Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Driving home last night, listening to Christmas songs, I thought about how timeless the lyrics are and how they paint such beautiful word pictures of our collective Christmas memories.

The lyrics to White Christmas were written in 1940 by Irving Berlin and introduced by Bing Crosby in the movie Holiday Inn (1942). It became very popular with WWII soldiers and their families because it expressed their longing to be home with family at Christmas.

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'll Be Home for Christmas is one of my all time favorites. It was written the year after White Christmas by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent. It too touched the hearts of soldiers and their families alike. When you listen, it's easy to picture a soldier writing these words to loved ones back home.

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Silver Bells paints a vivid image of busy city streets. Shoppers bundled in coats and mittens hurrying past window displays. Colored lights everywhere reflecting off falling snow. Written in 1951 by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans it was first sung in the Bob Hope movie The Lemon Drop Kid.

Strings of street lights
Even stop lights
Blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush home
With their treasures

Christmas carols celebrating the birth of Christ date back to 760AD. They never became popular because they were all written in Latin. Not until 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi started his Nativity Plays in Italy were carols sung in the language of the people listening to the plays. Minstrels traveling through Europe spread the songs, changing the language with each country they visited.

In 1647 Oliver Cromwell came into power and banned carols. People continued to sing them in secret thus keeping them alive until in Victorian times they became popular again.

It would be hard to choose a favorite Christmas carol, there are so many lovely ones. Certainly one of the most beautiful is Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, written in 1865 by an Episcopal clergyman, Philip Brooks. His visit to the town of Bethlehem inspired him to write a poem. I love this line. No one could ever say it more beautifully.

The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear was a poem written by Edmund Sears, the pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. Ten years later, Richard Willis, an American composer, created the melody.

Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heaven's all gracious King
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.