Music

The Story Behind Nat King Cole's Holiday Classic 'The Christmas Song'

On an unbearably hot July day in 1945 (or 1944, depending on the source), songwriter Robert Wells wrote down a few wintery lines for a mental respite from the weather: "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire / Jack Frost nipping at your nose / Yuletide carols being sung by a choir / And folks dressed up like Eskimos."

That same day,  jazz great Mel Torme stopped by Wells' home and got a glimpse of his friend's poetic pining for the holiday season. Within an hour, the collaborators turned those four lines into "The Christmas Song."

The Nat King Cole Trio recorded it first in 1946. Cole would revisit it a few times over the years while making it as prominent a 20th century Christmas song as Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," Judy Garland's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and Gene Autry's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Crooners from Frank Sinatra to Michael Bublé have made it their own. Torme recorded it a few times and even added a new opening verse ("All through the year we waited, Waited through spring and fall. To hear silver bells ringing. See wintertime bringing, the happiest season of all") during a 1963 appearance on The Judy Garland Show.

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Like most Christmas classics, Torme and Wells' upbeat jingle went on to transcend genres. Rock star Billy Joel recorded it as a duet with Johnny Mathis, while current pop sensations Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello gave it their own spin. There's a version out there for just about anyone's playlist needs.

It's also made its way onto country Christmas albums and EPs by the likes of Alan Jackson, Tenille Townes and Thomas Rhett.

Ultimately, Wells' four-verse search for Christmastime cheer turned into one of the better tales of Santa Claus and winter wonderlands of its time.

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"The Christmas Song" Lyrics

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight
They know that Santa's on his way
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother's child is gonna spy
To see if reindeers really know how to fly

And so I'm offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it's been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you

And so I'm offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it's been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you

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The Story Behind Nat King Cole's Holiday Classic 'The Christmas Song'