Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Album: Shaved Fish (1971)
Charted: 2 42


  • This is a very unusual Christmas song. Instead of evoking sleigh bells and mistletoe, it asks us to think about those who live in fear, and collectively bring about the end of war. The call to action is the refrain "war is over, if you want it."

    It's an esoteric but not unfounded concept that John Lennon and Yoko Ono also put forth in "Imagine": If enough people want something to happen, it will. So the idea was to get us to actively desire peace, which could bring about the end of war.
  • John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote this in their New York City hotel room and recorded it during the evening of October 28 and into the morning of the 29th, 1971, at the Record Plant in New York. It was released in the US for Christmas, but didn't chart. The next year, it was released in the UK, where it did much better, charting at #4. Eventually, the song became a Christmas classic in America, but it took a while.
  • John and Yoko spent a lot of time in the late '60s and early '70s working to promote peace. In 1969, they put up billboards in major cities around the world that said, "War is over! (If you want it)." Two years later this slogan became the basis for this song when Lennon decided to make a Christmas record with an anti-war message. John also claimed another inspiration for writing the song: he said he was "sick of 'White Christmas.'"
  • The children's voices are the Harlem Community Choir, who were brought in to sing on this track. They are credited on the single along with Yoko and The Plastic Ono Band.
  • Lennon and Ono produced this with the help of Phil Spector. Spector had worked on some of the later Beatles songs and also produced Lennon's "Instant Karma." It was not Spector's first foray into Christmas music: he and his famous session stars (including a 17-year-old Cher) spent six weeks in the summer of 1963 putting together A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, featuring artists like The Ronettes and Darlene Love. Unfortunately, the album was released on November 22, 1963, which was the same day US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The album sold poorly as America was focused on news of the killing.
  • This was originally released on clear green vinyl with Yoko Ono's "Listen, The Snow Is Falling" as the B-side.
  • At the beginning of the song, two whispers can be heard. Yoko whispers: "Happy Christmas, Kyoko" (Kyoko Chan Cox is Yoko's daughter with Anthony Cox) and John whispers: "Happy Christmas, Julian" (John's son with Cynthia). >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Martin - Rostock, Germany
  • This being a Phil Spector production, four guitarists were brought in to play acoustic guitars: Hugh McCracken (who had recently played on the Paul McCartney album Ram), Chris Osbourne, Stu Scharf and Teddy Irwin. According to Richard Williams, who was reporting on the session for Uncut, when Lennon taught them the song, he asked them to "pretend it's Christmas." When one of the guitarists said he was Jewish, John told him, "Well, pretend it's your birthday then."

    As for the other personnel, Jim Keltner played drums and sleigh bells, Nicky Hopkins played chimes and glockenspiel. Keltner and Hopkins were part of Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, and a third member, Klaus Voorman, was supposed to play bass on this track, but got stuck on a flight from Germany. One of the guitarists brought in for the session covered the bass - which one nobody seems to remember.
  • John Lennon was shot and killed less than three weeks before Christmas in 1980. The song was re-released in the UK on December 20 of that year, reaching #2 (held off the top spot by "There's No One Quite Like Grandma" by St. Winifred's School Choir). It made the UK Top 40 again in 1981 (#28), 2003 (#32) and 2007 (#40). Also in 2003, a version sung by the finalists of the singing competition Pop Idol reached #5.
  • This didn't appear on an album until 1975, when it was included on Lennon's Shaved Fish singles compilation. Most Christmas songs are compiled with other songs of the season, but Shaved Fish listeners got to hear it year round.
  • At 1:15, there's a line in this song where Lennon sings what sounds to our ears like "the road is so long." This line was transcribed as "the world is so wrong" on the Shaved Fish back cover and was apparently published that way. As a result, most cover versions sing it as "the world is so wrong," but that would be a rather pessimistic view:

    For rich and the poor ones
    The world is so wrong

    "The road is so long" seems more congruent with the hopeful message of the song, and is likely what he sang. Keep in mind that the lyrics didn't appear in print until Shaved Fish, four years after the song was released. It appears this line was transcribed incorrectly and has never been rectified.
  • Why not "Merry Christmas" or "Merry Xmas"? In England, "Happy Christmas" is a more common seasonal greeting and helped differentiate it from the holiday standard "Merry Christmas Baby." More confusing to Americans is "Father Christmas," which is the English version of Santa Claus.
  • The Fray were the first to chart with this song in America, reaching #50 in 2006; Sarah McLachlan's version went to #107 that same year. Other artists to cover it include The Alarm, The Cranes, The December People, and Melissa Etheridge (in a medley with "Give Peace a Chance").

    The Australian artist Delta Goodrem also covered it in 2003, taking it to #1 in her native country as a double-A-side single with "Predictable." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Katie - Australia
  • This was covered by a group called Street Drum Corps. Bert McCracken, the frontman for rock band The Used, supplied vocals for their cover. It appears on the album Taste Of Christmas, released in the winter of 2005. The album is a compilation of classic and original Christmas songs as done by artists on the Taste Of Chaos tour. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Chris - Andover, MN
  • The chords and melody borrow heavily from the traditional English folk standard "Skewball," in particular the 1963 version (titled "Stewball") by Peter, Paul and Mary.
  • When Lennon first played his demo for Phil Spector, the producer remarked that the song's opening line, "So this is Christmas..." was rhythmically identical to the Paris Sisters' 1961 hit "I Love How You Love Me," which he produced.
  • Though now a Christmas standard, Lennon originally penned this as a protest song about the Vietnam War, and the idea "that we're just as responsible as the man who pushes the button. As long as people imagine that somebody's doing it to them and that they have no control, then they have no control."
  • Miley Cyrus, Mark Ronson and Sean Ono Lennon came together at New York's Electric Lady studios to cover the song for the 2018 holiday season. Cyrus told Jimmy Fallon that they wanted to do a Christmas song, and there wasn't anything more relevant to what's going on in the world right now than 'War is Over.'"

    She added that not only has Sean inherited his father's voice and looks, he's also got the former Beatles' "radiant magic."

    The trio performed the song on the season finale of Saturday Night Live, December 15, 2018. For Cyrus, the song is a call to action for her generation, asking "what have we done?"
  • In November 2019, John Legend released a new version of the song titled "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." He performed his cover with Jorja Smith at the Global Citizen Prize award ceremony on December 13, 2019 at London's Royal Albert Hall. Legend's interpretation peaked at #9 in the UK and #69 in the US.

Comments: 52

  • Carles from BarcelonaComfortably Sad. Sadly Comfortable. Tears in my eyes from the start...
  • Mason from HereAny song .. ANY of them gets really, really, really old after you hear it a million times.
    I dread the Christmas season simply because of the radio. IHeartRadio owns everything now, and they've decided this is THE flagship Christmas tune of all time.
    It's terrible. When I was a kid, Christmas was about having a good time; when the world was large, and everybody's problems weren't my problems.
    This song is a joke. War will continue. It doesn't really matter what 'we want.'
    Now.. don't get me started on "Last Christmas", by WHAM!, and 400 hundred other 'artists.'
    Pure crap.
  • Hugh from Phoenix, AzI like the pure sentiment in this song. Though it qualifies as a protest song (which I tend to dislike because they are often heavy handed), it eschews politics in favor of something more universal..the desire for peace. A great holiday song.
  • Chelsea Girl from Cleveland, OhSome people here are misunderstanding the message of this song. John Lennon was someone who really poured his life/lessons into his music/art. In this case, he was a peace activist who was also a superstar. He decided, "gee if I can get something about PEACE on the airwaves during the holiday season, why not?" And indeed, why not? This is the time of year when people are supposedly more inclined to give back/love more/think about others. Yet it was also a time of war and distress. This song is NOT a negative song, and Lennon wasn't a hypocrite for writing it. It's deep, contemplative, and beautiful. It gets to the very essence of what we SHOULD be caring about, and it does so in a gorgeous CLASSIC manner. I love it.
  • Kyler from Jonesboro, Arshinedown coverd this as a single and is a great modern version of this song
  • Wayne from New Haven, CtI thought they easch wished each other Happy Christmas? I too had this single when it first came out on clear vinyl, with their picture on it.
    Yoko morphing into John... Great song, with a great meaning. Just forget the off singing by Yoko and listen to John & the choir!
  • Breanna from Henderson, NvOn those posters that said "War is over!.....if you want it", it had below it, Happy Christmas from John and Yoko on it.
  • Mark from Preston, United KingdomIs this the same tune as The time of the Preacher by
    Willie Nelson
  • Deb from Melbourne, AustraliaThis song is incredibly depressing, it's well written but I can't agree with all the people saying it's "beautiful". I like the fact that it's a reality check: here we are with our Christmas trees and open fireplaces and presents, but what is happening in the rest of the world? So, when people say it's beautiful and sing it merrily at Carols services, I have to wonder whether they really have a clue what it's about...
  • Kelly from Liverpool, United Kingdomgod listen to yoko in the background of this song... haha.. im sorry but just comparing her voice to johns..... omg.. its terrible!! but i love this song. :] its wonderful and its soo great. i listen to it every Christmas.
  • E from Atlanta, GaThe Come Back to Jamaica song that came out in 1978 was based on the tune of this song. Though I thought Lennon didn't sell songs for commercials?
    Btw here's an interesting book about alternate viewpoints about brainwashing by tv
  • Trogbob from San Diego, CaKaren, go watch Joyeux Noel. Then tell me attaching war to Christmas is preposterous.
  • Heather from Los Angeles, Casorry the Vietnam war did not come to an end because of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Probably CBS live coverage of said war during everyone's dinnertime deserves that credit.
  • Gregg from Middletown, CtErin and Gary: Yoko whispers "Happy Christmas, Kyoko (to her daughter), then John whispers "Happy Christmas, Julian" (to his son). Jordan: he never said that. What he said was, "We're bigger than Christ", referring to the popularity of the Beatles - but it got so warped out of proportion that some radio stations actually staged album burnings; Stafanie: actually, it was meant as a Christmas song (the "B" side is a another Christmas song, written by Yoko Ono). And Karen, get over yourself - peace and joy is exactly the message they're trying to get across (War is over, if you want it - and that's exactly what happened!!) What have YOU ever done?
  • Bianca Sanchez from Alburquerque, NmThis song rocks hardcore! Happy Christmas everyone!
    P.s John & Yoko ain't wacko's
  • Karen from Baltimore, MdAll of this is rubbish. John and Yoko were just plain weird. John was like a child who needed a mommy and Yoko filled the bill. To attach war to Christmas is simply preposterous, and self-serving on his part. Try to remember that THIS GUY WAS A MILLIONAIRE for crying out loud. He was a whiny sniveling little wimp of a man. Paul
    McCartney released his upbeat Christmas tune "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime" in response to Lennon's negative spin on everything that people enjoy. McCartney saw his won children excited about Christmas and wanted to remind people that Christmas is for children, not over-grown adult "children" who have to ruin even the Yuletide feelings of peace and joy. Poor Sean Lennon (back then), with a couple of wackos like John and Yoko for parents.
  • Josh from Sunnyvale, Ca"IMHO this "could" have been the all-time best Christmas song...however...Yoko just ruins it. She is so off key that it just makes me ill to listen to this song. Lennon was a master...why oh why he ever let her on this track I will never know.
    - Chet, Washington, DC"

    I couldn?t agree more. That song just came on and like every time it plays; it literally pains me to listen to it (on account of the ?screeching woman? in the background who is SO off key!!!). I Googled it tonight and had to know who ruined this song (I thought it was some elderly backup singer). Other than that, it?s a very good song...
  • Casey from Union, NjI love this song. It is my favorite Christmas song ever.
    This song was also featuredas a hidden song on the "Instant Karma: Save Darfur" cd.
  • Krissy from Boston, MaKyoko is Yoko Ono's daughter from her first marriage. But she didn't get custody of her.
  • Krissy from Boston, MaAnnabella yes thats Yoko leading in the choir.
  • Krissy from Boston, MaThis is one of his best songs next to Watching The Wheels. It just so beautiful. I like at the beginning in a low whisper Yoko say Happy Christmas Kyoko and John says Happy Christmas Julian it's a little bit hard to hear.
  • Ruby from Cc, TxYoko wasn't on it because John thought she was a good singer, she was on it because John loved her and wanted her on it.
  • Ben from Cincinnati, Ohjordan of wv, i always wondered that but in a 1972 (i think) photo shoot he can be seen wearing a small cross.
  • Danielle from South Amboy, NjThis song has such meaning to it. I respect John Lennon greatly, although I never really knew much about him. Wonderful song, and I don't care if anyone seems to disagree.
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrActually, Kyoko is Yoko Ono's daughter, not her mother.
  • Patrick from Tallapoosa, GaI thought it was John at the beginning saying "Happy Christmas, Yoko...Happy Christmas, Julian."
  • Patrick from Tallapoosa, GaAt the Hard Rock Cafe in Washington, DC you can see posters advertising "War is Over (If You Want It)" framed and displayed in one section. I think these are the actual posters.
  • Niki from Chicago, IlThis song makes you think! I love it!!
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScJordan: He didn't mean for it to bea christmas song, the part in parentheses after Happy Christmas is "war is over". That's the key to understanding the song. John is wanting to question what has really been accomplished in the way of making the world a better more peaceful place. RIR. i miss you John.
  • Dave from Ssm, Canadajohn i will miss you i envey you i used to be a real bad bad man but once i heard war is over i changed and did a lot of research on you i kno that your watching over me in heaven so may your soul rip and what kind of man would shoot a nice kind and caring man like you so we miss you and i know the answer to my question the guy was a real ####### RIP JOHN
  • Kara from Great Neck, NyMaroon 5 covered this song in 2004 for jingle ball.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis is one of my favorite holiday hits. The song was actually based on a Peter, Paul and Mary song titled Stewball.
  • Jordan from WvDon't you think it's kind of hypocritical for John to write a Christmas song about a year after saying "I don't believe in Jesus"?
  • Jennifer from New York, NyAnyone willing to help me begin a peace movement please email me.

    Subject: Imagine

    John Lennon would have wanted us to keep moving for peace, we have to continue his movement.

    "War is Over...If You Want It"-John Lennon & Yoko Ono
  • Elysia from Hamilton, New ZealandI cannot watch this video clip without bawling my eyes out. John Lennon stood for so much, such a big heart and terrific mind.
  • Liliana from Huntley, Ili agree, yoko is NOT the best singer but she doesn't ruin the song. besides, how 'bout listening to yourselves singing xmas carols? they're not meant to be records, it's the spirit.
  • Jude from Thomasville, GaThis is a thoughtful, beautiful song. My most sincere Christmas wish is that it come true. By the way, children, no one ever sings a Christmas song badly. It's the spirit of the season.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyIn England, the expressions "Happy Christmas" and "Merry Christmas" are used about 50/50. In the U.S. you almost never hear anyone say "Happy Christmas."
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, Scchet, we all know that Yoko isn't a good singer, but you've got to respedt the facts that she influenced John... a lot! Great song, by the way!
  • Natalia from Sydney, AustraliaJohn is not saying anything to his mother at the beginning of the song. Yoko Ono says "Happy Christmas, Kyoko" and John says "Happy Christmas, Julian", a comment directed to his son. If you turn the volume up and listen carefully, you will clearly hear him say "JULIAN". It also states so in the song booklet.
  • Gary from Uk, United StatesSomeone said they say happy christmas john/yoko at the begining of this song. It is actually saying (yoko):'Happy chrismas Kyoko' (John):'happy christmas Julie' the names of their mothers. John obviously had lost his mother at an early age and in his solo career started to deal with it. im not sure if yoko had lost her mother too.
  • Loretta from Liverpool, EnglandWar is over if you want it.... I want it to be over... it's just up to the 1% of people willing to fight to say "No!!! We want peace." This is xmas music and not propaganda, but John would have wanted us to use this song as a rally for peace. Peace out.
  • Ej from Manila, Philippines, OtherThe song actually starts with both of them saying Happy Christmas Yoko/John and not "Merry Christmas..." I don't find it cute, but I like the song.
  • Andy from Melbourne, AustraliaBearing in mind that this isn't a Christmas song at all, it's an anti-war song that uses Christmas as a reference point to say "what the hell have we actually acheived in this last year, or are we as nuts as ever". The idea of one of Lennons most poinent songs being performed at Christmas carols, and being sung with contrived gusto and smiling faces is faintly disgusting, but that's what happens every year.
  • John from Williston Park, Nyone of my top 10 favorite Christmas songs, and leave it to John Lennon to make it so unique
  • Natasha from Chico, Canice song, celine dion (blehh) also did a cover of this
  • Erin Lennon from Toronto, Canadaok, don't diss yoko, she never meant any harm! who cares if she doesnt' have an amazing voice like john;s, or whatever, she's a great lady! i love at the very beginning of the song where they whisper to each other "merry christmas john, merry christmas yoko" it's so cute! i love them
  • Jeff from Barrington, IlWhether you like Yoko as a musician or not you have to respect her influence on John and his music. Don't forget that a lot of the lyrics to Imagine were strait from Yoko's diary.
  • Chet from Washington, DcIMHO this "could" have been the all-time best Christmas song...however...Yoko just ruins it. She is so off key that it just makes me ill to listen to this song. Lennon was a master...why oh why he ever let her on this track I will never know.
  • Will from Roswell, GaI agree with Shirley and Geoff. This song is just plain great. No one ever stated that Ono was a good singer. While I don't like her personally, at least shes out there doing something that is saying something.
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrThe Irish band The Corrs also recorded this song in 1998 for their Christmas Special. And who said that Yoko Ono was a good singer? Was she the one singing with the Children's Choir? The woman leading the choir sounds like my Grandma Dorcas! Blaaaaaand!
  • Geoff from Adelaide, AustraliaNever has a more beautiful Christmas song been writen. Pure magic.
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