Another December of the Christmas Song of the Day concludes today. I hope you have enjoyed the music I have selected and that it has made your season brighter.
My Christmas Song of the Day for December 31 asks the question, “Why can’t we have Christmas the whole year around?” To be honest, as much as I love the season, there are parts I wouldn’t want to see all year. But the good parts — absolutely!
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is a traditional English carol dating from the 16th Century. It originates from the practice of wealthy people giving treats to wandering carolers on Christmas Eve, such as the figgy pudding that is mentioned in most versions of the lyrics. (By the way, “figgy pudding” only sometimes contains figs, and isn’t pudding in the United States or Canada sense; it’s a round dessert cake, usually containing dried fruits and alcohol, and can be delicious.) The song remains popular to this day, with many lyrical variations and arrangements from which to choose.
To close the year, I have chosen my own favorite arrangement of this traditional song.
In the early 1950s, the Weavers, a four-person collective of folk singers, were as popular as almost any vocal group in the country. Their first big hit, “Goodnight Irene,” a remake of a song composed by Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly), spent 13 weeks at #1 on the Billboard singles chart in 1950; it took more than 40 years for another song to match that chart-topping reign. At the end of 1951, they released an eight-song, 10-inch LP called “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” All the songs on the album were arranged by one Paul Campbell, which actually was a pseudonym for the four members of the group – Pete Seeger (1919-2014), Lee Hays (1914-1981), Ronnie Gilbert (1926-2015), and Fred Hellerman (1927-2016).
Within two years, however, the Weavers would be caught up in the anti-Communist hysteria of the era; in 1953, Decca Records cancelled their recording contract and deleted all their music from print. And though some of it would be reissued over the years, their excellent Christmas album would not reappear for 40 years, when it finally appeared in its entirety on a budget-priced CD.
In the interim, the “Paul Campbell” arrangement of the title song was recorded by several of the folk groups the Weavers influenced, as both the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary have included it on Christmas albums. Here is the rarely-heard original version that bemoans the fact that the Christmas spirit lasts for such a short time. Join in as the Weavers sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
(A version of this entry was my Facebook-only Christmas Song of the Day for December 25, 2014.)