Download This: “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon

John Lennon wrote this song as a protest of the Vietnam War but it has become a standard on the radio during the Christmas season. Released by Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band as a single in 1971, Happy Xmas (War Is Over) was a hit in the UK and US. The lyric “War is over if want it” is based on a 1969 billboard campaign that read: “WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko.”

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We’re highlighting a different Christmas song every day in December until Christmas. From unique renditions of the classics to the new hits, we promise only the best recommendations. Check back daily for our picks!

Download This: “It’s Christmas Time All Over the World” by Sammy Davis Jr.

You may not hear this song much on the radio but it’s a great number to add to your holiday iPod playlist. It’s Christmas Time All Over the World is a previously unreleased track sung by Sammy Davis Jr. and written by composer Hugh Martin (who also wrote Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas). It can be found on Christmas with the Rat Pack, a 2002 album compiling Christmas songs by Davis, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. If you like the Rat Pack, you’ll enjoy this album and Davis’ catchy upbeat song will have you tapping your toe and teaching you how to say “Merry Christmas” in eight languages: Norwegian, Portuguese, Armenian, Spanish, Croatian, German, Greek and Japanese.

Download This swingin’ holiday tune on iTunes.

We’re highlighting a different Christmas song every day in December until Christmas. From unique renditions of the classics to the new hits, we promise only the best recommendations. Check back daily for our picks!

Lighten Up, It’s St. Lucy’s Day!

Have you had your coffee and danish delivered by a young girl wearing a wreath with candles on her head yet? If so, we bid you a Happy St. Lucy’s Day!

St. Lucy’s Day is a tradition held during the Christmas season in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. Like most holiday traditions and legends, the story of St. Lucy is deeply symbolic; most notably, the theme of “light.” In fact, her name roughly translates to “light” in Latin.

Like a lot of the early Christian martyrs, not much is known about Lucy except that she was born during the late third century in Italy and she died for her faith. She is one of the early Christian martyrs and was venerated very early in the Church. By the Middle Ages, however, her legend evolved and grew.St. Lucy

According to legend, Lucy was betrothed to a pagan but rejected him in order to devote herself to Christ. She pledged to remain a virgin and gave away her dowry to a poor Christian family. So, her rejected fiance outed her as a Christian. First, she was condemned to be a prostitute, but when guards tried to take her there, miraculously they physically couldn’t move her. So, they piled wood around her to burn her but she was untouched by the flames. Finally, she was fatally stabbed in the throat.

Lucy is often portrayed holding her eyes in a dish or a cup. There are two popular accounts of Lucy having her eyes gouged. In one story, her persecutors gouged out her eyes before she was martyred. In another story, Lucy, in order to retain her virginity, gouged out her own eyes and sent them to her betrothed, who had admired her eyes. That’s why she is the patron saint of the blind.

Interestingly, the legend of St. Lucy is extremely popular in Scandinavia thanks to Vikings-turned-Christians, who brought her story to their native land. St. Lucy’s December 13 feast day coincides with the celebration of the winter solstice and, since there is such little daylight at that time, Lucy’s association with “light” is a great reason to celebrate.

The Martyrdom of St. Lucy

Today, St. Lucy’s Day is a popular Christmastime holiday that is also celebrated in Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Italy, and several eastern European nations.

St. Lucy Doll

A St. Lucy Doll

On this day, either the oldest or youngest girl in the home wakes up early and makes breakfast for her family, including pastries known as Lucy buns (recipes vary). She dresses in a white gown with a red sash and a wreath with candles on her head. This tradition celebrates the legend that Lucy put candles on her head in order to carry food in both hands, which she brought to Christians hiding in the dark underground catacombs, although some say the candles symbolize that Lucy was condemned to be burned. Later in the day, towns will hold a public procession. In some countries, girls in white gowns carry single candles. In Switzerland, St. Lucy accompanies Father Christmas through the streets and gives out candy.

At a time when daylight is precious and winter can seem dark and depressing, St. Lucy’s Day is a particularly joyous occasion. Just don’t light your hair on fire in the revelry.

Download This: “Twelve Days of Christmas” by John Denver and the Muppets

Who doesn’t love the Muppets? They’ve entertained kids and adults alike for over five decades. This song was the opening performance on the 1979 Christmas special John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.

Download this Muppet classic on iTunes. Ba-dum-bum-bum!

We’re highlighting a different Christmas song every day in December until Christmas. From unique renditions of the classics to the new hits, we promise only the best recommendations. Check back daily for our picks!

Frosty Owes His Success to Rudolph

Gene Autry

We have a little red-nosed reindeer to thank for everyone’s favorite talking snowman, Frosty. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, performed by Gene Autry, was a hit on the airwaves in 1949. Seeing the success of a holiday tune, songwriters Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson (who also wrote the song Peter Cottontail) wrote their own catchy Christmastime song, which focused on a fictional snowman who comes to life. Thus, Frosty the Snowman was born. They sent it to Autry who, basking in the success of Rudolph, agreed to sing another holiday song. Frosty the Snowman peaked on the pop charts at No. 7 in 1950 and it still enjoys radio play during the holidays today.

Rankin/Bass, who was responsible for the iconic stop-motion TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, produced the animated television special Frosty the Snowman in 1969, which featured the voices of singer/comedian Jimmy Durante as the narrator and stand-up comedian Jackie Vernon as Frosty. Like Rudolph, Frosty is now a staple TV special every holiday season.

frosty-march

In 2008 and 2009, CBS took a more adult approach to advertise the airing of the TV special, as well as the 1992 sequel Frosty Returns, by creating two videos called Frosty the Inappropriate Snowman for its Web site. The videos mash up scenes from both Frosty cartoons with dialogue from CBS’ comedy series How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men. (Watch the videos here and here).

Although there is no specific mention of “Christmas” in the original song, Frosty the Snowman has become a holiday classic that further set its place in the holiday season with a Rankin/Bass TV special.

Thanks, Rudolph!

Frosty the Snowman airs at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Download This: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by Vince Guaraldi Trio

We recommend this entire album, featuring the timeless jazz tunes found on the classic holiday TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Just about everyone recognizes Vince Guaraldi Trio’s signature melodies from the special. Surprisingly, TV execs thought A Charlie Brown Christmas would flop for several reasons, including the jazz score (For more about this Christmas special, check out our blog entry). Thankfully, creators Charles Schulz and Chuck Jones believed in the musical selection and now the music is as memorable as the show.

Download this album in its entirety (trust us, it’s worth it!) on iTunes.

We’re highlighting a different Christmas song every day in December until Christmas. From unique renditions of the classics to the new hits, we promise only the best recommendations. Check back daily for our picks!

Download This: “Father Christmas” by The Kinks

In this crappy economy, the 1977 single “Father Christmas” by The Kinks definitely resonates. While we don’t encourage teens to go rob and beat up Santa at the mall, the song reminds those of us who are fortunate to remember “the kids who got nothin.” Now go out and get something nice for the Toys for Tots basket!

Download this punk rock holiday song on iTunes.

We’re highlighting a different Christmas song every day in December until Christmas. From unique renditions of the classics to the new hits, we promise only the best recommendations. Check back daily for our picks!

Download This: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (sometimes seen as Comin’) was written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, and was first sung on Eddie Cantor’s radio show in November 1934. It became an instant hit.

This version by Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band was recorded at their concert on December 12, 1975 at C. W. Post College on Long Island, NY, and was released in 1985 as a B-side on the My Hometown single.

Download the Boss’ version of this holiday classic on iTunes.

We’re highlighting a different Christmas song every day in December until Christmas. From unique renditions of the classics to the new hits, we promise only the best recommendations. Check back daily for our picks!

Everyone’s Favorite Holiday Misfit

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of his employment with Montgomery Ward department stores. As a way to save money, the retailer had decided to create and distribute its own coloring books and assigned the task to May, who wrote a poem about a reindeer who was ostracised for his glowing red nose but saves Christmas by leading Santa’s sleigh through a thick fog on Christmas Eve.

Robert May

Robert May with Rudolph

May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks adapted May’s story into a song, and it was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949. Autry’s single sold over 2 million copies in its first year, and over 8 million to date. It still ranks as one of the best-selling singles of all time.

A cartoon of Rudolph was produced by legendary animator Max Fleischer in 1947, and re-released with Mark’s song in it. The cartoon stayed more faithful to May’s story than the television version most fans are familiar with. That version, produced by Rankin/Bass, a production company synonymous today with holiday Christmas specials, turned the song into a stop-motion animated TV special, which first aired on Dec. 6, 1964 on NBC.

Marks did not want to do the special at first because he feared the song would become overexposed, according to Arthur Rankin. However, he eventually agreed and even wrote a few other songs on the feature, including A Holly Jolly Christmas, which became a huge hit for singer and narrator Burl Ives.

The story is expanded from the original poem to add a whole new cast of characters, including Hermey the dentist-wannabe elf, prospector Yukon Cornelius, Rudolph’s girlfriend Clarice, the Abominable Snowmonster, a group of misfit toys and narrator Sam the Snowman. In addition, Santa’s sleigh team member Donner is Rudolph’s father. Radio actress Billie Mae Richards, the voice of Rudolph, just passed away in September at the age of 88.

The soundtrack was recorded in Toronto but the actual animations were filmed in Japan. The characters are quite small; Santa is about 8 inches tall and the young version of Rudolph portrayed in the first half of the film is only 4 inches tall. The grown-up Rudolph fits in the palm of your hand and his nose really glows. Because they were constantly posed, the fragile characters broke quickly, so there were several copies of each puppet.

Rudolph and Santa

Restored production models of Rudolph and Santa

The version played on TV today is slightly different from the special that had been broadcast for decades. In 1998, after a significant restoration project, Rudolph was re-mastered and re-released to include missing scenes and songs, including We Are Santa’s Elves and We’re a Couple of Misfits, that were on the original 1964 special.

Copies of both Santa and Rudolph were found several years ago in storage in the attic of a former Rankin/Bass employee. Because they were in good shape, they were repaired and are now on view at trade shows and conventions.

Today, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the longest running, highest rated television special of all time.

You can watch the original Max Fleischer cartoon right here, and tune in on CBS tonight at 8 p.m. for the classic Rankin/Bass special.

Download This: “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey

Just about every teenage girl in 1994 owned and/or adored Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas album. The album peaked at number 3 on Billboard 200 and has sold over 12 million copies worldwide, reaching a 5x platinum status.

The upbeat All I Want for Christmas Is You, written by Carey and Walter Afanasieff, was the album’s lead single. It was and still is a huge hit. In fact, it is the only holiday song and ringtone to reach multi-platinum status in the U.S.

Download this ’90s holiday hit on iTunes.

We’re highlighting a different Christmas song every day in December until Christmas. From unique renditions of the classics to the new hits, we promise only the best recommendations. Check back daily for our picks!