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Behind the Lyrics: White Christmas by Irving Berlin

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

Few things herald the start of Christmas like hearing the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby crooning, ‘I’m dreaming of a White Christmas….’

We’ve grown up with the Christmas classic and sing along with it when we hear it on the radio but how many of us know the story behind the song itself?

Here are few things you might not have been aware of:

The song was written by legendary songwriter Irving Berlin from the perspective of a New Yorker stuck in California (a warm climate) for Christmas – just has he had been. It gave rise to a first verse that we no longer hear. Can you imagine the song starting with these lyrics?The sun is shining, the grass is green The orange and palm trees sway There’s never been such a day In Beverly Hills, LA But it’s December the 24th And I’m longing to be up north

Irving Berlin allegedly came up with the melody for “White Christmas” on the set of Top Hat, a 1935 musical starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Berlin pitched the song to director Mark Sandrich for a future Astaire-Rogers film but Sandrich declined.

The song was chosen for the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby but both hand the producer decided to eliminate that first verse as it didn’t make sense in the context of the movie. Berlin won the Oscar for Best Original Song at the 15th Academy Awards ceremony where he became the first presenter to award himself the Oscar after reading his own name from the envelope!

Bing Crosby is best known for his rendition of the holiday song and indeed, ‘White Christmas’ stayed in the no. 1 spot for a massive 11 weeks! But what many people forget is that the song was actually Bing’s 29th chart-topping single.

The song became an instant classic in the US and re-entered the pop charts over and over again, always making it to the top 10 and even reaching #1 again on two separate occasions. Although it’s worth nothing that for some reason it didn’t re-enter the charts in 1952….

  • ‘White Christmas’ is reported to have sold 50 million copies and was the best-selling single of all time until it was taken over by ‘Candle in the Wind’, Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana.

  • Speaking of the UK, ‘White Christmas’ wasn’t actually a hit there until Bing Crosby died in 1977.

  • Remember Kevin McCallister’s infamous aftershave scene in the 1990 Christmas classic Home Alone? He’s lip-syncing to The Drifters’ version of ‘White Christmas’!

  • There have been many covers of the song and Otis Redding’s soulful rendition was featured in the 2003 movie Love Actually.

  • In 1954, Paramount Pictures released the holiday favourite White Christmas to tie in with the success of the song which starred Bing Crosby (of course!), Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney.

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