Christmas Specials Wiki
Christmas Specials Wiki

"The Christmas Song", commonly subtitled as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire", is a classic Christmas song written in 1944 by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells. According to the former, it was written during a blistering hot summer. In an effort to "stay cool by thinking cool", the most-performed (according to BMI) Christmas song was born.

"I saw a spiral pad on his piano with four lines written in pencil," Tormé recalled. "They started, 'Chestnuts roasting...Jack Frost nipping...Yuletide carols...Folks dressed up like Eskimos.' Wells didn't think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written. I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics."

The Nat King Cole Trio first recorded the song early in 1946. At Cole's behest — and over the objections of his label, Capitol Records — a second recording was made the same year utilizing a small string section, this version becoming a massive hit on both the pop and R&B charts. He rerecorded it in 1953, using the same arrangement with a full orchestra arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle, and once more in 1961, in a stereophonic version with orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael. The latter recording is generally regarded as definitive and continues to receive considerable radio airplay each holiday season, while Cole's original 1946 recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1974. Tormé eventually recorded his own versions in 1954 and again in 1965 and 1992.


All through the year we've waited
Waited through spring and fall
To hear silver bells ringing
And wintertime bringing
The happiest season of all
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 reindeer 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

The last two stanzas are repeated, and two additional "Merry Christmas" lines are traditionally added to the last verses.

Selective list of notable cover recordings

The song has been covered by numerous artists, including:

Appearances in Christmas specials


  • The title of The Simpsons episode "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" is a parody of the song's title.
  • Bob Rivers parodied the song with his 2000 composition "Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire".
  • Stan Freberg's "Green Chri$tma$" includes several snippets of holiday songs. One segment begins with a sincere-sounding "Chestnuts roasting..." and quickly segués into a mock 1950s radio or TV ad, for a brand of chestnuts, being described as if they were toothpaste or cigarettes.
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