Christmas carols have always been a lovely blend of old and new songs as each generation honours the Yuletide with their own experiences. Bing Crosby sang three top hits.
Bing Crosby was a popular American crooner and recording artist of the 20th-century. His version of “Silent Night,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and “Jingle Bells” became a Christmas show stopper in his day. Christmas is the closest event celebrated as a universal holiday.
For Christians, December 25 is a time to honour the birth of Jesus, God’s greatest gift. But for others, this special holiday does not draw from a specific belief but from the powerful stirring message of hope, peace and love provided by family and friends reunions, Christmas cards, Christmas greetings, Christmas gifts, aside from Christmas songs.
Christmas Celebrations Before the 20th-Century
The beginning of formalized Christmas music dates back to 13th century, and credited to Saint Francis of Assisi for bringing it into formal worship through sacred songs or hymns, however, the word “carol” is traceable as far back to the Medieval Ages in Greek ancient drama. It meant “to dance” in a ring.
Then for centuries long before Charles Dickens introduced A Christmas Carol in 1843, majority of the British, like the people of most other nations, scarcely celebrated Christmas. Oliver Cromwell banned the holiday in England in 1645. The Puritans enacted a similar prohibition 14 years later in New England, believing that Christmas celebrations were hedonistic and sacrilegious.
By the 19th century, official opposition to Christmas celebrations had faded, and the holiday took on many of the festive trappings familiar in recent times. In 1843, the same year Dickens published A Christmas Carol, fellow Englishman Sir Henry Cole created one of the most familiar signs of the season when he introduced the first commercial Christmas cards.
About 20 years earlier, American Clement Clarke Moore published his poem “The Night Before Christmas” introducing Santa Claus. The mid-19th century saw another holiday tradition made with Britain’s Queen Victoria. There was the Victorian carols sang in family homes, and wrapped gifts placed for one another under a decorated Christmas tree, introduced in England by Prince Albert.
Twentieth Century Christmas Carols
The 20th century generation also created their own Christmas carols. In particular, guitarist/singer Bobby Helms added a dash of the new rock ‘n’ roll sound by writing and recording the lively “Jingle-Bell Rock” in 1957. The song became a Top 10 hit, selling more than a million copies. “Jingle-Bell Rock” was later recorded by other artists, including Max Bygraves, who had a Top 10 hit in the UK.
Hindsight, the original “Jingle Bells,” which was written by James Pierpont in 1857, was not intended to celebrate the Christmas holiday but for a famous Massachusetts sleigh race.
Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters sold more than two million copies of a “Jingle Bells” recording with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” as a flip side in 1942. Later, Don Charles from Denmark sold more than a million copies of a record that featured dogs barking to “Jingle Bells.”
Bing Crosby and Family Christmas Songs
In October 1943, American crooner Bing Crosby recorded “I’ll be Home for Christmas” that became a show stopper, one of the most famous family Christmas songs. This sweetly evocative tune was perfectly suited for Crosby’s rich baritone.
Especially poignant was his heartfelt lines, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams,” as it resonated deeply with millions of Americans separated from their loved ones during the Second World War. The song became one of Crosby’s greatest hits, earning him his fifth Gold Record.
Crosby’s warm, friendly voice became synonymous with Christmas holiday music. During his long career, the great vocalist recorded more than 70 songs with Christmas themes. His first recording, released in 1935, was “Silent Night.” A deeply religious man, he did not want to capitalize commercially on what he considered sacred music, he donated his profits to charity.
Crosby’s rendition of “Silent Night” became one of the best-selling recordings of the 20th century. This peaceful beautiful Christmas carol was written by Austrians Franz Gruber and Father Joseph Mohr. More than 40 years after Bing Crosby released his version of “Silent Night,” he made his last Christmas recording for a TV special. Among the songs included was “Little Drummer Boy,” which he sang as a duet with rocker David Bowie. The duet recorded in September 1977, a month before Crosby’s death.
Sadly, Bing Crosby did not live to see the release of his Christmas special, but his performance with Bowie was one of the highlights of the TV holiday season that time. As the Crosby/Bowie collaboration illustrates, Christmas has a special power to bridge gaps of age, time, and culture to bring people together.
Final Insights on Christmas Carols and Music
The universal appeal of Christmas music can be appreciated when the broad range of artists who have recorded sacred and secular holiday music are considered. For example, “Silent Night” has been recorded by artists ranging from the Vienna Boys’ Choir among others. Even the light-hearted “Frosty the Snowman” has been done by practically every contemporary recording pop singer including Perry Como.
No less than the phenomenal 2009 Britain’s Got Talent singing sensation, Susan Boyle, made “Silent Night” her encore in her recently released best-selling Debut Album, I Dreamed a Dream.
May the real meaning of the season be brought to life and touch hearts in the spirit of peace, hope, and love.
- Ehret, W. and G. K. Evans, Stephen Greene. The International Book of Christmas Carols. Press, Vermont (1980)
- Introduction, from Christmas Carol, Warner Bros. Publications, 2002