“Have a holly, jolly Christmas. It’s the best time of the year.”
For many people, these lyrics by Johnny Marks will always ring true.
Christmas songs are a traditional part of many holiday celebrations across the country. Everyone has their favorites that they just have to hear while shopping for that perfect gift, decorating the tree, or tearing open presents on Christmas morning. Quite a few of these songs have been around much longer than some of us have. They often conjure up memories that take us back to when we were kids, and our biggest worries in life were remembering to put out milk and cookies for Santa, and getting to bed on time so he wouldn’t skip our homes. A great Christmas song can turn the most “bah humbug” of a person into a warm, festive, and joyous soul throughout the month of December. Some carols are so pleasant, you can practically feel the warmth coming through the speakers, even on a frigid winter day. “A Holly Jolly Christmas” is a perfect example of this type of song.
Johnny Marks was a Jewish songwriter who specialized in writing Christmas songs. “Run Rudolph Run”, “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” all are tracks that he wrote, but were given to other artists to sing or perform, due to their popularity and captivating voices.
Marks’ single “A Holly Jolly Christmas” was made famous by Burl Ives in 1964, after appearing in the classic animated TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Ives also sang the Marks penned “Silver and Gold”, and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the special. Many fans of the beloved holiday program no doubt associate the songs with the characters (Ives was also the voice of Sam the Snowman), and vice versa. Over fifty years later, people still get excited when they hear his crisp, inviting voice blaring happily over their radios. Even five feet of snow wouldn’t be able stop this song from plowing through the charts. The track was able to reach No. 5 on Billboard’s US Holiday 100 (2011-2014), and No. 21 on US Country Digital Downloads for 2010.
The version of the song that would later appear on his 1965 album Have A Holly Jolly Christmas is the one most people are familiar with. It is a tad slower and longer than the original, but the lyrics remained intact. There is a positive message throughout the upbeat jingle, which is perfect for Christmastime. Ives sings in a playful tone:
“I don’t know if there’ll be snow / But have a cup of cheer.”
This is definitely a “cup is half-full” attitude (possibly half-full of egg nog) that the singer has, and it’s infectious to say the least. Snow brings joy to many people on Christmas, but Ives is saying it doesn’t matter if it snows or not, there is cheer to be had either way. What makes Christmas so special are the people you’re surrounded by. He expands on this optimistic train of thought with a simple, peaceful suggestion:
“And when you walk down the street / Say hello to friends you know / And everyone you meet.”
These lyrics provide the listener with a strong sense of love and harmony; two of the best feelings to have around Christmas, or any time of the year.
Some notable artists have covered the song over the years, which has helped keep it alive for future generations. Michael Bublé delivered a fresh take on the holiday favorite by including it on his 2011 album simply titled Christmas. Country music fans are likely aware of Alan Jackson’s rendition of the song, which made an appearance on his 1993 record Honky Tonk Christmas. Bublé’s version is similar in style to the original (trading only the acoustic guitar for electric), while Jackson added a dash of violin to the mix, to help give it that honky tonk feel. Since its release, Bublé’s Christmas has sold over 4 million copies in the U.S. alone. Honky Tonk Christmas is no slouch, with over 1 million copies sold to date. The love that fans have for these versions, as well as the original, only proves that Johnny Marks was able to create a Christmas song that is truly timeless.
Like many holiday classics, “A Holly Jolly Christmas” is a short and repetitive tune, but it’s so merry, you can’t help but catch yourself singing it (even as you fight to untangle those pesky strings of lights that were thrown into a box last year). Marks and Ives really wanted to make sure you knew, “And in case you didn’t hear”, that Christmas is, indeed, the best time of the year.
Author: Written by Alan Ritch for the PA Christmas & Gift Show