There may be no better way to bring in the holiday season than having a few friends over, drinking cups of hot cocoa and singing traditional Christmas songs. You may know a bunch of songs, but have you ever wondered about the meaning of the Christmas lyrics?
Or better still, have you ever wondered why these songs were written? Most of you may not have even thought about it. But some of the Christmas song lyrics of your favorite Xmas songs have interesting meanings and origins.
1. Silent Night-Some beautiful Christmas song lyrics
According to legend, it was Father Joseph Mohr of Oberndorf, Austria who wrote the poem ‘Stille Nacht’!! Heilige Nacht!’ in the year 1816. This was when he was stationed at an Austrian pilgrim church.
He was later transferred to St.Nicholas after two years. This is where he had asked his friend Franz Gruber to help him compose some guitar music for the song. It was then on 1818’s Christmas Eve that the two sang the song and music, with the choir.
It was however only after 40 years that the song was translated into English by John Freeman, the Episcopal priest. He was also responsible for its American version. Since then these Christmas song lyrics have been translated into 142 languages worldwide.
‘Son of God, love’s pure light’ is one of the most beautiful and evocative Xmas lyrics in this song. It focuses on the meaning of Christmas where God loved the world so much that he decided to come here as a baby to save it.
These Christmas song lyrics are so special because everyone knows that that special night of 2000 years ago was entirely different. It was the night where human history was divided and the song gives some clarity to that information.
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
This is perhaps one of the most popular and loved traditional Christmas songs. However, it’s ironical to learn that it’s source of inspiration is rather grievous. The song was penned by James ‘Haven’ Gillespie, who according to Ace Collins was a vaudevillian-turned-songwriter.
It was after learning about his brother’s death, when he was financially and personally down, that he was asked to pen a Xmas song. He was so overcome with grief at the moment that he had first rejected the offer. He just couldn’t bring himself to compose something joyous at this moment of grief.
It was while taking a subway ride that all the beautiful childhood memories he had spent with his brother were triggered. This was when he was also reminded about his mother constantly warning them that Santa was watching.
It was these memories that changed his mind, and gave him the inspiration to pen these Xmas lyrics in just 15 minutes. He immediately called the composer John Coots to compose its music, and it became an instant hit in 24 hours of its debut. We all know how popular and in-demand this traditional Xmas song is throughout the world.
3. All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth-Interesting inspiration for Xmas lyrics
Yes, you guessed it right. The inspiration for this Xmas song was a child’s simple wish to get his front teeth in time for Christmas. However it was not a single child, but a class of children who were responsible for the Christmas song lyrics.
According to records, a grade school teacher Donald Yetter Gardner and his wife sat to help some second-graders compose a Xmas song. This was in the year 1944, in Smithtown, New York.
The children came up with various starts to the song, but they all had one thing in common- ‘All I want for Christmas is….”. You should know that the students never did ask Santa ask for their front teeth.
It was just that Gardner was amused by their toothless, lisping requests. And this is what inspired him to pen the Christmas song lyrics in just 30 minutes that night at home.
Luck struck during the school performance of the song which led to a meeting with Witmark Music Company. With this we next have Spike Jones and his City Slickers recording the song in 1948.
Their recording earned Gardner royalties till his death in the fall of 2004. The success of the traditional Christmas song left the entire country in awe. It also left Gardner in awe, which prompted him to give up his teaching job and become a music consultant and editor.
4. Jingle Bells
Who doesn’t know this traditional Xmas song, perhaps the most popular non-religious Yuletide tune around today! But did you know that the song wasn’t even originally penned for Christmas at all?
The song was written by James Lord Pierpont in 1850s in Savannah, Georgia. It was then titled ‘The One Horse Open Sleigh’ and written to celebrate Thanksgiving.
However, there is still some disparity about where its true birthplace is. This is because the local Unitarian church where he’d played the song declared it the birthplace of ‘Jingle Bells’.
There are also some sources which insist that Pierpont had composed the Christmas song lyrics much earlier. They say that he had composed the song while he was in Medford, Massachusetts somewhere in 1850.
The song was however renamed to ‘Jingle Bells’ in 1857, which is when the Christmas song lyrics and notes were first published. However, it made history only decades later, on December 16th, 1965 for being the first song broadcast in space, by the crew of Gemini 6.
5. Little Town of Bethlehem-‘Weird’ Christmas song lyrics
Now, this is a traditional Christmas song that was written based on a pilgrim’s Christmas Eve experience in the Holy Lands. It explains the tale of Jesus’ birth. This pilgrim was Phillip Brooks, a Boston-born Episcopalian preacher who was inspired by a life-changing trip to write the song.
It was in 1865 that Brooks was riding on horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. This is where he took part in the Church of Nativity’s Christmas Eve celebrations, which lasted 5 hours and had hymns.
This experience had such a profound effect on Brooks that he started singing the song in churches. The first public performance was however held three years later by his church’s children choir on December 27th.
There’s one line that’s worth a mention in this song, ‘The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, And Christmas comes once more’. These Christmas song lyrics are from the fourth verse of the song.
This verse is usually omitted because the sentences before they are rather weird. This, however, is a shame because it is a beautiful piece of poetry. The Christmas song lyrics depict Christ’s glory that comes smashing through the world’s darkness, which is lost without His presence.
6. Tannenbaum-Traditional Christmas song lyrics
Did you know that the phrase ‘O Tannenbaum’ means ‘O Christmas Tree’ in German? The earliest version of this Christmas song is dated back to the 16th century.
This is when Melchior Franck wrote a folk song based on a common Christmas tradition. It involved bringing a small fir tree into the house, sitting around it and decorating it. This song with this seasonal nativity scene soon moved from Germany to the US with the flow of migrants.
Joachim August Zarnack later made some revisions to the Christmas song lyrics in 1819. A second revision was done in 1824 by the Leipzig organist, Ernst Anschutz.
It was all thanks to the growing popularity in Christmas tree trimming in the 1800s that this song also grew popular. The song has been since then added to many Christmas albums and playlists.
7. Good King Wenceslas
This is another unconventional Xmas song but has a special place in many people’s hearts. It goes back to 1853 when this Christmas song lyrics were penned by English hymn writer.
This song is based on the 14th-century carol, ‘The Time is Near for Flowering’s tune. It revolves around a kind man’s journey in the terrible weather of post-Christmas holiday of St. Stephen’s Day. This is where he ventures out to help his poor neighbors.
The Christmas song lyrics are based on the heroic deeds of a real man, the Duke of Bohemia, Wenceslaus I. He ruled between the years 924 and 935, and was adored by his subjects. He was the complete opposite of his nefarious sibling, Boleslav the Cruel, who eventually assassinated him.
It was the great charitable acts of Wenceslaus that earned him the posthumous declaration of a king. He was eventually upgraded to sainthood and is now Czech Republic’s patron saint.
So here you have the sources of inspiration for so many of your favorite Christmas song lyrics. I’m sure you may have been surprised with some of the sources, while others were quite known, or expected.
Whatever the inspiration or meaning of the Xmas lyrics may be, these Christmas songs have and will always hold a special place in our hearts.