There’s “Snow” Song Like It: The History Of “White Christmas.”

White Christmas, Bing Crosby, 1954
Everett Collection

We all experience winter in different ways. Depending on where you live, you may spend the season on a snow-packed street or a sun-drenched beach. Yet no matter where you are, Christmas evokes the same comforting images. We can see them in our mind: a snow-dusted pine tree; a cheery string of lights twinkling along a rooftop; a horse-drawn carriage gliding along a wintry road; a welcoming wreath on the front door of a house where smoke rises from the chimney. These visions of the holiday season are potently evoked by one of the most popular, secular Christmas songs of all time: “White Christmas.”

Holiday Inn, l-r: Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Bing Crosby on poster art, 1942.

Courtesy Everett Collection

Irving Berlin crafted the song for the classic 1942 film Holiday Inn. The renowned composer initially thought“ Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” another of the film’s songs, would be what audiences would be singing for decades to come. However, since its introduction, “White Christmas” has gone on to an unparalleled legacy as THE song of the season, becoming a beloved anthem for legendary crooner Bing Crosby. “White Christmas,” with its familiar lyrics of “treetops glistening” and “sleigh bells in the snow,” 80 years later is as much a part of our holiday season as trimming the tree and decking the halls.

There are differing stories regarding the creation of the song. One account stated that Berlin, who was already famous for such hit songs as “Cheek to Cheek” and “God Bless America,” wrote “White Christmas” while staying at a hotel in sunny La Quinta, California, in 1940. This would explain some of the lyrics first written for “White Christmas.” The original introductory verse (not used in most versions) was:

The sun is shining, the grass is green

The orange and palm trees sway

There’s never been such a day

In Beverly Hills, L.A.

But it’s December the 24th

And I’m longing to be up north …

Bing Crosby introduced the song in its first public performance when he sang it on Christmas Day 1941, as part of NBC’s Kraft Music Hall radio show. Crosby would then record the song for Decca Records in May 1942, and it would go on to be featured in Holiday Inn, released in August of that same year. By October 1942, “White Christmas” was at the top of the charts on the popular radio show Your Hit Parade. The song stayed on the Billboard charts for 11 weeks in 1942 and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

The introduction of “White Christmas” during World War II was also a large part of its initial popularity. The song’s tone of longing, along with reassuring holiday images, was a favorite of the military and those waiting on the homefront. After the first Christmas that the song debuted, its admiration continued to grow with each holiday season. Twelve years after its release, the song was popular enough to inspire the film White Christmas (1954). It starred Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in the first film released in the widescreen, VistaVision format. It was an enormous hit, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1954, and to this day is shown in frequent rotation during the holiday season.

WHITE CHRISTMAS, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Danny Kaye, 1954

Everett Collection

The movie also bolstered the already popular song “White Christmas,” which became a staple on radio stations during the holidays (the version most often heard is 1947’s re-recording by Crosby, as the original 1942 recording had been damaged). Another tradition for many years was the Bing Crosby television Christmas special, which aired annually through 1977 (the year the singer passed away). Crosby would conclude each special by singing “White Christmas,” which, of course, became his signature song.

Although the song is closely associated with Crosby, countless other artists have left their stamp on “White Christmas.” Everyone from Frank Sinatra to Michael Bublé to the cast of the TV show Glee has offered up their version. So it’s no surprise that “White Christmas” holds the Guinness Book of Records title as the world’s bestselling Christmas single — sales of all versions of the song exceed 100 million!

White Christmas, airs on AMC Tuesday, December 12, at 2pm. It is also streaming on Netflix.

Home For The Holidays
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Home For The Holidays

November 2021

Celebrate the holidays with your favorite classic stars!

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