Ten Great Christmas Songs Written By Jewish Composers



While researching these Thursday Tens for this month, I ran across an article by Marc Tracy for the online Tablet Magazine called “A Jewish Christmas Soundtrack.” The article points out that many of the songs we associate with the Christmas season were written by Jewish composers, who were also some of the greatest American composers.

David Lehman, author of the book A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, took the time and effort to come up with his top ten Christmas songs written by Jews. I’ve located videos of all of them, and present them here for your enjoyment.

  1. The Christmas Waltz – Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne: performed by Frank Sinatra.

  2. Silver Bells – Jay Livingston and Ray Evans: performed by Dean Martin

  3. Winter Wonderland – Felix Bernard: performed by Bing Crosby

  4. Santa Baby – Joan Ellen Javits and Phillip Springer: performed by Eartha Kitt

  5. Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parrish: performed by John Williams and the Boston Pops

  6. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Buck Ram and Walter Kent: performed by Karen and Richard Carpenter

  7. I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm – Irving Berlin: performed by Ella Fitzgerald

  8. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne: performed by Dean Martin

  9. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) – Mel Tormé and Bob Wells: performed by Nat King Cole

  10. White Christmas – Irving Berlin: performed by Bing Crosby and Martha Mears (dubbing for Marjorie Reynolds) in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn

To all my Jewish friends, Happy Hanukkah!


And that’s your Thursday Ten for December 11, 2014.

12 thoughts on “Ten Great Christmas Songs Written By Jewish Composers

  1. So, we’ve been blogging along some of the same lines. Great minds! I’m repeating my annual Christmas Songs by Jews blog post this coming Monday and would like to also link to this post. Your link would make a great addition.


  2. At least three of these are “winter” songs rather than true Christmas songs. I think Sleigh Ride is my favorite Christmas song, even though that one is really a winter song. But some of these are really Christmas songs, so I wonder why they were written? Was it a commercial thing, maybe? It’s kind of like Norman Greenbaum, who is Jewish, writing and singing “Spirit in the Sky”, which has words like “I’ve got a friend in Jesus”. Whatever the reason, these writers turned out some awesome songs!

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    1. You might say that all of them are “winter songs,” even though many of them mention Christmas. There’s no mention of the Christ child or Mary and Joseph, or the shepherds or the Magi. There was a quote by Philip Roth in the article I linked to where he says that Irving Berlin took the two Christian holidays that celebrate the divinity of Jesus (Christmas and Easter), the main disagreement between Christians and Jews, and “de-Christs them both.” I don’t think Berlin was looking to offend Christians; rather he was celebrating a common experience that everyone could relate to. Two of the songs, “I’ll be home for Christmas” and “White Christmas,” were written during World War II, again a common experience. And, face it, the majority of people in the US are Christians, and these were composers that wanted people to buy their records and go to the movies that featured their songs. These might have been Jewish composers, but they were also American composers, and Christmas has always been a big deal in the US. I bought a copy of Lehman’s book last night, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

      The Wikipedia article on Norman Greenbaum, who is a devout Orthodox Jew, says that he was inspired to write “Spirit In The Sky” from seeing Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner sing a religious song on TV, but its real inspiration was the Westerns, with the guys wanting to die with their boots on. Check it out!


      1. I know this is going to sound weird to you. But I’m a Christian and still don’t celebrate Christmas as Christ’s birth. Here’s the reason. We try to pattern our worship and other aspects of our Christian life after the first century Church, and we don’t see the apostle Paul or any of the rest celebrating Christmas. Plus, we don’t know the date anyway. I like to think I celebrate everything about Jesus every day. /end of religious speech. LOL


        1. Actually, it makes sense. The Church chose the times around major pagan feasts as the times for Christian celebrations. Rightly or wrongly, they saw the Festivus festival, or Yule, and decided to replace it with Christmas. The choice of dates, several days after the winter solstice, was when days became longer. It’s based on the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase as I decrease.” There’s lots of evidence that Jesus was born in summer; what day exactly, as you said, we don’t know. Same with Easter: the name comes from the pagan goddess Eostre. The date is established in much the same way as the Jewish Passover. Was it actually sometime between what we now call March 22 to April 25? Probably not.


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