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White Christmas is 80 years old

SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil - The Philippine Star
White Christmas is 80 years old
The first secular holiday song to become a massive seller was composed by the Jewish Russian immigrant Irving Berlin, whose songs make up a big chunk of the Great American Songbook. He could not read music but he also wrote the likes of True Love, Always, Cheek to Cheek, Puttin’ on the Ritz, There’s No Business Like Showbusiness, God Bless America and many others.

White Christmas, the first secular holiday song to become a massive seller, is now 80 years old. And we are still singing it and feeling its lyrics while dreaming of spending the Holidays amidst snow-covered landscapes.

White Christmas was composed by the Jewish Russian immigrant Irving Berlin, whose songs make up a big chunk of the Great American Songbook. He could not read music but he also wrote the likes of True Love, Always, Cheek to Cheek, Puttin’ on the Ritz, There’s No Business Like Showbusiness, God Bless America and many others.

White Christmas was first recorded by the famous actor and influential song artist Bing Crosby in 1942. Among his memorable films were Going My Way, The Country Girl, High Society and White Christmas, the movie. He pioneered the simple ballad style that came to be known as easy listening. Modern pop music owes a lot to Crosby.

Berlin wrote White Christmas as part of the soundtrack of the movie Holiday Inn, which starred Crosby and another would be legend Fred Astaire. It was initially regarded as simply an incidental song what with the movie having a big hit in Be Careful It’s My Heart. But then, it proved irresistible to everybody and later won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1943.

There was also the question of White Christmas not being “holy” like the usual carols of the time. But then, the song expressed something that resonated with families coping with absences because of World War II. Soldiers stationed in the battlefront were longing for the Christmases spent with their loved ones that they remember. That was the main sentiment expressed by White Christmas.

Thanks to White Christmas, we now have I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Blue Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock, The Christmas Song, Feliz Navidad, even All I Want for Christmas is You, alongside Silent Night, O Holy Night, The First Noel, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, O Little Town of Bethlehem and many that have been handed down to us across many generations.

Because of the success of White Christmas, a story about Crosby’s most difficult performance is still often repeated. During WWII, he did an outdoor show in December in France to entertain soldiers. He had a hard time holding back his tears while singing White Christmas in front of 100,000 teary-eyed GIs. The next day, those young men headed off to the Battle of the Bulge. Many of them lost their lives in that fight.

That is how White Christmas has been all these years. A song of longing. Very sad, but also so touching and as it has been proven, so enduring. I do believe that only somebody who has never had to shovel through a driveway lost under two feet of snow to get out of the house, still genuinely believes in a Christmas that is white. But it is a dream and admit it, snow so pure and white looks beautiful and because it comes in wintertime, also so Christmasy.

The Crosby version of White Christmas is estimated to have already sold over 50 million physical copies. If the other versions are included in the count, the figure could reach over a hundred million. Definitely more if we add in the digital platforms. It now ranks No. 9 in the Billboard Holiday Chart surrounded by songs that would never have happened if White Christmas never came along.  Here is the list:

All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey; Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee; Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms; The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on a Open Fire) by Nat King Cole; Holly Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives; Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano; It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams; and Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow by Dean Martin.

CHRISTMAS

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