How Berlin’s “White Christmas” is actually one of the saddest songs ever…

Irving Berlin and His Wife Ellen


The slow, wistful tempo of White Christmas by Irving Berlin was actually written with an entirely different intention to the jolly seasonal song we know and love today. 


It’s actually part of a sad story, and is related to the loss of Irving and Ellen Berlin’s son on Christmas Day, 1928.

So the song was written in response to the tragic death of a child, not as a celebration of Christmas. 

Other Christmas songs that have changed their meaning over time…

  • In Deck the Halls, the line “Don we now our gay apparel” used to be sung as “Fill the mead cup, drain the barrel.”
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town is another song based in a tale of woe — songwriter James “Haven” Gillespie was struggling financially and his brother had just died. During a subway ride, he thought of his mother’s admonishments to his young brother to be good, because Santa was watching. 
  • All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth was inspired by real children — but they didn’t necessarily request teeth. Rather, grade school teacher Donald Yetter Gardner was “charmed” by the lisping Christmas requests from a group of second-graders.
  • Jingle Bells was originally written for Thanksgiving.