As an American Jew in December, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. After all, Christmas is a very important Christian holiday, while for Jews, Hanukkah isn't even in the top three. Everywhere you look there is a light display, nativity scene, or TV whacko reminding you that the vast majority of your fellow countrymen don't share your religious beliefs. But turn on the radio, and the sappy "Christmas" songs you hear every year are mostly secular. And guess what? Many of those ditties were written by Jews, who were often recent immigrants or their children. So these Jewish songwriters, while trying to integrate into an at-times hostile society, wrote some of the most timeless holiday tunes, focusing not on divinity but on universal experiences like missing loved ones during the holidays and the sweet smell of roasted chestnuts. So the following songs, all written by Jews, are not just celebrations of the most unifying parts of the holiday season — family and togetherness — but a triumph of the American melting pot immigrant experience. Here are the best Christmas songs ever written by Jews.
P.S.: The worst Christmas song ever, "Do They Know It's Christmas," was not written by a Jew. One of the song's writers, Bob Geldof, has a Jewish paternal grandmother, but Geldof told a magazine that he currently practices no religion. Whew.
1.) Irving Berlin - "White Christmas" Fun fact: the Arizona Biltmore hotel claims that Irving Berlin wrote this song by the iconic resort's pool. Of course, there's a La Quinta in Hollywood that disagrees. But come on, the Biltmore's gotta be way more inspirational, right?
2.) Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne - "Let It Snow" Nothing invokes nostalgia and fuzzy feelings like a fireplace. Cahn and Styne hit the nail on the head with this one, an ode to feeling warm, safe and peaceful while cold weather rages outside.
3.) Joan Javits and Philip Springer - "Santa Baby" Eatha Kitts delivers a fantastic performance in this song, about a woman who asks Santa for progressively more outrageous gifts. Dripping with flirtation, Kitts strikes a perfectly playful tone, making this song a delightful romp through time.
4.) Mel Torme - "The Christmas Song" "Though it's been said, many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you," go the lyrics in this timeless tune, written by immeasurably talented Jew, Mel Torme. This song also features some tricky chord progressions, making it one of the more musically interesting of the classic Christmas songs.
5.) Kim Gannon and Walter Kent - "I'll Be Home for Christmas" Is there a more heartbreaking line in a holiday song than "I'll Be Home for Christmas, if only in my dreams?" We doubt it. This song is written from the perspective of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, and the melancholy and sadness of the lyrics stretch across generations.
6.) Jay Livingston and Ray Evans - "Silver Bells"
Apparently, the original title for this song was "Tinkle Bells."
7.) Johnny Marks - "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
Rudolph, like many Jews, has to work on Christmas. Coincidence?
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8.) Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith - "Winter Wonderland"
Bernard, the composer, is the Jewish part of this songwriting duo. This is a wonderful song, and it doesn't get much more secular than this.
Editor's note: This piece originally published on December 14, 2014, and was updated for publication on December 22, 2015.
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