White Christmas: Song Lyrics, Meaning, Fun Facts, And Things You Didn't Know

By | December 16, 2020

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Actor Bing Crosby, actresses Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen, and actor Danny Kaye, dressed in Christmas colors as they sing during the 1954 Paramount production of "White Christmas." Undated movie still. (George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)

"White Christmas," one of the most beloved and popular Christmas songs of all time, has been recorded by just about everyone from Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney to Michael Buble and Lady Gaga. The catchy tune evokes feelings of nostalgia and longing, which may be one of the keys to its longevity. Of course, there is more to "White Christmas" than meets the ear.

Irving Berlin's Christmas

The author of "White Christmas," Irving Berlin, is perhaps the greatest songwriter the United States has ever produced. He was credited with publishing hundreds of songs in his 60-year career, but it seems strange that one of his biggest successes would be a Christmas song, as Berlin was Jewish. It wasn't even the only song he wrote about a Christian holiday: In 1933, he published "Easter Parade," later performed by Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in the 1948 film of the same name.

Officially, Berlin copyrighted "White Christmas" in 1940, and it made its public debut during Bing Crosby's December 25, 1941 performance on the Kraft Music Hall Radio Show, but rumor has it that Berlin had shopped the tune around since 1938. That might seem like a negligible detail, but it would mean the song wasn't eligible for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for its appearance in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. (In an Oscar first, Berlin presented the award to himself.)

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(Decca Records/Wikimedia Commons)

What Is "White Christmas" About?

Berlin penned "White Christmas" from the viewpoint of a native New Yorker, like himself, experiencing Christmas for the first time in warm, sunny California, which is where Berlin had been living at the time. The first verse of the song, which is usually omitted from most recordings in favor of skipping straight to that protracted hook, makes this much clearer with its images of green grass, the shining Sun, palm trees, and Beverly Hills.

"White Christmas" was first performed just a few weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which may be why the wistful tune struck such a chord with the nation, but Berlin had a tragic connection to Christmas that perhaps added to the melancholy of the song. In 1928, Berlin's wife gave birth to their first child, a son named Irving Berlin, Jr., but the child died after just a few weeks of life on Christmas Day. Every Christmas, the Berlins visited their son's grave.