Nat King Cole recorded this for the first time in 1946 with his group The Nat King Cole Trio. They were the big act on Columbia Records, who had them re-record the song with a string section - the first time the trio used strings on a record. The no-strings version was shelved (later released in 1989 on a Rhino compilation called Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits 1935-1954
), and the strings version issued - it made #3 in the US and hung around the charts even after Christmas. Cole recorded it again in 1953 with Nelson Riddle, who was an ace arranger at Capitol famous for his sessions with Frank Sinatra. Capitol Records released it again in December of 1960 as part of Cole's Christmas album The Magic of Christmas
. Cole recorded another version (this time in stereo) in 1961, and this one was issued as a single in 1962, making #65 in the US. In the UK, the song was released several times, reaching its peak chart position of #69 in 1991.
The song became more popular than ever in the '00s, as radio stations in a variety of formats added it to their holiday playlists every year. In 2006, ASCAP announced that it was the most-played holiday song of the previous five years, and while many artists had recorded it, Cole's version was still by far the most popular. In 2011, ASCAP announced that the song was the third most played holiday song that year, behind "Sleigh Ride
" and "Winter Wonderland