audible whisper of Christmas greetings to their children: Yoko whispers “Happy Christmas, Kyoko”, then John whispers “Happy Christmas, Julian”. The lyric sheet from the 1982 release The John Lennon Collection erroneously gives this introduction as “Happy Christmas, Yoko. Happy Christmas, John”.

The single was released in the US on 6 December 1971, but never charted on the Billboard Hot 100 charts; the UK release was delayed until the following November due to a publishing dispute. Upon release, it reached #4 in the UK Singles Chart. The song was re-released in the UK on 20 December 1980 shortly after John Lennon’s death on 8 December 1980, peaking at Number 3.

 

This song is my wife’s very favorite Christmas song. It was performed with Coulter Neale, who graciously volunteered to lend his guitar talents to the song.

Lyrics

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight

War is over,
If you want it.
War is over now.

#21: O Come All Ye Faithful

O Come All Ye FaithfulThe text to “O Come All Ye Faithful” was originally written in Latin (“Adeste Fideles”) and is attributed to John Francis Wade, an 18th-century hymnist. It was first published in a collection known as “Cantus Diversi” in 1751.

The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight, and these have been translated into many languages many times, though the English “O Come All Ye Faithful” translation by Frederick Oakeley in 1841 is particularly widespread. In 1841 Rev. Frederick Oakley worked on the familiar English translation which replaced the older Latin lyrics.

Lyrics

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God’s holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

#18: White Christmas

White ChristmasIrving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” in the early 1940s, reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. Bing Crosby made this song famous, and his single has been credited with selling 50 million copies, the most by any release. Even the Guinness Book of World Records lists Crosby’s song as a 100-million seller, encompassing all versions of the song, including albums. The song was even made into a movie, under the same name, starring Bing Crosby together with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.

Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song. One story is that he wrote it on the poolside at the Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. He often stayed up all night writing — he told his secretary, “Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!”

Whatever the origins may be, “White Christmas” is a long-time cherished Christmas favorite.

Lyrics

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten,
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

#15: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

adoration-of-the-shepherds-gerard-van-honthorst-1590-1656The words to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” are a translation of the Catholic Latin text “Veni, veni, Emmanuel” by John Mason Neale in the mid-19th century. Their origins are very old indeed, and may date as far back as the 12th century. They were of such importance in medieval days that in monasteries a separate stanza, to be sung from December 16 through December 23, was assigned to each of the most pious monks. In the 1800s, a musical setting that would accommodate the stanzas and the refrain “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel” was fashioned out of some plainsong sequences. (There was no refrain in the original Latin.) And, since plainsong has no measures and no specified rhythmic scheme, the quality of this hymn is always flowing and free.

The text is based on the biblical prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 that states that God will give Israel a sign that will be called Immanuel (literally, “God with us”). Matthew 1:23 states fulfillment of this prophecy in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Lyrics

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

#14: Jingle Bell Rock

Jingle Bell Rock“Jingle Bell Rock” was written by Joe Beal, a New England-born public relations man, in 1957. It’s in the “rockabilly” style, and was written during a time when rock-and-roll was coming on strong and casting its new rhythmic vitality over everything, including the Christmas season. Joe Beal collaborated with Jim Boothe, a Texas writer in the advertising business, to create this unique novelty, which became a best-selling record for Bobby Helms.

Lyrics

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock
Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring
Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun
Now the jingle hop has begun

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock
Jingle bells chime in jingle bell time
Dancing and prancing in Jingle Bell Square
In the frosty air

What a bright time, it’s the right time
To rock the night away

Jingle bell time is a swell time
To go gliding in a one-horse sleigh
Giddy-up jingle horse, pick up your feet
Jingle around the clock

Mix and a-mingle in the jingling feet
That’s the jingle bell,
That’s the jingle bell,
That’s the jingle bell rock

#13: Joy to the World

Joy to the WorldThe words to the triumphant song “Joy to the World” are by English hymn writer Isaac Watts, based on Psalm 98 in the Bible. The song was first published in 1719. Watts wrote the words of “Joy to the World” as a hymn glorifying Christ’s triumphant return at the end of the age, rather than a Christmas song celebrating his first coming as a babe born in a stable. Only the second half of Watts’ lyrics are still used today.

The music was adapted and arranged to Watts’ lyrics by Lowell Mason in 1839 from an older melody which was then believed to have originated from Handel, not least because the theme of the refrain (“And heaven and nature sing…”) appears in the orchestra opening and accompaniment of the recitative “Comfort Ye” from Handel’s Messiah, and the first four notes match the beginning of the choruses “Lift up your heads” and “Glory to God” from the same oratorio. However, Handel did not compose the entire tune.

As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

Lyrics

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the Earth! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

#12: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like ChristmasYou may know Meredith Wilson as the composer of the Broadway hit The Music Man in 1957, but before that in 1951 he had already achieved success with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Perry Como and The Fontane Sisters with Mitchell Ayres & His Orchestra on September 10, 1951. Bing Crosby recorded a version on October 1, 1951 which was also widely played.

Lyrics

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go
Take a look in the five-and-ten,
Glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev’ry store
But the prettiest sight to see
Is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen
And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go
There’s a tree in the Grand Hotel,
And in the park as well
The sturdy kind that doesn’t mind the snow.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

#11: Let It Snow!

Let It Snow!“Let It Snow!” was written by lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne in July 1945 in Hollywood, California during one of the hottest days on record.

First recorded by Vaughn Monroe on October 31, 1945, it became a popular hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard music charts the following year. One of the best-selling songs of all time, “Let It Snow!” has been covered countless times. Due to its seasonal lyrics, it is commonly regarded as a Christmas song. Yet despite its cheery, holiday feel, it is a love song that never mentions Christmas and both the composer and lyricist were Jewish.

Lyrics

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It doesn’t show signs of Pauseping,
And I’ve bought some corn for popping,
The lights are turned way down low,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

When we finally kiss goodnight,
How I’ll hate going out in the storm!
But if you’ll really hold me tight,
All the way home I’ll be warm.

The fire is slowly dying,
And, my dear, we’re still good-bying,
But as long as you love me so,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!