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15 Vintage Christmas Songs to Get You in the Holiday Spirit

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The holiday season is the most nostalgic time of year, so it only makes sense that the most popular Christmas songs are from the 1940s and '50s. To really put a retro spin on the season, we gathered up 15 songs from even earlier—the '10s, '20s, and '30s. And while they might not be coming directly out of a record player, they're sure to put you in a very merry sepia-tinted mood.

1. "HAIL! HAIL! DAY OF DAYS" BY THE EDISON MIXED QUARTET // 1913

Perhaps the most traditional song on this list, its performers—the Edison Mixed Quartet (also sometimes referred to as the Edison Concert Band)—also recorded a few similar-sounding Christmas tunes during the early 20th century.

2. "SANTA CLAUS HIDES IN THE PHONOGRAPH" BY SANTA CLAUS HIMSELF (ERNEST HARE) // 1922

OK, this isn't a song—but we just had to include this 1922 bit that does end with a rendition of "Jingle Bells."

3. "AT THE CHRISTMAS BALL" BY BESSIE SMITH // 1925

If you're a music lover, you know (and love) Bessie Smith, but you might not have heard this holiday track, which combines Smith's soaring vocals with delightfully jazzy horns and piano.

4. "THE SANTA CLAUS CRAVE" BY ELZADIE ROBINSON // 1927

We've included a few blues tracks here, because, hey: the holidays are the best time to be cheerful—and depressed.

5. "SANTA CLAUS, THAT'S ME" BY VERNON DALHART // 1928

Vernon Dalhart was an important figure in the early days of American folk and country music—even with a background in opera. He auditioned for Thomas Edison and, over the course of several years, recorded hundreds of songs for Edison Records under a number of pseudonyms. After that, Dalhart began to record country songs, becoming a household name with 1924's "The Wreck of the Old 97."

6. "CHRISTMAS IN JAIL - AIN'T THAT A PAIN?" BY LEROY CARR // 1929

If the name didn't tip you off, here's another blues track. And if you find yourself in need of more, click on over here, here, here, here, here, and here. Yes, there are a surprising number of great blues songs about the holidays, and these somber tunes will definitely bring you joy.

7. "I TOLD SANTA CLAUS TO BRING ME YOU" BY BERNIE CUMMINS AND HIS ORCHESTRA // 1930

While the Christmas music of the '40s and '50s would start to make its way into the studio, much of the earlier music of the holidays still had that live, big band sound—including this 1930 recording.

8. "THE SANTA CLAUS EXPRESS" BY HENRY HALL FEAT. DAN DONOVAN AND THE BBC ORCHESTRA // 1933

This is the kind of song you might expect to hear in a Christmas special for kids (which is a total compliment).

9. "DOES SANTA CLAUS SLEEP WITH HIS WHISKERS OVER OR UNDER THE SHEET?" BY JACK JACKSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA // 1933

A very cheeky song honoring the age-old question you've never thought to ask: "Does Santa Claus sleep with his whiskers over or under the sheet?"

10. "IN A MERRY MOOD" BY BARNABAS VON GECZY AND HIS ORCHESTRA // 1934

An instrumental track that's perfect for you if orchestra swells are what really get you in the holiday spirit.

11. "SWINGIN' THEM JINGLE BELLS" BY FATS WALLER // 1936

"Swingin" might actually be the best way to describe this 1936 jazz carol.

12. "WHAT WILL SANTA CLAUS SAY?" BY LOUIS PRIMA & HIS NEW ORLEANS GANG // 1936

This song is sometimes listed as "What Will Santa Claus Say? (When He Finds Everybody Swingin')," which is a pretty fun image to conjure if you ask us.

13. "THE FAIRY ON THE CHRISTMAS TREE" BY THREE SISTERS // 1936

This 1936 Christmas song sounds a bit like a scene out of an old Disney movie—and tells the tale of all the little girls who dream of being the fairy on top of the tree. (It's OK, we've never had that dream either.)

14. "I WANT YOU FOR CHRISTMAS" BY RUSS MORGAN // 1937

Before "All I Want For Christmas Is You," there was "I Want You For Christmas."

15. "THE ONLY THING I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS" BY EDDIE CANTOR // 1939

Don't let that creepy preview image above fool you: This 1939 song is a sweet ode to all the things we already have (with some not-so-subtle nods to the turmoil happening around the world at the time).

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10 Other Mother’s Days from Around the World
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After her mother passed away in 1905, Anna Jarvis resolved to dedicate a day to her mother, and mothers everywhere. Little did she know, and evidently much to her chagrin, Mother’s Day fast became a commercial phenomenon. Its popularity spread worldwide and many countries, particularly in the Western world, adopted the second Sunday in May as their official Mother’s Day. But not every nation followed suit—perhaps to the chagrin of their local flower companies. In fact, Mother’s Day in many countries has little or nothing to do with Anna Jarvis’s creation, nor does it always occur in May. These are just a few of those other Mother’s Days.

1. UK // MOTHERING SUNDAY, FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT

The name may sound strikingly similar to its American counterpart, but the origins of Mothering Sunday are quite different. By most historical accounts, it was the Church of England that created Mothering Sunday to honor the mothers of England, and later to commemorate the “Mother Church” in all its spiritual nurturing glory. Hundreds of years ago, Christians were expected to make at least one return to their mother church each year. In other words, Mothering Sunday was the ultimate guilt trip to visit the woman or entity that gave them life. Was that so much to ask? The fourth Sunday of Lent became the designated day to make this journey, and remains the go-to holiday to celebrate Moms to this day.

2. THAILAND // MOTHER'S DAY, AUGUST 12

Her Majesty Sirikit the Queen of Thailand is also considered the mother of all her Thai subjects. In light of her royal maternal status, the Thai government made her birthday, August 12, Thailand’s official Mother’s Day in 1976. It remains a national holiday, celebrated countrywide with fireworks and candle-lighting. In related holidays, Father’s Day in Thailand falls on the current King’s birthday, December 5.

3. BOLIVIA // MOTHER'S DAY, MAY 27

During the struggle for independence from Spain in the early 19th century, many of the country's fathers, sons, and husbands were injured and killed on the battlefields. As the history is told to Bolivian students, one group of women from Cochabamba refused to stand idly by; on May 27, they banded together to fight the Spanish Army on Coronilla Hill. Though hundreds died in battle, the legacy of their contributions lives on thanks to a national law passed in the 1920s making the day on which the “Heroinas of Coronilla” took to the streets national Mother’s Day.

4. INDONESIA// MOTHER'S DAY OR WOMEN'S DAY, DECEMBER 22

Made official in 1953 by its president, Indonesia's Mother’s Day falls on the anniversary of the First Indonesian Women’s Congress (1928). The first convening of women in a governmental body is still considered pivotal in launching organized women’s movements throughout Indonesia. The holiday was created to celebrate the contributions of women to Indonesian society.

5. MIDDLE EAST (VARIOUS) // MOTHER'S DAY OR SPRING EQUINOX, MARCH 21

Egyptian journalist Mustafa Amin introduced the idea of a Mother’s Day to his home country, and it quickly spread throughout much of the region. Inspired by a story of a thankless widow ignored by an ungrateful son, Amin and his brother Ali successfully proposed a day in Egypt to honor all mothers. They decided the first day of spring, March 21, was most appropriate to celebrate the ultimate givers of life. It was first celebrated in Egypt in 1956, and is still observed throughout the region from Bahrain to the United Arab Emirates to Iraq.

6. NEPAL // MOTHER PILGRIMAGE FORTNIGHT OR MATA TIRTHA SNAN, LAST DAY OF THE MAISHAKH MONTH (USUALLY BETWEEN LATE APRIL AND EARLY MAY)

Stemming from an ancient Hindu tradition, this festival of honoring mothers is still commonly celebrated in Nepal. The holiday honors both the living and the dead equally. Traditionally, those honoring mothers who have passed away make a pilgrimage to the Mata Tirtha ponds near Kathmandu. A large carnival is also held in the Mata Tirtha village. Children show their mothers appreciation with sweets and gifts.

7. ISRAEL // FAMILY DAY OR THE HOLIDAY FORMERLY KNOWN AS MOTHER'S DAY, 30TH DAY OF SHEVAT (USUALLY FEBRUARY)

Henrietta Szold never had any children of her own, but that didn’t stop her from touching the lives of many young ones. Szold played an active role in the Youth Aliya organization, through which she helped protect many Jewish children from the horrors of the Holocaust. This earned her a reputation as the “mother” of all children. In the 1950s, an 11-year-old girl named Nechama Biedermann wrote to the children’s publication Haaretz Shelanu proposing they make the date of Szold’s death Israel’s national Mother’s Day. The newspaper readily agreed, as did the rest of the country. Despite the shift to a more gender-balanced Family Day, the holiday’s popularity has waned over the years.

8. ETHIOPIA // MOTHER'S DAY OR ANTROSHT, WHEN THE RAINY SEASON ENDS (OCTOBER/NOVEMBER)

Rather than tying themselves down to a specific date, Ethiopians wait out the wet season then trek home for a large, three-day family celebration. This feast is known as “Antrosht.” Unlike some western Mother’s Days, the mother plays a key role in preparing the traditional meals for the festival.

9. FRANCE // MOTHER'S DAY OR FÊTE DES MÈRES, LAST SUNDAY IN MAY

Celebrating a few Sundays later than the rest of the world feels so, well, French. However, according to one blogger, they may have beat all of us to the punch—sort of. France has a storied history of attempts to create a national Mother’s Day. Napoleon tried to mandate a national maternal holiday at the turn of the 19th century. But things ended up not working out so well for him and his holiday. More than a century later, Lyon held its own Mother’s Day celebration to honor women who lost sons to the First World War. It was not until May 24, 1950 that the Fête des Mères became an officially decreed holiday.

(The holiday is mandated to occur on the last Sunday in May. However, if that Sunday is also the Pentecost, then Mother’s Day is pushed to the first Sunday in June.)

10. NICARAGUA // MOTHER'S DAY OR DÍA DE MADRE, MAY 30

In the 1940s, President General Anastasio Somoza Garcia declared Mother’s Day in honor of the birthday of his mother-in-law. Despite its brown-nosing origins, it remains a big deal in Nicaragua.

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What's the Story Behind Cinco de Mayo?
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Cinco de Mayo, or May 5, is recognized around the country as a time to celebrate Mexico’s cultural heritage. Like a lot of days earmarked to commemorate a specific idea or event, its origins can be a little murky. Who started it, and why?

The holiday was originally set aside to commemorate Mexico’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The two had gotten into a dispute after newly-elected Mexico president Benito Juárez tried to help ease the country’s financial woes by defaulting on European loans. Unmoved by their plight, France attempted to seize control of their land. The Napoleon III-led country sent 6000 troops to Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town en route to Mexico City, and anticipated an easy victory.

After an entire day of battle that saw 2000 Mexican soldiers take 500 enemy lives against only 100 casualties, France retreated. That May 5, Mexico had proven itself to be a formidable and durable opponent. (The victory would be short-lived, as the French would eventually conquer Mexico City. In 1866, Mexican and U.S. forces were able to drive them out.)

To celebrate, Juárez declared May 5, or Cinco de Mayo, to be a national holiday. Puebla began acknowledging the date, with recognition spreading throughout Mexico and in the Latino population of California, which celebrated victory over the same kind of oppressive regime facing minorities in Civil War-era America. In fact, University of California at Los Angeles professor David Hayes-Bautista cites his research into newspapers of the era as evidence that Cinco de Mayo really took off in the U.S. due to the parallels between the Confederacy and the monarchy Napoleon III had planned to install.

Cinco de Mayo gained greater visibility in the U.S. in the middle part of the 20th century thanks to the Good Neighbor Policy, a political movement promoted by Franklin Roosevelt beginning in 1933, which encouraged friendly relations between countries.  

There’s a difference between a day of remembrance and a corporate clothesline, however. Cinco de Mayo was co-opted for the latter beginning in the 1970s, when beer and liquor companies decided to promote consumption of their products while enjoying the party atmosphere of the date—hence the flowing margaritas. And while it may surprise some Americans, Cinco de Mayo isn’t quite as big a deal in Mexico as it can be in the States. While Mexican citizens recognize it, it’s not a federal holiday: Celebrants can still get to post offices and banks. 

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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