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5 Classic Christmas Songs (and Other Songs Those Artists Recorded)

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" has been on repeat in shopping malls since Thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean it's the only popular song Brenda Lee ever recorded. Here's a quick primer on the artists responsible for five of the 10 most-broadcast holiday songs of 2011.

1. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Brenda Lee was only 13 years old in 1958 when she recorded a new Christmas melody written by Johnny Marks, the composer whose resume included “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas.” The record only sold 5,000 copies that year but has since become a holiday staple. The pint-sized singer (she never grew taller than 4’9”) already had a small following in the South thanks to a couple of country record hits, but her career skyrocketed in 1960 when she recorded what would become her signature tune, “I’m Sorry.”

“Little Miss Dynamite” went on to have 10 consecutive Billboard 100 hits from 1960 to 1962, a record for a female artist at the time that remained unbroken until Madonna came along in the 1980s. Here’s Brenda belting out her #3 hit “Sweet Nothin’s”:

2. Feliz Navidad

José Feliciano was born in Puerto Rico and moved with his family to New York when he was five years old. Left blind at birth due to congenital glaucoma, he developed an ear for music at an early age and played both the guitar and accordion with virtuosity by the time he was nine years old. He grew up, moved to Los Angeles and became a professional songwriter and musician. In 1968 his Latin-flavored version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” hit number three on the Billboard chart and sold over a million copies. In 1970 he wrote and recorded “Feliz Navidad” in which he purposely sang in both Spanish and English in order to bridge “two wonderful cultures” during a time of year that traditionally inspired good will toward all.

“Feliz Navidad” went on to become one of the Top 25 most-played holiday songs, but there was a period of time when many radio stations refused to play anything by Feliciano. His crime? Singing the very first stylized version of the National Anthem. It happened prior to Game 5 of the 1968 World Series in Detroit. Beloved play-by-play announcer Ernie Harwell, who’d arranged for Feliciano to perform, later noted that apparently many baseball fans were offended by Feliciano’s long hair and dark glasses (apparently not realizing that he was blind) and his guitar and immediately assumed he was one of those hippy anti-Establishment draft-dodging war protestors. That he dared to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” in such a non-traditional way provided the additional fuel necessary to light a fire of outrage from the American Legion and other veterans organizations, and the Tiger Stadium switchboard almost blew a fuse before José uttered the words “…and the home of the brave.”

3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Gene Autry may not have burned up the Billboard Pop Chart, but he was well-known as a cowboy crooner with several best-selling records about tumbleweeds and little dogs and the lone prairie. He was also something of a Renaissance Man: he founded Challenge Records, on which the Champs released their Number One hit “Tequila,” he starred in a passel of Western-themed films, and he owned the California Angels Major League Baseball team from 1961 until 1997. He is the only person to have five stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame (for Motion Pictures, Television, Radio, Recording and Live Performance/Theater). Despite the huge success of “Rudolph,” Autry’s signature tune was considered to be “Back in the Saddle Again.”

4. It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Crooner Andy Williams hosted his own TV variety show from 1962 to 1971, and for a time his annual Christmas special was a huge ratings hit. But then marital strife struck after 14 years and he and Claudine Longet divorced. One year later Longet was charged with the shooting murder of her boyfriend (alpine ski racer Spider Sabich), and Williams personally escorted her to court every day of her trial. She was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Besides his Christmas hits, Williams is most often associated with the song “Moon River,” and he had several Top 10 hits in the late 1950s. But his one hit that gets the most retroactive airplay is his rendition of the theme song from one of filmdom’s first “chick flicks,” Love Story.

5. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Nat “King” Cole was an internationally known jazz pianist and vocalist when NBC offered him the opportunity to host his own TV variety show in 1956. When Cole accepted he did so as a reluctant trailblazer; he wasn’t particularly interested in becoming a crusader, but as the first African-American to host such a prime time show, he saw the opportunity to be the Jackie Robinson of television and perhaps open up the medium to other black performers. Unfortunately in those pre-Civil Rights days most national advertisers refused to sponsor the show, fearful of a possible boycott (especially by folks in the South). A representative from Max Factor Cosmetics explained why his company declined its support: “Negroes don’t sell lipstick.” (Cole’s response: “What do they think we use – chalk?!”) To its credit, NBC believed in the program and supported it without a national sponsor for 42 episodes until Cole himself pulled the plug. He was losing an estimated $500,000 annually in personal appearances by concentrating on the stressful uphill battle that his weekly TV show had become. He returned to the concert circuit and the recording studio where the audiences tended to be a bit more colorblind. Cole had many Top 10 hits, including “Ramblin’ Rose,” which was his highest charting pop single (#2) and sold over a million copies.

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Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
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Inside the German Town Where Advent Is the Main Attraction
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

The German town of Gengenbach takes Christmas very seriously. So seriously that it counts down to the holiday with one of the biggest Advent calendars in the world.

Two decades ago, the town of 11,000 people on the edge of the Black Forest set out to bring in more tourists during the holiday season. So to make its holiday market more unique, Gengenbach began turning its town hall into a building-sized Advent calendar.

Now, every night from November 30 to December 23, the windows of Gengenbach’s Baroque city hall light up with artistic creations inspired by a yearly theme. At 6 p.m. each evening, the lights of city hall go up, and a spotlight trains on one window. Then, the window shade pulls up to reveal the new window. By December 23, all the windows are open and on display, and will stay that way until January 6.

Gengenbach's city hall lit up for Christmas
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

Each year, the windows are decorated according to a theme, like children’s books or the work of famous artists like Marc Chagall. For 2017, all the Advent calendar windows are filled with illustrations by Andy Warhol.

According to the Guinness World Records, it’s not the absolute biggest Advent calendar in the world. That record belongs to a roughly 233-foot-high, 75-foot-wide calendar built in London’s St Pancras railway station in 2007. Still, Gengenbach’s may be the biggest Advent calendar that comes back year after year. And as a tourist attraction, it has become a huge success in the last 20 years. The town currently gets upwards of 100,000 visitors every year during the holiday season, according to the local tourist bureau.

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Amazon Is Offering Free Same-Day Shipping to Prime Customers for the Holidays
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The holidays are arriving early for Amazon Prime customers—along with every gift they’ve yet to order through the online shopping behemoth. Amazon has put all of its Prime members on the “Nice” list this year, and is rewarding them with free same-day shipping from now through Christmas Eve. While that may be cutting it a little too close for some shoppers, the limited-time perk has perpetual procrastinators singing “Joy to the World.”

“We are continually investing in Prime, adding more selection and making delivery faster and more convenient,” Greg Greeley, Amazon Prime’s VP, said in a statement. “In fact, in 2016, the last Prime Free Same-Day order from Amazon.com delivered in time for Christmas was ordered at 10:23 a.m. on Christmas Eve. The order included Venum Contender Boxing Gloves, and was delivered to a Prime member in Richmond, Virginia at 2:42 p.m.—the very same day, for free.

(Whoever received those boxing gloves last year: now you know.)

This year’s holiday shipping schedule will allow gift-givers to push that deadline even further. While two-day shipping is always free for Prime customers, if that were the only option, they’d have to be done buying all their gifts by Friday, December 22. This year’s shipping perk means that you can push your shopping all the way to Christmas Eve, as long as you live in one of Amazon’s Same-Day Delivery zones (you just have to order by 9:30 a.m.). Even better: If Prime Now is available in your area, you have until 9:14 p.m. on December 24 to place your order and still have something fabulous to stick under the Christmas tree.

Of course, zero-dollar shipping costs are far from the $99 service’s only perk: unlimited streaming of Prime Video movies and TV shows—including Amazon-produced series like The Man in High Castle, Mozart in the Jungle, One Mississippi, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—is there for the bingeing. Free Kindle books, photo storage, and grocery delivery are among Prime’s many other benefits.

Not a Prime member? No problem! “Even if you are not currently a member, holiday shoppers can try Prime for free for 30 days and get two-day, one-day, and same-day shipping for free,” says Greeley.

It’s hard to argue with free.

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