Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without the classic Christmas music that serves as a soundtrack for holiday memories. Here are 15 treasured hits for which we can thank some of the most celebrated songwriters in popular music… who all happen to be Jewish.
Written and composed by Irving Berlin, “White Christmas” is widely recognized as one of the greatest holiday hits of all time. According to the Guinness World Records book, as a matter of fact, Bing Crosby’s version of the song is the best-selling single of all time with a whopping 50 million copies.
“The Christmas Waltz”
A jazzy little jingle, “The Christmas Waltz” was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne for Frank Sinatra in 1954. Described by Cahn as being written “during a very hot spell in Los Angeles,” the Christmas classic didn’t actually hit Billboard charts until Harry Connick Jr. released a version in 2003.
There’s actually a funny story behind the title of this hit, which was composed by Jay Livingston with lyrics by Ray Evans. When it was first written, Livingston and Evans called it “Tinkle Bells,” based on a tiny bell they kept on their desks — that is, until Evans’ wife did the boys a favor by explaining the other meaning of “tinkle.”
Ah, such lovely images “Winter Wonderland” conjures up. No wonder this song — written by Felix Bernard and composed by Richard B. Smith in 1934 — has since been recorded by more than 150 different musicians. And to think, Bernard wrote the lyrics while being treated for tuberculosis!
Composed and written by Joan Ellen Javits and Philip Springer, “Santa Baby” has been reinterpreted many times over the years by everyone from RuPaul to Kellie Pickler (and who can forget Madonna’s super-saccharine version?). However, we favor the original 1953 recording by the great Eartha Kitt.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
Who knew Christmas music could have a dramatic backstory? This Christmas classic was originally credited to Walter Kent and Kim Gannon… until a lawsuit was filed by Buck Ram, who had previously written a poem and a song of the same name. Ram is now listed as a co-writer.
“Let It Snow”
Like “The Christmas Waltz,” “Let It Snow” was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. Originally recorded in 1945, the song has seen renewed success in recent years with a recording by Jewel earlier this year and a No. 1 recording by Rod Stewart in December 2012.
“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”
“The Christmas Song,” more popularly known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” is the brainchild of Mel Torme and Bob Wells. Another Christmas song written during an unseasonably hot day, “The Christmas Song” hasn’t just been re-recorded over the years — several parodies, such as The Simpsons “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” have sprung up as well.
“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
C’mon… everyone has seen How the Grinch Stole Christmas, right? And, of course, everyone knows the quintessential song from that movie by heart: “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” This fun little ditty was composed by Albert Hague and written by Theodor Geisel — yep, Dr. Seuss.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Run Rudolph Run,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Silver and Gold”
You absolutely read that right. Of the 15 songs listed here, five of them come courtesy of Johnny Marks. And, even though Marks had more than 10 hit Christmas titles, that’s not all that’s impressive: In his youth, he earned a Bronze Star and four Battle Stars during World War II.
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
Originally written by Edward Pola and George Wyle, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” has seen major success over the years. In addition to becoming a Christmas standard, two particular versions fared extremely well: Country powerhouse Garth Brooks released a version in 1999 that became the first version of the song to chart in North America, and Harry Connick Jr.’s 2008 version is the highest-charting version to date in the U.S.