"Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" has lyrics that are rather dated, but that hasn't dulled the appeal of the song. It takes place at the "Christmas party hop," a festive "sock hop" where teenagers would take off their shoes and dance. Sock hops were big in the '50s, and in 1957 Danny & the Juniors had a huge hit with "At The Hop
." The song also evokes quaint traditions like caroling and mistletoe
, but it all comes off in a good old-fashioned way.
Brenda Lee was just 13 years old when she recorded this song. Known as "Little Miss Dynamite," she stood 4'9".
First released in 1958, "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" didn't dent the charts that year or the next, but in 1960, after Brenda Lee scored a few hits, it caught on and went to #14 in the US. It charted again in 1961 and 1962 and went on to become a Christmas classic.
In a 2006 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Lee explained that she recorded this in July with Nashville producer Owen Bradley. Said Lee: "Owen had the studio all freezing cold with the air conditioning, and he had a Christmas tree all set up to kind of get in the mood just a little bit. We had a lot of fun."
A 1987 recording by Kim Wilde and Mel Smith featuring Pete Thomas hit #3 in the UK. Their version was recorded for the BBC Comic Relief charity. Other artists to cover the song include Cyndi Lauper, LeAnn Rimes, Toby Keith, Miley Cyrus, Alabama, and Aly & AJ.
Kelly Clarkson performed this song when she played Lee on the TV series American Dreams in 2004.
In 2014, NPR asked Brenda Lee what the correct direction was to rock around the Christmas tree. Her response: South.
Although it's not included on the movie's soundtrack, the song features prominently in Home Alone (1990) when Kevin stages a fake Christmas party to fool the burglars who plan to rob his house. It's been used in more made-for-TV holiday movies than we can count, and also shows up in these films:
Last Christmas (2019)
This Christmas (2007)
Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
Reindeer Games (2000)
Enemy of the State (1998)
Jingle All the Way (1996)
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
And in these TV shows:
American Dad! ("Yule. Tide. Repeat." - 2020)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia ("Charlie's Home Alone" - 2018)
Family Guy (TV Series) ("Crimes and Meg's Demeanor" - 2017, "Road to the North Pole" - 2010)
American Horror Story ("Unholy Night" - 2012)
The Simpsons ("Kill Gil, Vol. 1 & 2" - 2006)
Sabrina the Teenage Witch ("Christmas Amnesia" - 1998)
King of the Hill ("The Unbearable Blindness of Laying" - 1997)
"Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" shows up in a lot of holiday commercials. Dodge used it in 2011 to promote their year-end sales event, and SiriusXM has used it in promos for their holiday radio channel. In 2018, Google Assistant used it in spots
that recalled its use in Home Alone
Thanks to streaming, the song entered the Hot 100 Top 10 for the first time on the chart dated January 5, 2019. It was Brenda Lee's first release to reach the upper regions of the tally since "Losing You
" peaked at #6 in 1963. This meant that Lee set a new record for the longest period between top 10 hits for any female artist.
Justin Bieber released a cover version
on November 12, 2020. His version was released exclusively on Amazon Music as parts of its "Delivering Smiles" holiday campaign, which gives to charitable organizations and communities through non-profits. The money from this song is going to LIFT, Inner-City Arts and Alexandria House, three organizations Bieber has supported in the past. Bieber's rendition peaked at #4 in the UK and #61 in the US.