White Christmas

Album: Christmas Carols (1942)
Charted: 5 1
Play Video


  • This 8-line song that paints a picture of holiday nostalgia was written by Irving Berlin for the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, where Bing Crosby sings it from the perspective of a New Yorker stranded in sunny California during Christmas. In the film, the song begins with this verse:

    The sun is shining, the grass is green
    The orange and palm trees sway
    There's never been such a day
    In Beverly Hills, LA
    But it's December the 24th
    And I'm longing to be up north

    Crosby recorded a version of the song for release as a single with the Kim Darby Singers and the John Scott Trotter Orchestra on May 29, 1942 - a few months before the movie hit theaters. At the advice of Bing's record producer Jack Kapp, this original first verse was excised as it made no sense outside of the context of the film. Now starting with the familiar, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas," the song became a huge hit, going to #1 on the Billboard chart (measuring sales) in October, and staying in the top spot for 11 weeks, taking it through the first two weeks of 1943.

    Irving Berlin wrote another holiday song that Crosby also sang in the film: "Let's Start the New Year Right." This was released as the B-side of the "White Christmas" single.
  • The song enjoyed a sales resurgence every Christmas after it was first released in 1942. It went to #1 that year in America, and again reached the top spot in 1945 and 1947. The song appeared on various Billboard charts every year until 1963 when it finally dropped off the Hot 100.

    A perennial seller for an entire generation, the song is by far the biggest-selling Christmas song of all time, and most likely the biggest-selling single of all time. Sales figures from the 1940s and 1950s are rough estimates, especially the worldwide numbers, so there's no way to know for sure, but Guinness World Records estimates "White Christmas" at #1 with 50 million sold (they picked a nice round number), far ahead of the estimated 33 million for Elton John's 1997 tribute to Princess Diana, "Candle In The Wind '97," at 33 million. The only other song sometimes mentioned in this discussion is Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock."
  • Bing re-recorded the song on March 19, 1947, again with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra because the original masters had been worn out from all the pressings. This is this version that is most often heard today.
  • The original Drifters with Clyde McPhatter as their lead vocalist recorded their doo-wop version in November 1953. It hit #2 on the R&B charts in 1954, and made the Pop charts in 1955. The deep bass-tenor voice you hear on this version was Bill Pinkney, who was an early member of the group.

    The Drifters version made the Hot 100 (the chart was introduced in 1958) twice alongside Crosby's version: in 1960 (Bing #26, Drifters #96) and in 1962 (Bing #38, Drifters, #88). >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jeff - Boston, MA
  • By 1954, this song was a holiday favorite, and that year Paramount Pictures released a movie called White Christmas to tie in with it. Crosby starred in the film along with Danny Kaye, and of course performed his famous song.
  • "White Christmas" won the Academy Award for Best Song of 1942, beating out nine other songs. Irving Berlin presented himself with the Oscar at the ceremony. "I'm glad to present the award," he joked. "I've known him for a long time."

    Berlin is the only Oscar presenter to ever read his own name as the winner.
  • According to Mark Steyn's A Song for the Season, Berlin began writing this on January 8, 1942. The songwriter was in a hurry that Monday morning and shouted at his musical secretary, Helmy Kresa: "Grab your pen and take down this song. It's the best song I ever wrote. Hell, it's the best song anybody ever wrote."

    Steyn notes that "White Christmas" owes much of its enduring popularity to World War II, specifically the attack on Pearl Harbor that led to US involvement, because the song adopted a significance beyond the reaches of Hollywood: "Had America entered the war in Europe in 1939, 'White Christmas' might have been just a hit-record from a so-so movie. Instead, 1942 was the American serviceman's first Christmas away, in the Pacific, under glorious sunny skies that only made home seem even more distant."
  • Christmas was a painful time for Irving Berlin and his second wife, Ellin Mackay, who found their infant son dead in his bassinet early Christmas morning in 1928. Although he was Jewish, Berlin grew up celebrating the holiday by sneaking off to his neighbor's house to enjoy the festivities. His daughter, Mary Ellin, told Mark Steyn: "My father believed in the secular American Christmas. There's a lot of controversy about that, about whether there should be, apart from the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, a general festive celebration that anyone can join in with."
  • Elvis Presley recorded this song in 1957 along with other holiday standards for his Elvis' Christmas Album. Most songwriters dream of having Elvis record their songs, but Irving Berlin spoke out against the King's cover, calling it a "profane parody of his cherished yuletide standard" and claiming that his staff was ordered to call radio stations and ask them not to play it. There's a chance that Berlin was simply drumming up publicity for his song, as there was nothing all that offensive about the Elvis version, and The Drifters had already done an R&B version.

    Elvis doing Christmas songs did rub some people the wrong way, but much of the controversy was manufactured, helping Elvis' Christmas Album stay at #1 for an amazing five weeks in late 1957 and early 1958. The best publicity stunt may have been the one pulled off by the Portland, Oregon radio station KEX, which refused to play the song and sparked a debate among listeners as to the merits of Presley's Christmas output. Their disc jockey Al Priddy played the song on a Sunday, and was "fired" the next day, making national news - Priddy even played the phone call of his firing on the air before he left. The station continued to play up the incident, and brought Priddy back two weeks later, claiming that overwhelming listener support made them decide to bring him back.
  • This song has the distinction of marking the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War. On April 29, 1975, as the North Vietnamese surrounded Saigon, an evacuation plan was put into effect to bring the remaining Americans to safety. Their cue to evacuate was an announcement on the American Radio Service stating the temperature in Saigon was "105 degrees and rising," followed by the playing of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." That was the signal for the mad dash to 14 evacuation points where helicopters were waiting.

    The song was chosen because it stood out - there was no chance of it getting played in April unless something was up. Also, everyone knew it.
  • Phil Spector put this as the first track on his 1963 Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, which was unfortunately released on November 22, 1963 - the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Spector had Darlene Love sing this one, and he used many of his favorite Los Angeles session musicians on the album, including a then unknown Cher. The sessions were notoriously difficult, with Cher explaining, "Philip was just insane about the Christmas album. We just never left the studio. I mean, you went home to take a shower, you came back. We didn't go home for six weeks, we just were there. I had just turned 17, and I'm thinking, How are all these old people doing this? I am dying, I can hardly drag myself outta bed. How are these old guys doing it?"
  • Many popular artists have recorded this song, but since 1963, only Michael Bolton has charted with the song in the US. He make #73 with his 1992 rendition.
  • Andy Williams released this song on his very first Christmas album (there were eight total), The Andy Williams Christmas Album in 1963, which also debuted his own enduring holiday classic "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." His version of "White Christmas" also became the #1 selling Christmas single that year.
  • Irving Berlin came up with the melody for "White Christmas" on the set of Top Hat, a 1935 musical starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Berlin pitched the song to director Mark Sandrich for a future Astaire-Rogers film but Sandrich declined. But Astaire loved the song, which eventually went to his Holiday Inn costar Bing Crosby. (Incidentally, Sandrich also directed Holiday Inn.)
  • Lady Gaga recorded a jazzy version for her 2011 A Very Gaga Holiday EP. Her take includes an original verse in which she jokes, "OK, I suppose it's not very white outside yet."
  • This song has been done in a number of vocal styles, but instrumentally, there's not much wiggle room. Jim Brickman, the piano composer who performs a wide variety of Christmas songs, explains: "'White Christmas' is a really hard one to do because there's so much movement in the chords. When there's that many chord changes in a short amount of time, there's not a lot of opportunity to take that and do anything else with it than what it is already."
  • For the Holiday Inn film in which this song first appeared, Irving Berlin had to write a song for each holiday for the entertainers to perform at the Holiday Inn. The Valentine's Day tune "Be Careful, It's My Heart," sung by Bing and Marjorie Reynolds, was expected to be the big hit, not "White Christmas." While it didn't reach the heights of "White Christmas," it was a modest hit for Frank Sinatra, who took it to #13 in 1942.

    The Holiday Inn hotel chain took its name from the movie - it wasn't founded until a decade later. Sam Phillips of Sun Records became an early investor in the chain long after selling Elvis Presley's contract to RCA in 1954.
  • The Drifters' version was featured on the 1990 Home Alone soundtrack. In the movie, Kevin lip-synchs along with the tune before putting on his dad's aftershave.
  • Otis Redding recorded a soulful rendition, backed by Booker T. and the MG's, that was released in 1968, a year after his death. This version was featured in the 2003 movie Love Actually.

Comments: 28

  • Deafasheck from North CarolinaI read were Bing Crosby literally hated this song..
  • AnonymousWhite Christmas was not written by Irving Berlin. He stole that song from a woman that trusted him to tell her if the song was any good. Her name was Gerda Christina Wales. I remember when it was released on radio and her crying saying that was her song and how could he do that to her. I could never prove that but I know it was the truth.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyHere's Some Real Obscure Trivia:
    On December 15, 1957, "How Lovely Is Christmas "* by Bing Crosby entered Billboard's Top 100 chart for a one week stay at position #97, it was tied at that position with two other records, "Love Letters In The Sand" by Pat Boone, it would peak at #1 for seven weeks, and "Loving You" by Elvis Presley, it was the B-side of "Teddy Bear", which also peaked at #1 for seven weeks...
    * The week that "How Lovely Is Christmas" was on the Top 100 chart, Bing Crosby had four other songs on the Top 100; "White Christmas" {at #41}, "Silent Night" {at #54}, "Silver Bells" {at #78}, and "Around The World" {at #92}...
  • James from Diamond Bar, CaWhite Christmas has already topped Candle In The Wind , in fact it was always Number 1 - Check the Guinness Book Of World Records - Bing Crosby's version is still selling digital downloads as well , year in and year out . Of course - White Christmas - The Number One Song Of All Times- Was There Ever Any Doubt? No
  • Jay from Centereach, Long Island, NyIf anyone is looking for a very different take on this song, look up "drifters white Christmas" on youtube. The Drifters changed the rhythm, added background doo-whops and gave White Christmas a completely different sound. I read once that Irving Berlin loved their version.
  • Len from Greenville, ScI believe 'White Christmas' by Bing Crosby has indeed passed Candle In The Wind now, because 'White Christmas ' has continued to sell, even til this day, while Candle In The Wind sold for only a few weeks. Who can verify this?
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 31st, 1942 "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby reached No.1 and stayed in the top spot for eleven consecutive weeks!!!
  • Robin from New York, NyMany people actually consider "White Christmas" the best selling song of all time. It is listed as such in the Guinness Book of World Records. One problem is that sales records were not really kept in the '40s when the song was first released. The scanning system had not been developed yet. In those days the popularity of a song was judged by its sales of sheet music, not records. "White Christmas," also, has sold many copies in compilation albums in addition to sales of the single. Considering all these things, it is probably more popular than Elton John's tribute.
  • Sara from Silver Spring, MdThe song was in fact sung by Bing Crosby and Martha Mears in the film (Mears dubbed for Marilyn Reynolds)
  • Bing from Holiday Inn, CtTeresa: re Spector's Wall of Sound. The very first recorded song featuring it was that all-time classic, Tina Turner's "River Deep Mountain High" (1966), and I went straight to the record store. What an American treasure she is. "Remember where you are - this is Thunderdome. Death is listening, and will take the first man who screams." -- Auntie Entity. I'm gonna marry her if she ever starts answering my letters. Well, her or Emmylou Harris. "Do I love you my oh my..."
  • Bing from Holiday Inn, CtMusicMama: The armed forces in WWII were segregated by skin color. I'm just saying. Had they not been, not all of them would've been making that "joke," now would they have been, hm?
  • Bing from Holiday Inn, CtJust a couple of historical notes: Elton John did originally write "Candle in the Wind" with Bernie Taupin as an ode to Marilyn Monroe, thus "Goodbye Norma Jean" (Baker). One of their best songs. "It seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to turn to when the rains set in. And I would have liked to've known you, but I was just a kid. Your candle burned out long before your legend ever did." Bernie Taupin wrote some truly great lyrics. "Goodbye England's Rose" was the song they wrote (lyrics modified from Candle), to the same tune, which Sir Elton sang at Princess Diana's funeral, because they were very close long-time friends.
  • Bing from Holiday Inn, Ct"The choir for the song White Christmas wore black face." -- Mark from Seattle *** With all due respect, you're completely mistaken. The minstrel number did not feature the song "White Christmas, and was not done in black-face. See http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=uiws88x-fX0. The finale of "White Christmas" did not involve a chorus. See also http://www.moviehabit.com/reviews/whi_lj04.shtml for a good review with commentary on the minstrel number. By the way, the term "minstrel show" was sorely miscast in popular understanding by the black-face minstrel shows. "Minstrel" originally meant "a medieval entertainer who traveled from place to place, especially to sing and recite poetry; a lyric poet; a musician." Pity.
  • Steve Dotstar from Los Angeles, Caresponses to comments:
    Heather...I don't understand you're thinking
    on White Xmas..What is your concept of a great song?
    Music Mama-Ny Lol, pretty funny!
    Charles of Bronxville-I agree that a lot of film
    versions are better than the commercially re-cut ones.
    this was true with some of Elvis' renditions, and also
    Henry Mancini....
    teresa.."the GREAt Wall of Sound? and not the Great Wall
    of China?(teasing)lol
    Bobbie-very humrous post, but you have a valid point!

  • Steve Dotstar from Los Angeles, Cawhat is America, without this song,I tell ya....
  • Heather from Los Angeles, CaI think both "Candle in the Wind" and "White Christmas" are absolutely yecchy tunes.
  • Musicmama from New York, NyA great-uncle of mine who was in North Africa during WWII told me that some of his fellow-soldiers had their own version of this song: I'm Dreaming of a White Mistress.
  • Charles from Bronxville, NyIf you listen to the version in the film "Holiday Inn" you'll hear that it's slightly different from the released version recorded on March 19th of 1947. The film version is phrased a little differently and Bing's inflections are also somewhat more moving. IMHO the version in the film is the better of the two.
  • Mark from Lancaster, OhIs that Bing himself doing the whistling?
  • Mark from Seattle, WaThink about the fact that at the time White Christmas was in production, young black man where dying for this country and freedom.. The choir for the song White Christmas wore black face. When I hear this song, I think of hypocrisy.
    Mark Stevens, a very white guy
  • Mark from Lancaster, OhThe name of the famous motel chain came from the title of the movie, "Holiday Inn." And my understanding is that "White Christmas" was not only the most popular Christmas song of all time, but was in fact the most popular song of all time, period. I think it's since been displaced, but still.
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoCristin, Candle In The Wind WAS originally written about Marilyn Monroe, but when Pincess Di died, John did a new version as a tribute to her, and that's the version that sold so much it surpassed White Christmas.
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumYou can find a version of Darlene Love on the Christmas cd "A Christmas gift for you from Phil Spector; it's very good, very Spector, with a great "Wall of Sound".
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScKristi. I think they're refering to that specific version about Princess Diana, and how it out-sold both "Rock Around the Clo0ck" and this song.
  • Bobbie from Central, NmAs pretty as this song is when the holidays come around I could just puke, after of hearing this song by redone by every Tom, Dick, and Back Street Boy. The recording industry should put a ban on recording this song to keep it from being ruined any farther.
  • Cristin from Boston, MaAbout a fact above. . . wasn't Candle in the Wind a tribute to Marilyn Monroe?? Hence "goodbye, Norma Jean. . ." It came way before Princess Di.
  • Rosalie from Newark, DeI really love this Album by Bing Crosby. I grew up in Singapore in the 1950's and 1960's, and this is the ONE Christmas Album that went around the world with us (Literally) through the years!!!

    I still have the Album, By The Way!!!

  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, ScI didn't even know that there was a verse left out of the original song.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Actors With Hit Songs

Actors With Hit SongsMusic Quiz

Many actors have attempted music, but only a few have managed a hit. Do you know which of these thespians charted?

Thomas Dolby

Thomas DolbySongwriter Interviews

He wrote "She Blinded Me With Science" so he could direct a video about a home for deranged scientists.

Leslie West of Mountain

Leslie West of MountainSongwriter Interviews

From the cowbell on "Mississippi Queen" to recording with The Who when they got the wrong Felix, stories from one of rock's master craftsmen.

Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & PalmerSongwriter Interviews

Greg talks about writing songs of "universal truth" for King Crimson and ELP, and tells us about his most memorable stage moment (it involves fireworks).

Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles

Timothy B. Schmit of the EaglesSongwriter Interviews

Did this Eagle come up with the term "Parrothead"? And what is it like playing "Hotel California" for the gazillionth time?

Band Names

Band NamesFact or Fiction

Was "Pearl" Eddie Vedder's grandmother, and did she really make a hallucinogenic jam? Did Journey have a contest to name the group? And what does KISS stand for anyway?