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The Sad Story Behind The Song ‘White Christmas’

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To say this song is iconic is like saying the Grand Canyon is a hole. It is the number one selling Christmas song of all time. Yet this wistful melancholy ballad made up of 54 words and 67 notes is as much a part of the Christmas holidays as candy canes, stockings, and flying reindeer.

The song is White Christmas. For such a simple yet amazing song there is such a back story that once you read about it you will never hear the song the same way again. In fact, unless you were alive in the early 1940’s you’ve never heard the song the way it was originally done.

The first performance of White Christmas by Bing Crosby was done on Christmas Day 1941. It was a very difficult Christmas for these United States since the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor only 18 days prior.

The song was such a hit that Bing Crosby went into the studio in 1942 to record the song for radio airplay and distribution. Here’s the ironic part, the reason he had to re-record the song was the original recording from Christmas of 1941 was lost or perhaps taped over.

The song became so popular that the 1942 master recording was used so much that it too eventually wore out. Crosby returned to the studio in 1947 and recorded the version that most of us know today.

Here is some more irony. When Crosby went on tour to entertain the troops overseas he fought vehemently to not perform the tune as part of his set. He felt the lyrics would make those serving overseas too homesick. Still, the men and women in uniform clamored for him to sing White Christmas at every performance. The song and the lyrics had become a symbol of home.

But wait there is, even more, irony about this incredible simple song. The song’s composer Irving Berlin didn’t even celebrate Christmas. Berlin was a Jewish immigrant from Russia who actually never thought the song would be anything more than a passing fad. Berlin wrote the song for a musical revue that eventually was made into the movie Holiday Inn. He thought another song from that review Be Careful It’s My Heart would be a bigger hit for Valentines Day.

Still, one more sad piece of irony surrounding White Christmas. While Berlin did not celebrate Christmas because of his faith he did have a Christmas Day tradition. Each Christmas he would visit the grave of his son who died on Christmas Day 1928 at just three weeks of age.

Who knew there was all this sadness in a song that has warmed the hearts of so many for so many Christmases. As the late Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.

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