NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Word Play.
This month, George Grant offers a simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-two.
GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: “Although it’s been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas to you.” Of course, that is the last line of one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, and folks dressed up like Eskimos.”
I couldn’t help but think of the song when I saw a meme recently emblazoned with all the many ways we actually do say, “Merry Christmas”: from “Happy Holidays” and “Ho, Ho, Ho” to “Seasons Greetings” and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas;” from “Glad Tidings” and “May Your Days Be Happy and Bright” to “Blessed Yuletide” and “Joy to the World;” We say “Tis the Season to Be Jolly,” “Deck the Halls,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “Comfort and Joy;” Sometimes we even borrow phrases from other languages: “Feliz Navidad” and “Noel, Noel;” At times we might even be tempted to say “Bah Humbug;”
Indeed, “It’s been said many times, many ways.”
The song was composed almost on a whim by two Hollywood jingle writers—who happened to be Jewish. On a sweltering Southern California afternoon in July 1945, Mel Tormé and Bob Wells joked that perhaps thinking and writing about Christmas would cool them off. They later recalled that they “just started writing down all the mid-wintery things” they could think of. It must have worked. They completed the song in less than 45 minutes, and it went on to become one of the most frequently performed Christmas songs: first made famous in an iconic recording by Nat King Cole.
Wells later wrote and produced extensively for a wide variety of projects in film and television, working with Dinah Shore, Andy Williams, Patty Duke, Gene Kelly, Henry Mancini, Duke Ellington, and Harry Belafonte.
Tormé would go on to have a storied career, both as a composer and a performer. He wrote a host of torch song classics like “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” “Autumn in New York,” “Born to Be Blue,” “Isn’t It Romantic,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” But, the “Christmas Song” about “turkey and some mistletoe” and “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow” has proven to be his single greatest legacy. And, although he said that it was not among his favorite compositions, he acknowledged it as “my annuity.”
In any case, “I’m now offering this simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-two, although it’s been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas to you.”
I’m George Grant.