The Origins Behind Holiday Classics

The Origins Behind Holiday Classics

Ever wonder how some holiday tunes were first created?  Ever wondered who exactly is Parson Brown? Here is how some of your favorite holiday tunes were created.

“Winter Wonderland” (1934)

This song was written by lyricist Dick Smith of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, after seeing the town’s park covered in snow and composer Felix Bernard. Smith wrote the song during tuberculosis treatment in Scranton. Some of the songs lyrics have raised questions, especially the first bridge:

In the meadow we can build a snowman
And pretend that he is Parson Brown
He’ll say are you married
We’ll say no man
But you can do the job
When you’re in town

Believe it or not, Parson Brown was not a real person. A parson was an early 20th century term for a Protestant or Anglican minister, who would travel to officiate weddings for those who couldn’t find a pastor nearby.

“Jingle Bells” (1857)

This was actually intended to be a song for Thanksgiving, and originally didn’t have any association with Christmas. It was composed at 19 High Street in Medford, Massachusetts, and was sung by various choirs within the Boston area, eventually seen more appropriate for December as snowfall in Massachusetts was not common around Thanksgiving. The lyrics reflect that owners of horses used to have to attach bells using a harness and straps when snow was on the ground, as the clicking of hooves did not happen.

“Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” (1949)

The story of Rudolph first appeared in a booklet written by Robert L. May and distributed by Montgomery Ward, an American department store chain. Joe Gunther, a refugee from Germany, performed the tune, written by May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks, for the first time inside of The Drake Hotel in Chicago. It would then receive airplay on a New York City radio station in 1949 by crooner Harry Brannon, around the same time famous country artist Gene Autry released his rendition.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (1944)

This song was actually written for the film Meet Me in St. Louis by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. It was first performed by Judy Garland, who also played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. This version of the song became popular with soldiers serving abroad during World War II. Frank Sinatra asked Dean Martin to rework the line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” changing it to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” This song would eventually become the third most performed holiday tune of all time.

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