When you get right down to it, there aren’t that many Christmas songs. There are just many versions of the same song. If you’re any kind of recording artist, then sooner or later you’re going to put out a Christmas album. Their origins might surprise you.

Jingle Bells

Ever wonder why there aren’t any great Thanksgiving Day songs? Maybe it’s because we’re too busy cooking and eating to sing. However, one of the most popular Christmas songs started out as a Thanksgiving Day song. We’re talking about Jingle Bells. Medford, Massachusetts resident James Pierpont put pen to paper in 1850 in an attempt to create a ditty for the Sunday School class he taught. He got his inspiration from Medford’s famous sleigh races. Those would be the “one horse open sleigh” variety of racing. The song was a hit with the Sunday School class but didn’t really take off until it became one of the first pieces of music to be recorded in 1898. By 1941, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra took their version all the way to number 5 on the hit charts and cemented it as a Christmas classic.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

As opposed to the idea that he once saved Christmas, Rudolph got his real start in advertising. He first appeared in a coloring book that was put together by Mad Man, Robert May as a promotional give-away for Montgomery Ward. This was in 1939 and the new Christmas fairy-tale of a caribou kept from playing games was an instant hit. Robert’s brother-in-law songwriter Johnny Marks jumped on the Rudolph bandwagon and wrote the song that Gene Autry first made famous with an initial run of two million copies. That was long before downloads and MP3s. As fate would have it, Rudolph’s original name in the coloring book was Rollo. That got nixed by the store executives. A few more names were bandied about until May’s daughter offered up Rudolf. The rest is Christmas history.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This song is great. Easy to sing along but when it comes to that line, “They’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long ago,” it might give you pause. What do scary ghost stories have to do with Christmas? As it happens, telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve was a longstanding tradition in the Victorian era. This is probably where Charles Dickens was inspired to conjure up his A Christmas Carol classic. Now you know.

Do You Hear What I Hear

When songwriter Noel Regney and his wife first tried to sing Do You Hear What I Hear they got all choked up. That vision of a newborn lamb checking out the world for the first time on Christmas is heartwarming. However, it’s the context that is the kicker. Noel wrote this song in 1962 as a call for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Tall order for a song but when you look at what played out in history, it might have helped.