With that familiar chill in the air signaling winter’s imminent arrival, it’s time again to indulge our craving for Christmas music by Frank Sinatra, Mariah Carey, and more. But first, let’s take a step back and explore the history of Christmas music with the following facts.
- From medieval Christmas celebrations onwards, the holiday has included Christian, pagan, and secular elements. For example, American Christmas songs range from religious hymns and carols to secular songs about Santa Claus and general goodwill.
- During the 17th and 18th centuries, American colonists celebrated Christmas with mumming practices, including costumes, pranks, dancing, and musical instruments.
- Boston tanner and composer William Billings wrote sacred Christmas music in the 18th century.
- American Christmas music developed from various immigrant traditions, gaining popularity in the United States during the 19th century.
- Charles Dickens contributed to the popularity of Christmas traditions with his successful novels The Pickwick Papers (1836-7) and A Christmas Carol (1843). Celebrations during this period included door-to-door Christmas caroling, Christmas cards, and “living nativity” scenes.
- Several classic Christmas carols were produced in the 19th century, including “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” (1849), “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (1863), and “Away in a Manager” (1885).
- The popularity of Christmas music exploded with radio, television, and film in the 20th century. Hollywood has played an important role in the popularity of Christmas music with films like Holiday Inn (1942), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), and A Christmas Story (1983). (We couldn’t resist posting this classic scene below.)
Check out our list of classic Christmas tunes below:
Headline image credit: Lighted Santa Reindeer, 2012. Photo by Anthony92931. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.