Today we shared a couple of ‘who knews?’ about the origins of a couple of Christmas song classics:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s ‘Christmas Eve Sarajevo’ is consistently among the top songs in music surveys. TSO’s Paul O’Neill told the story behind the rock/orchestra song in an interview with Christianity Today:
We heard about this cello player born in Sarajevo many years ago who left when he was fairly young to go on to become a well-respected musician, playing with various symphonies throughout Europe. Many decades later, he returned to Sarajevo as an elderly man—at the height of the Bosnian War, only to find his city in complete ruins.
I think what most broke this man’s heart was that the destruction was not done by some outside invader or natural disaster—it was done by his own people. At that time, Serbs were shelling Sarajevo every night. Rather than head for the bomb shelters like his family and neighbors, this man went to the town square, climbed onto a pile of rubble that had once been the fountain, took out his cello, and played Mozart and Beethoven as the city was bombed.
He came every night and began playing Christmas Carols from that same spot. It was just such a powerful image—a white-haired man silhouetted against the cannon fire, playing timeless melodies to both sides of the conflict amid the rubble and devastation of the city he loves. Some time later, a reporter traced him down to ask why he did this insanely stupid thing. The old man said that it was his way of proving that despite all evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place.
The song basically wrapped itself around him. We used some of the oldest Christmas melodies we could find, like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells” part of the medley (which is from Ukraine, near that region). The orchestra represents one side, the rock band the other, and single cello represents that single individual, that spark of hope.”
Here’s the story behind the book…and the song…‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:’
As the holiday season of 1938 came to Chicago, Bob May wasn’t feeling much comfort or joy. A 34-year-old ad writer for Montgomery Ward, May was exhausted and nearly broke. His wife, Evelyn, was bedridden, on the losing end of a two-year battle with cancer. This left Bob to look after their four-year old-daughter, Barbara.
One night, Barbara asked her father, “Why isn’t my mommy like everybody else’s mommy?” As he struggled to answer his daughter’s question, Bob remembered the pain of his own childhood. A small, sickly boy, he was constantly picked on and called names. But he wanted to give his daughter hope, and show her that being different was nothing to be ashamed of. More than that, he wanted her to know that he loved her and would always take care of her.
So he began to spin a tale about a reindeer with a bright red nose who found a special place on Santa’s team. Barbara loved the story so much that she made her father tell it every night before bedtime. As he did, it grew more elaborate. Because he couldn’t afford to buy his daughter a gift for Christmas, Bob decided to turn the story into a homemade picture book.
In early December, Bob’s wife died. Though he was heartbroken, he kept working on the book for his daughter. A few days before Christmas, he reluctantly attended a company party at Montgomery Ward. His co-workers encouraged him to share the story he’d written. After he read it, there was a standing ovation. Everyone wanted copies of their own. Montgomery Ward bought the rights to the book from their debt-ridden employee.
Over the next six years, at Christmas, they gave away six million copies of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to shoppers. Every major publishing house in the country was making offers to obtain the book. In an incredible display of good will, the head of the department store returned all rights to Bob May. Four years later, Rudolph had made him into a millionaire.
Now remarried with a growing family, May felt blessed by his good fortune. But there was more to come. His brother-in-law, a successful songwriter named Johnny Marks, set the uplifting story to music. The song was pitched to artists from Bing Crosby on down. They all passed. Finally, Marks approached Gene Autry. The cowboy star had scored a holiday hit with “Here Comes Santa Claus” a few years before.
Like the others, Autry wasn’t impressed with the song about the misfit reindeer. Marks begged him to give it a second listen. Autry played it for his wife, Ina. She was so touched by the line “They wouldn’t let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games” that she insisted her husband record the tune.
Within a few years, it had become the second best-selling Christmas song ever, right behind “White Christmas.” Since then, Rudolph has come to life in TV specials, cartoons, movies, toys, games, coloring books, greeting cards and even a Ringling Bros. circus act. The little red-nosed reindeer dreamed up by Bob May and immortalized in song by Johnny Marks and Gene Autry has come to hold a special place in children’s hearts all over the world!
We are Maurice and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees! Congratulations to Amanda of Mount Vernon, who guessed correctly and wins the $5 gift card to Everlasting Cup.
Lisa from Mount Vernon and Renee from Howard
Here’s the article and recipe about the holiday yule log that Dylan shared…
Thanks for listening!
– Joe and Dylan
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