The History Behind Popular Christmas Songs

Makayla Nason, Photo editor and Entertainment Editor

   We all have that one Christmas song that just gets you spirit for the holiday season, but what story are they trying to tell? Some might be way obvious then others, but each song has a meaning behind it. This article is going to tell you the history and origin of five popular Christmas songs that you probably know and love.

  First up, we have the classic “Jingle Bells” song. This song came from a french and German tune called “One horse In an Open Sleigh” from sometime during 1823-1893 during Thanksgiving. It was never meant to be a Christmas song, but a church choir song for the Turkey season. This song has since then gone through a few lyric and name changes to get to where it is now.
    Another Christmas song that is well recognized is “Over the River and Through the Woods” which came from a 18th century poem written by Lydia Maria Child which is also another song that wasn’t intended to be Christmas related. The song tells a story about her family on their way to a relatives house for Thanksgiving. The poem was originally called “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day” in her book Flowers for Children. And fun fact, the original words were, “Over the river and through the wood to Grandfather’s house we go ” instead of what we know it as “Over the river and through the wood to Grandmother’s house we go ”.

  This next song isn’t exactly a Christmas song you will hear on the radio, but it definitely makes you think of Christmas when you hear this song. The composition “Greensleeves” was believed to be composed by King Henry VIII for his future second wife, Anne Boleyn, in an attempt to seduce her. But regardless of the song, she allegedly objected to the king. The song was registered at the London’s Stationary Company in September 1580 by Richard Jones under the name of “A New Norton Date of ye Ladye Greene Sleeves” and ever since then, ballads have been originated from this classical piece. This has to be one of the oldest Christmas songs to exist.

  The Trans Siberian Orchestra has an amazing cover on this song, “Carol of the Bells”. “Carol of the Bells” came from a 1916 Ukrainian composer, Mykola Leontovich. The song was originally about spring coming and how their family is going to have a wonderful year. The song was originally named “Shchedryk” which can be translated to be “bountiful.” Shchedryk is way less popular where it originates from but people will still play it around the eve of the Julian New Year.

  Lastly, as children we would sing this song at the top of our small lungs. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is a song that was written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie. The earliest recording of this song came from Harry Reser and his band on October 24th 1934. It was then sung on Eddie Cantor’s radio show in November 1934 and was an overnight sensation. The song was a hit, with over 500,000 requested copies of sheet music and more than 30,000 records of it sold within an hour. While this song doesn’t have as much history as the others, it’s a popular song that we all for the most part recognize and love. 


   This list is just a small representation of the hundreds and hundreds of Christmas songs that are played everyday during the Jolly season. Every song has a history that we probably don’t know about, so if you are curious, look up the origins of some of your favorite holiday songs and see where they really come from. Have a wonderfully wonderful holiday season!