The most-performed Christmas song isn’t “White Christmas” or “Silent Night”, but “The Christmas Song”, written by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells in 1944.
According to Tormé, the song was written during the heat of summer. “I saw a spiral pad on his piano with four lines written in pencil,” Tormé recalled. “They started, ‘Chestnuts roasting … Jack Frost nipping … Yuletide carols … Folks dressed up like Eskimos.’ Bob didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written.”
When you hear it playing in your head, you hear Nat King Cole (Great American Things, November 2, 2009) singing the definitive version. Cole first recorded it in 1946 with his trio, recorded it again with Nelson Riddle in 1953, then recorded it a third time (in stereo) in 1961. It’s this last version that you hear in your head, in your car, in the mall, at the grocery store…
Maybe you know someone who’s roasted chestnuts on an open fire. I sure don’t. In fact, I think I’ve only had a chestnut once in my life, and it was pretty gross. But this picture of hearth and home, of kids waiting for Santa, evokes a nostalgia for what Christmas may once have been – and what we all want it to be again. All of us, from one to 92.