"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:
- Christina Aguilera (from the album My Kind of Christmas; Aguilera's rendition became the highest charting version, peaking at number #18 on the Billboard Hot 100)
- India.Arie and Stevie Wonder (winner of Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 2003)
- Michael Bublé
- Kenny Burrell
- Celtic Woman
- Charlotte Church
- Nat King Cole (made four separate recordings: 2 in 1946, 1953, and 1961)
- Bob Dylan
- Gloria Estefan
- Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
- Aretha Franklin
- Hootie and the Blowfish
- Hampton String Quartet
- The Jackson 5
- Al Jarreau
- Wynonna Judd
- Peggy Lee
- The Lettermen
- Aaron Neville
- New Kids on the Block
- Des O'Connor on a Tesco Christmas advert
- Alexander O'Neal
- Les Paul
- Diane Schuur, nominated for Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female, in 1990.
- Frank Sinatra (including a virtual duet with Nat King Cole and an actual one with Bing Crosby)
- Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
- George Strait
- Twisted Sister
- Dwight Yoakam
- Big Bird and the Swedish Chef (voiced by Caroll Spinney and Jim Henson) in A Muppet Family Christmas
- Daffy Duck on the album Have Yourself a Looney Tunes Christmas
- Jessie, James and Meowth (voiced by Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, and Maddie Blaustein) on the album Pokémon Christmas Bash
- Vanessa Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Olivia Olson) on the album Phineas and Ferb Holiday Favorites
- The Carpenters
- Amy Grant in a music video featured in the 1990 Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade
- Andy Williams in Happy Holidays: The Best of the Andy Williams Christmas Specials
- Pentatonix on their album "PTXmas"
Appearances in Christmas specials
- Jack Frost (1979)
- A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
- Jingle All the Way (1996)
- Prep & Landing (2009) - Nat King Cole's version plays over the opening credits until the fireplace is dusted out.
- The Grinch (2018)
- 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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