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

1940s | December 18, 2020

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.)

(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.

(Hubert van Es/Wikimedia Commons)

"White Christmas" Overseas

Pearl Harbor was, strangely enough, far from the only connection between the military and "White Christmas." Bing Crosby was a regular performer with the U.S.O. and often traveled overseas, especially during the holiday season, but he hated singing "White Christmas" for the soldiers. "Heaven knows I didn't come that far to make them sad," he complained, but whenever he omitted the song from his playlist, the soldiers loudly begged him to sing it.

Decades later, as the Viet Cong and the People's Army of Vietnam closed in on the South Vietnamese capital city of Saigon, "White Christmas" once again played a strange part in the history of war. When the plan to evacuate Americans and at-risk locals was initiated at 10:51 A.M. on April 29, the American radio station began to play Irving Berlin's Christmas classic between every few songs, which was the signal for U.S. personnel to immediately convene at the city's evacuation points. By that afternoon, 396 Americans and more than 4,000 Vietnamese citizens were safely evacuated from the city, and the war was officially over.

(Ernst Vikne/Wikimedia Commons)

Only Princess Diana Could Outdo "White Christmas"

For more than 50 years, "White Christmas" was the bestselling single of all times with more than 50 million copies sold, but it was finally crushed in the late '90s by Elton John's tribute to the recently departed Princess Diana, "Candle In The Wind 1997." No disrespect to the good knight or people's princess, but while they may have the green, our Christmases will always be white (if not literally). 

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 twenty-fourth
And I am longing to be up North
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white
And may all your Christmases be white (All your Christmases be white)
And may all your Christmases be white (All your Christmases be white)
And may all your Christmases be
(All your Christmases be white)
(All your Christmases be white)

Tags: 1940s | Christmas | music

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.