1. “White Christmas” – While there are more than five Christmas carols written by Jewish songwriters, I thought I’d just cover my favorites, starting with not only the most famous Christmas song written in modern times, but according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the best-selling single of all-time.
Written by: Irving Berlin in 1940
Actually written by: Israel Isidore Baline (Irving’s real name)
Written while: seated poolside at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona (talk about your White Christmas)
Made famous by: Bing Crosby in the movie Holiday Inn
Cool Irving Berlin fact: Refusing to make money off his deep-seated patriotism, Berlin donated all the royalties from “God Bless America” (just another little ditty he penned) to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls.
2. “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
Written by: Johnny Marks in 1949
Based on: a poem/story penned by Marks’ brother-in-law, who invented Rudolph
Made famous by: Gene Autry, whose recording sold over 2 million copies in the first year alone.
Famous Rudolph mondegreen: “Olive, the other reindeer” (see our post on mondegreens if you don’t know what they are)Cool Johnny Marks fact: He is the great-uncle of economist Steven Levitt, co-author of one of my favorite books of all time, Freakonomics.
3. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”
Written by: composer Jule Styne in 1945 with lyrics by Sammy Cahn
Actually written by: Julius Kerwin Stein and Samuel Cohen (real names)
Made Famous by: Vaughn Monroe, hitting #1 on Billboard in ’46
Interesting “Let it Snow” fact: the lyric never once mentions ChristmasCool Jule Styne fact: he also wrote the music for the musicals Gypsy and Funny Girl
4. “Silver Bells”
Written by: Jay Livingston and Ray Evans in 1951
Actually written by: Jacob Harold Levison and Raymond Bernard Evans (real names)
Introduced by: Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the movie The Lemon Drop KidMade Famous by: Bing Crosby and Carol Richards
Cool “Silver Bells” fact: the song was inspired by the silver bells of the Salvation Army bell ringers, thus making it one of the few Christmas carols about the city, as opposed to the usual rural countryside setting.
5. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
Written by: Albert Hague in 1966 (with words/lyrics by Dr. Seuss, of course)
Actually written by: Albert Marcuse, who was born in Berlin, but his family raised him Lutheran with the last name Hague in order to avoid the raging anti-Semitism in the 1920/30s (He got out of Europe just in time, landing in America in 1939)
Made Famous by: Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft, who made a name for himself singing and doing voice-overs for Disney (and Frosted Flakes!)
Curious Albert Hague fact: He was also an actor! You can see him in both the movie and TV series, Fame, playing the role of Shorofsky