Being asked to make a list of my top 5 Christmas classic carols of all time was indeed a difficult task. There are a multitude to choose from, but I decided to go with the most impactful. You’ll know whether or not a Christmas Carol has made an impact on the world if it remains timeless!
- Fairytale of New York
The history of Fairytale of New York is very interesting and all of us in Ireland can truly claim it as an Irish classic! The inspiration for Fairytale of New York came when Jem Finer was reading a novel by Irish writer P.J. Dunleavy titled “A Fairy Tale of New York”, the story of a bereaved Irish Americans return home from Manhattan. The great singer song writer Shane McGowan and Jim Finer wrote the lyrics and the rest is history! This song is one of the most played Christmas songs of the 21st Century in the UK and Ireland and Shane McGowan reportedly earns over half a million per year in royalties!
- Silent Night
Silent Night was written by a priest named Father Joseph Mohr and was first performed in Salzburg, Austria in December 1816, 205 years ago. It was originally sung in German, then 45 years later in 1861 it was translated to English. Almost 160 years later and we are still singing this beautiful song! One of the most notable versions of this song was Bing Crosby’s recording from 1935, which sold over 30 million copies! Silent night is part of the magic of Christmas, it has spread the message of peace and love across the world lifting the hearts of people everywhere.
- White Christmas
Irving Berlin, during his career, wrote over 1500 songs! On Christmas day in 1928 his three week old son died, and every Christmas day he and his wife visited their baby’s grave. Interestingly enough, Irving did not celebrate Christmas as he was Jewish, yet White Christmas is the most popular Christmas song of all time, according to the Guinness Book of Records, and has amassed over £25 million! The first time White Christmas was performed in public was by Bing Crosby on Christmas Day 1941 and went on to win an academy award in the 1942 film ‘Holiday Inn’.
- Oh Holy Night
The following happened in 1816 in a little town near Avignon in the South of France where a tragic accident happened! Two young eight year old boys were playing with a gun when it went off and the young Placide Cappeau lost his hand in the accident. However, he went on to obtain a degree in Paris, and his main hobby was writing verse. In 1847 the local parish priest asked Placide to write a poem for Christmas. Using the gospel of Saint Luke as his inspiration he imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. After reading the poem a number of times he felt quite emotional. The great French composer Adolphe Adam was asked to put music to the poem and, as they say, the rest is history. So, at midnight on Christmas Eve 1847 ‘Oh Holy Night’ was performed for the first time, and proved to be a huge success all over France. The carol truly captured the spirit of Christmas and was actually written on a train journey from Avignon to Paris by Placide Cappeau.
- When a child is born
My final Christmas offering is important to me. In 1976 Johnny Mathis had a huge hit with ‘When a Child is Born’, his only number one hit in the UK. In January 1977 I sang this song in the New Ross Pantomime Society’s production of ‘Babes in the Woods’. Each year since then I have sung it in London, the South Pole, and many other places. Last year Jack Stacey and I recorded ‘When a Child is Born’ in the Parish church for a promotion of New Ross, and for the last number of years at Christmas day mass in Rosbercon with the choir. ‘When a Child is Born’ is ranked among the most evocative and best loved Christmas songs ever and sums up for millions of people all over the world the very spirit of Christmas.
“For a spell or two, no one seems forlorn. This comes to pass, when a child is born.”