The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
year radio, department store speakers and television greet the
holiday season with the familiar songs and carols to get us in the
spirit. But isn’t a song the same as a carol? Not quite. The
original definition of a carol is a “round dance;” carols were
meant to be danced. The secondary meaning involves the religious joy
involved in a carol. Anything else is just a secular holiday song.
Even though several carols are played in various movies, we’re just
going to investigate popular Christmas songs associated with movies
through time and explore a little of their background.
and its loose remake, White
Written by Irving Berlin, it’s the oldest song in my list, and one
of the most famous, returns every year to the television screen. Even
though the song premiered a year before on “The Kraft Music Hall”
radio show, it is more closely associated with Bing Crosby’s
unforgettable crooning in Holiday
for which it won the Best Original Song Oscar in 1943.
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (1944):
It was made famous by the movie Meet
Me in Saint Louis (1944),
directed by Vincent Minnelli. It stars Judy Garland as Esther Smith
and, as her three sisters, Margaret O’Brien (Tootie), Lucille
Bremer (Rose) and Joan Carroll (Agnes). Set in the year before the
1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the girls learn that their father is
being transferred to New York and the family has to go with him. But
they’re eagerly anticipating the fair. The scene is Christmas Eve
and Esther is trying to cheer up her sister Tootie. However, the
original lyrics are not that cheerful, with phrases as “hang a
shining star upon the highest bough,” and “Let your heart be
light. Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.” The line
“Until then we’ll have to muddle through, somehow,” gave the
song a sad melancholy tone to fit the movie scene, and “It may be
your last. Next year we may all be living in the past” were an
intrinsic part of the story.
1957, Frank Sinatra had lyricist Hugh Martin change the words to the
ones we know now.
the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1949):
This familiar holiday tune, based on a popular children’s book by
Bob May, was recorded by Gene Autry, who made it into a huge hit. The
song first made its film appearance in a Jam Handy Organization
cartoon, which was also the last from the Fleischer Studios. The most
popular version of the book – and song – is the 1964 stop-motion
animated television special. Since Autry introduced the song in 1949,
it has become the top-selling song of all time for the season and one
of the most familiar to children.
(1950): This song, written by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve
Nelson, is associated most with the television special of same name
and sung by Jimmy Durante in 1969. Gene Autry introduced the
song on record back in 1950. UPA Studios animated the story of the
song explaining how a snowman suddenly became alive by virtue of a
magic stovepipe hat as a cartoon in 1954, but the most popular
adaptation of the song is the 1969 animated television special from
Originally, the title was “Tinkle Bells” until the double meaning
of tinkle was discovered. Whoops! Written by Jay Livingston and Ray
Evans, it was sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the movie The
Lemon Drop Kid (1951),
directed by Sidney Lanfield and Frank Tashlin. Rumor has it that it
was inspired by all the sidewalk Santas and Salvation Army workers on
the streets at Christmastime.
Also written by Irving Berlin, it was composed before being featured
with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Originally called “Free,” it
had nothing to do with snow. But in the movie it’s a triumphant
moment for the winter resort inn at a crucial instance.
This sensual song, written by Joan Javits (niece of Jacob Javits) and
Phil Springer, was a big hit for Eartha Kitt and has been heard in
Daisy (1989), Elf
Beach Club (2005).
Miss Piggy also performed it in It’s
a Very Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)
is Here” (1965):
From the animated television special A
Charlie Brown Christmas,
it’s a haunting modern song, written by Lee Mendelson and Vince
Guaraldi, in minor key, sung by the cast and reprised on piano
several times in the film. The melancholy tone of the song reflects
Charlie Brown’s mood when he sees everyone enjoying the season
Who Foraze, Dah Who Doraze”): from the television special How
the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966),
directed by Chuck Jones. With lyrics by Dr. Seuss and music by Albert
Hague, it was sung by Cindy Lou Who and all of Whoville while they
linked hands around the town’s Christmas tree. Boris Karloff
narrated the film and supplied the voice of the Grinch. Hague was
born to a Jewish family in Berlin but was raised as a Lutheran to
avoid Nazi persecution. He also wrote the music for “You’re
a Mean One Mr. Grinch”, “Young
and Foolish” and
several songs for the TV series Fame.
the song that cues the change in the Grinch’s heart.
Need a Little Christmas”:
from Mame (1974,
originally entitled My
music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. The story is based on the 1955
Novel “Auntie Mame” by Patrick Dennis and is a musical remake of
the 1958 film of the same name starring Rosalind
Russell. Mame starred
Lucille Ball in the title role, with Beatrice Arthur as her best
friend Vera Charles. Mame loses her fortune in the 1929 stock market
crash and uses her unsinkable style to bolster up the spirits of
those around her by celebrating Christmas early (only one week past
Thanksgiving Day). Even though the bouncy beat of the song suggests
dancing, it is not considered a carol. The up-tempo is meant to
brighten a rather dark period in American history.
in My Memory”: Written
by John Williams with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse for the soundtrack
of Home Alone
1990 and Home
Alone 2- Lost in New York (1992),
directed by Chris Columbus. A children’s chorus sets the
sentimental mood for a child accidentally left home (and in the Plaza
Hotel) on Christmas Eve by his way too distracted parents and dozens
of relatives. The lyrics reflect his situation and his longing.
Written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri and sung by Josh Groban,
it won a Grammy in 2006 for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture,
Television or Other Visual Media. The riotous train trip to the North
Pole (including a scary scene where the entire train is off the
tracks and skidding on ice) is instrumental in helping a child
believe in Santa and all things miraculous as the lyrics say: Believe
in what you feel inside, And give your dreams the wings to fly. You
have everything you need. If you just believe.
Nightmare Before Christmas (1993,
written and sung by Danny Elfman) as Jack Skelington is suddenly
transported from the land of Halloween to Christmastown. He’s agog
at all the strange sights and colors and investigates every nook and
cranny. His amazement shows in the lyric:
are children throwing snowballs here instead of throwing heads,
busy building toys and absolutely no one's dead
later takes over the job of Santa Claus and mixes the chaos of
Halloween into the peace and calm of Christmas.
Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (1963):
This lively swing waltz was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle
and recorded by Andy Williams that same year. Though it’s a waltz,
it’s still not a carol. It was featured in the Hallmark Hall of
Fame television movie of the same name starring Henry Winkler and
Brook Burns in 2008.
for me it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Wars stop
temporarily for it, people think more of others than themselves and
some of the most familiar and beloved songs are sung in every venue.
I know there are more movies with holiday songs and even more
featuring carols with new melodies being written every year. My
intent here is to start the spark of memory. It’s now your
assignment to supply your own list.