20 December 2023

A Christmas Carol Chronology

 I whipped this chart up a few years ago and have updated it every December.  Seems like this might be a good place for it.

One interesting thing I learned this year: "Up On the Housetop" (I learned it as "Up on the Rooftop"), which is apparently the oldest song about Santa Claus, was written by a minister, of all people.  Didn't he know that we aren't supposed to secularize Christmas?  The gentleman in question was Benjamin Hanby, who was also an abolitionist.  His second most famous song, "Darling Nelly Gray," is from the viewpoint of a enslaved man whose beloved has been sold away.  Some say it is the musical equivalent of Uncle Tom's Cabin in terms of converting people to abolitionism.

If you want a crime element consider that the music for the "Carol of the Bells" (one of my favorites) was composed by Mykola Leontovych, a Ukrainian, who was murdered by a Soviet spy.

And, while I didn't include it on my list, the murder that the song "Staggerlee" is based on  took place on December 25th, 1895, so I guess it's a Christmas carol?  If Die Hard is a Christmas movie, anyway...

Start pulling on the strings of folksongs and you find all kinds of interesting connections.

One more thing: What do these songs have in common?  Answer is in the comments.

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Deck the Halls

Frosty the Snowman

Jingle Bell Rock

Jingle Bells

Let it Snow

Sleigh Ride

Winter Wonderland


  1. None of those eight songs mention Christmas.

    1. Yule and yuletide-- according to the internet-- are archaic terms for Christmas time, so Deck the Halls does mention it

    2. Open to debate since Yule was celebrated before Christmas.

    3. I'd guessed the listed songs had been caught up in bans,, #cancelculture, or some other controversy, but I couldn't locate a criticism of Winter Wonderland. The funniest (in a sad way) was Frosty: no one was dressed appropriately and Frosty was (gasp) pantsless.

  2. I really love the old, VERY old Christmas carols, and have a few CDs of those. My favorite is the Wexford Carol. And, of the modern tunes, besides the 1940s classics, "Christmas in Prison." "Roll on eternity..." Thanks, Rob!

  3. Love reading all the years this songs were written. Some surprised me. You can add Marshmallow World to that last list. Not sure when it was written but Dean Martin has the hit recond.

  4. "Los Peces en el Rio" is the traditional Christmas carol my Ecuadorian in-laws sing every year. It dates back to the 1800s. It features drinking fish. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfpBMrJZt1Q

  5. Great list, Robert! Thank you. Eve, I'm with you. I like the John Rutter arranged CDs of Sussex and Wexford Carols, plus many of the French carols from the 19th century (Jeanette, Isabella). The Cambridge Singers have some great CDs. Funny thing, Robert - my three and four year old grandchildren came over yesterday. Picked up one of my CDs, and thought it was a book! They''d never seen CDs before! Streaming rules...makes one feel ancient :)

  6. I always liked Leon's Russel's "Slipping into Christmas" from 1972 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0iGoWfdVl0). The AM radio station I listened to way back when used to play it. Great blues tune and, for those of us who find the holidays sometimes complicated, appropriate. Nice list.

  7. One of my favorites in recent years is "Riu Chiu," an ancient Spanish song/carol. I first heard it when someone played a wonderful recording of it by The Monkees! I highly recommend it, so if this link doesn't work, look it up on You Tube! And a Merry Christmas! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riG85oA6Wy4


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