“White Christmas” is an Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the version sung by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide. Other versions of the song, along with Bing Crosby’s, have sales over 100 million copies.
Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song. One story is that he wrote it in 1940, in warm La Quinta, California, while staying at the La Quinta Hotel, a frequent Hollywood retreat also favored by writer-director-producer Frank Capra, although the Arizona Biltmore also claims the song was written there. He often stayed up all night writing — he told his secretary, “Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!”
The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941; a copy of the recording from the radio program is owned by the estate of Bing Crosby and was loaned to CBS Sunday Morning for their December 25, 2011, program. He subsequently recorded the song with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers for Decca Records in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942, and it was released on July 30 as part of an album of six 78-rpm songs from the film Holiday Inn. At first, Crosby did not see anything special about the song. He just said “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving.”
Original verse: Irving Berlin’s opening verse is often dropped in recordings, but is included on A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, sung by Darlene Love, on Barbra Streisand’s A Christmas Album, on The Carpenters Christmas Portrait sung by Karen Carpenter, on Bette Midler’s Cool Yule, on Libera’s Christmas Album and on Crash Test Dummies’ Jingle All the Way.
The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There’s never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December the twenty-fourth,—
And I am longing to be up North—
This opening verse was also included on country singer Collin Raye’s version of the song, as featured on his 2004 album, Christmas: The Gift. British band Keane’s version of the song also included this introduction, but with changed lyrics to give the song a melancholic feeling:
The sun’s been hiding, the streets are gray,
The rain has been falling down.
Seems everyone wears a frown
for Christmas in London town
It reminds me each time I roamed.
I’m longing to be back home