Vintage | Celebrity

"White Christmas" Is Actually A Very Sad Song And The Story Behind It Is Heartbreaking

Unlike upbeat Christmas songs like "Jingle Bells'"and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," America's most popular Christmas carol, "White Christmas," is much more mellow.

The melancholic song was first played on radio during the Kraft Music Hall show (that's right, it was sponsored by the food company) on Christmas Day, 1941, featuring Bing Crosby's unmistakable vocals.


By the following year, the song was played by the Armed Forces stationed overseas to remind them of home. When Crosby finally recorded the song for distribution in 1942, he toured military bases to perform for the American troops. However, he noticed that it made them somber.

"I hesitated about doing it because invariably it caused such a nostalgic yearning among the men, that it made them sad," the crooner said in an interview. "Heaven knows, I didn’t come that far to make them sad. For this reason, several times I tried to cut it out of the show, but these guys just hollered for it."

From then on the song sold more than 100 million copies worldwide to become the best-selling Christmas song of all time, and eventually made it into the Guinness World Records as the best-selling single ever, a title it held until Elton John re-released Candle in the Wind in 1997.

Although the song was played during a happier time, it did hit the airwaves just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked, but that's not exactly why the soulful tune gave listeners a sense of deep longing.

The song's sad back story dates all the way back to 1928, and was inspired by a loss that its composer, Irving Berlin, experienced.

Berlin, who also composed other iconic songs, like "God Bless America" and "Cheek to Cheek," was a Russian-born immigrant who identified as Jewish and did not celebrate Christmas.

Encyclopedia Britannica

However, later in life, the holiday became a sad day for him after his three-week-old son died on Christmas day, 1928. In the following years, when the majority of families in America were feasting, reveling and opening gifts, Berlin and his wife started their own tradition.

The grieving couple would visit their son's grave to spend some time with him, according to Jody Rosen, the author of White Christmas: The Story of an American Song. This inspired him to write the famous song, which included lyrics like "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas/Just like the ones I used to know/Where the treetops glisten and children listen/To hear sleigh bells in the snow"

"The kind of deep secret of the song may be that it was Berlin responding in some way to his melancholy about the death of his son," Rosen explained.

Eilat Gordin Levitan

"White Christmas" eventually took on a different life that what Berlin expected. After the musical of the same name proved successful, it got turned into a movie called Holiday Inn, which gave the song its first Academy Award.

In 1954, the song was featured as the title track of Crosby's Christmas musical, White Christmas.


The iconic song as since been covered by many famous artists, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, Ella Fitzgerald, The Beach Boys, Kenny Rogers, Lady Gaga, and Blake Shelton.

Knowing the true story behind the song only makes you appreciate the lyrics and meaning better than ever before.

Did you learn something new about the song? Let us know!

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.