The origins of classic holiday songs – that you can learn with Fret Zealot

By this time of the season, Christmas songs are probably stuck in your head. Why not learn them on guitar for your next party or holiday get-together? Here are some classic Christmas songs you can learn with Fret Zealot – and how they came to be. 

Silent Night

A flood damaged an Austrian church’s organ right before Christmas Eve mass in 1818 and prompted the creation of one of the best-known Christmas carols of all time. A young priest named Josef Mohr wrote a poem titled “Stille Nacht” in 1816, welcoming long-awaited peace following the Napoleonic Wars. He revisited the poem two years later, asking a school teacher to arrange the poem in a song with guitar accompaniment. However, guitars weren’t allowed in Catholic churches at the time, so the two waited to perform the song until Mass ended. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the repairman who fixed the organ took the sheet music for the song with him, and choirs began singing the song. It eventually spread to Europe and the United States. 


Jingle Bells 

Jingle Bells is one of the best-known holiday songs around – but the lyrics don’t have any connection to Christmas or the holiday season at all! The song was originally published in 1857 as “The One Horse Open Sleigh”. Its first recording, on an Edison cylinder in 1889, is believed to be the first recorded Christmas song ever.


O Christmas Tree

Known as “O Tannenbaum” in its original German, “O Christmas Tree” is a German Christmas song based on a secular traditional folk song. In the mid-19th century, it became associated with Christmas trees. The song’s lyrics don’t have any references to Christmas – they talk about the fir tree’s evergreen qualities and symbolic faithfulness.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

A 1863 poem called “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written during the American Civil War, is the basis for this carol. Longfellow had lost his wife in a fire two years prior, and his oldest son was severely injured while serving in the Union Army that year. The poem was set to music in 1872.

Jolly Old St. Nicholas

“Jolly Old St. Nicholas” also started off as a mid-19th century poem called “Lilly’s Secret”, published in Dec. 1865 and written by author Emily Clark Huntington Miller. 

Need a perfect holiday gift for someone? 

Check out our FZ Holiday Gift Guide, or try writing a song!


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