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31 Things You Didn't Know about Holiday Songs

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1. Hi, I'm Mike, this is mental_floss on YouTube, and did you know that in the '50s the Catholic church condemned the song "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus?" So the record label flew the 13 year old Singer, Jimmy Boyd, out to Boston to meet with the archdiocese. Afterwards, they determined that the song was okay after all.

And that is the first of many facts about holiday songs that I'm gonna share with you today. Sorry, it's gonna get pretty Christmas-y up in here, but don't worry, we'll be back to our secular ways soon enough.

2. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," "A Holly Jolly Christmas," and "Run, Rudolph, Run" were all written by the same man, Johnny Marks, who was Jewish.

3. "The Little Drummer Boy" was originally known as "The Carol of the Drums." The von Trapp singers are credited with popularizing the song—yes, those von Trapps.

4. "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," from The Nutcracker, was written in 1891 for the celesta, an instrument that was invented only five years earlier. Oh hi Nutcracker! This is a great outfit. Where do you shop?

5. In 1906, "O Holy Night" became the second song to ever be broadcast on radio.

6. The singer of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" might sound old, but that is Brenda Lee—who was 13 years old at the time.

7. The first Christmas song to mention Santa Clause was "Up on the House Top" in 1864. These guys are slightly younger than that.

8. "Do You Hear What I Hear?" was written by two people with the most Christmas-y sounding names of all time: Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne. It is also, as it turns out, about the Cuban Missile Crisis. So next time you listen to "Do You Hear What I Hear?" just keep that in the back of your mind.

9. "Joy to the World" was originally a song about Christ's resurrection and his second coming on Easter, not his birth.

10. And the popular New Year song, "Auld Lang Syne," was never supposed to be associated with the holiday at all. One live band in New York coincidentally played it just after midnight on the radio, then it became a tradition. Not long after it also became a tradition to turn to someone next to you at the New Year's party and say, "What does 'Auld Lang Syne' mean anyway, I don't even know."

11. The song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" mentions that there will be scary ghost stories, which doesn't seem Christmas-y—but in fact it was a holiday tradition that started in Victorian England and has since died out. Spending all of that uninterrupted time with your family is scary enough so there's no need for ghost stories. Just kidding, Mom and Dad, very excited to come home for Christmas.

12. Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft sang "You're a Mean One, Mr Grinch." He was also the voice of Tony the Tiger for 50 years. Not going to make a grrr-eat joke.

13. During World War I, there was a Christmas Truce, in which the French, English, and German troops sang "Silent Night."

14. On the other hand, the BBC would not play the song "I'll Be Home for Christmas" during World War II because they didn't want to lower the morale of their troops.

15. Songwriter Meredith Wilson wrote "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" in addition to the University of Iowa fight song and The Music Man. That guy had range.

16.The group recording of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" brought a feud between Boy George and George Michael to popular consciousness. Of George Michael's recording, Boy George said, "God, he sounded camp." But then, he is.

17. George Michael actually wrote the Wham song "Last Christmas." He also got sued for it because of its resemblance to the Barry Manilow song "Can't Smile Without You." It was settled out of court.

18. Irving Berlin, who wrote "White Christmas," hated Elvis's cover of his song. In the '50s, he started a campaign to ban Presley's version of the song from the radio, a process that proved akin to banning snow from falling.

19. And speaking of which, "Let It Snow" was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne during a 1945 heat wave in California.

20. Another song that was written in the heat: "The Christmas Song," also known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." Apparently songwriter Bob Wells was overheating, so he wrote a list of things that reminded him of cold weather. Chestnuts roasting, Jack Frost nipping, yuletide carols, et cetera. And then, it became the star of a song.

21. The residents of Armonk, New York believe that the song "Frosty the Snowman" was written about their town. They even hold an annual parade in honor of it.

22. "We Three Kings" was originally written in 1857 for a Christmas pageant at the General Theological Seminary in New York City. I imagine that's a little bit different than the one that you would find in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

23. The original Yiddish version of "I Have a Little Dreidel," the dreidel is made out of bley, which means lead. It was translated to clay.

24. "Deck the Halls" started as a dance tune, the lyric "follow me in a merry measure" means "join me in dance."

25 "Silver Bells" was originally called "Tinkle Bells." Then the song writer Ray Evans told his wife about it, who responded "Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word tinkle is?"

26. There are three, count them, three separate music videos for the Mariah Carey song "All I Want for Christmas is You," and for some reason, I'm not surprised.

27. When "Winter Wonderland" was written in the '30s, some people were offended by the bit about Parson Brown marrying people on a whim. The line was replaced with "In the meadow we can build a snowman, and pretend that he's a circus clown."

28. "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" was originally sung by Elmo Shropshire, a veterinarian, which I guess means that there's some kind of professional expertise supporting the described results of when grandmas and reindeers collide.

29. Paul McCartney wrote, sang, and played every instrument for "Wonderful Christmastime." He still earns between $400,000 and $600,000 every year in royalties for the song.

30. If you really received all of the gifts from "The 12 Days of Christmas," there would be 364 presents total. Someone did the math in 2013, and determined that it would cost around $114,651.18.

31. Finally, I return to the salon to tell you that "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was written for the Judy Garland film Meet Me in St. Louis, originally it contained lines like "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last, faithful friends who were dear to us will be near to us no more," but Garland insisted that the songwriter change them, because she was supposed to sing it to a 7 year old and didn't want to seem like, I quote, "A monster."

Thanks for watching mental_floss on YouTube, which is made with the help of these nice people. My name is Mike Renetta, if you like my face, you can find more of it on YouTube at PBS Idea Channel, and if you like my voice, you can find it on my podcast, Reasonably Sound, links to those things in the Dooblydoo, and hey, DFTBA, and happy holidays!

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Don't Have Space For a Christmas Tree? Decorate a Pineapple Instead
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Christmas trees aren't for everyone. Some people can't fit a fir inside their cramped abodes, while others are turned off by the expense, or by the idea of bugs hitchhiking their way inside. Fake trees are always an option, but a new trend sweeping Instagram—pineapples as mini-Christmas "trees"—might convince you to forego the forest vibe for a more tropical aesthetic.

As Thrillist reports, the pineapple-as-Christmas-tree idea appears to have originated on Pinterest before it, uh, ripened into a social media sensation. Transforming a pineapple into a Halloween “pumpkin” requires carving and tea lights, but to make the fruit festive for Christmas all one needs are lights, ornaments, swaths of garland, and any other tiny tchotchkes that remind you of the holidays. The final result is a tabletop decoration that's equal parts Blue Hawaii and Miracle on 34th Street.

In need of some decorating inspiration? Check out a variety of “Christmas tree” pineapples below.

[h/t Thrillist]

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15 Festive Facts About Jingle All the Way
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In all of Arnold Schwarzenegger's film oeuvre, Jingle All the Way might just be the one that most exhibits the ugliness of humanity. Set on a fevered Christmas Eve brimming with desperate last-minute shoppers, Schwarzenegger's Howard Langston and Sinbad's postal worker character Myron Larabee find themselves battling one another to make themselves look good to their sons by getting their hands on the elusive Turbo Man action figure. The comedic genius Phil Hartman; Rita Wilson; future young Anakin Skywalker, Jake Lloyd; Laraine Newman; Harvey Korman; Martin Mull; Curtis Armstrong; and Chris Parnell were the other willing participants in this cult comedy, directed by Brian Levant. Here are some things you might not have known about the contemporary holiday classic.

1. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER WAS ABLE TO PLAY THE LEAD BECAUSE OF A DELAY ON A PLANET OF THE APES REMAKE.

Arnold Schwarzenegger signed up to star in the Apes remake in March of 1994, but 20th Century Fox rejected multiple scripts for the movie, including one co-written by Chris Columbus (Gremlins, The Goonies). Columbus left the project in late 1995, and Schwarzenegger followed him soon after, freeing him to sign up for Jingle All the Way, produced by Columbus, in February 1996. Fox's Planet of the Apes reboot found its way into theaters in 2001, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Tim Burton.

2. SINBAD THOUGHT HE SCREWED UP THE AUDITION.

Sinbad in 'Jingle All the Way' (1996)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Filming was delayed so that Sinbad could follow through on his commitment to travel to Bosnia with Hillary Clinton. Even though Columbus agreed to wait for him, the comedian still thought he "messed up" his audition and told his manager-brother he was going to quit show business.

3. OFFICER HUMMELL WAS INITIALLY WRITTEN AS A WOMAN.

Though the role of Officer Hummell was written for a woman, the part went to Robert Conrad. Conrad's explanation was that the producers "wanted someone who could pull up next to Arnold and tell him to pull over and he pulls over."

4. IT WAS CHRIS PARNELL'S FIRST MOVIE.

The future SNL star played the toy store clerk. "Well, it was my first movie role, and I didn't know how they typically shot scenes," Parnell admitted in a Reddit AMA. "So I had to laugh a lot, and I sort of spent all of my laughing energy in the wider takes, so by the time we got to the close-up shots, it was a real struggle to keep that going."

5. MARTIN MULL STAYED ON SET FOR OVER TWO WEEKS LONGER THAN HE WAS SUPPOSED TO.

Mull (KQRS D.J. a.k.a. Mr. Ponytail Man) was told it would just be a one- to two-day shoot for him. Unfortunately, his part had to be shot on a rainy day, and it didn't rain in Minneapolis for two and a half weeks.

6. PHIL HARTMAN MADE UP A BACKSTORY FOR HIS CHARACTER.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Hartman (Ted Maltin) was probably joking for the film's official production notes, but you never know. "Ted is a guy who sued his employer for headaches caused by toner fumes and now hangs around the neighborhood and helps all the housewives," Hartman said. He also offered a take on how he was kind of being pigeonholed in Hollywood when he added, "Ted's another weasel to add my list of weasels."

7. HARTMAN ENTERTAINED HIS BORED YOUNG CO-STARS.

To keep young E.J. De la Pena (Johnny Maltin) and Jake Lloyd (Jamie Langston) from getting bored shooting a car scene all day, Hartman improvised songs designed to bring kids to hysterics. One tune contained the lyrics “You make my butt shine, the more you kiss it, the more it shines! The clock is ticking, so keep on licking, oh how you make my buttocks shine!”

"When you’re an 8 year old hearing that kind of potty humor, it was hilarious!" De la Pena remembered. "And we had a lot of fun."

8. JAMES BELUSHI HAD EXPERIENCE PLAYING SANTA BEFORE.

Belushi sort of trained to portray the Mall of America Santa in the movie by playing Kris Kringle for four years in "about 20" different homes, according to his estimation.

9. SHOOTING BEGAN IN MID-APRIL.

The Minneapolis/St.Paul areas were chosen because the producers figured they had the longest winter. But they also filmed in Los Angeles' Universal Studios for the big parade over a three week span, where it was typical hot California weather on the verge of summer. Sinbad remembered it was 100 degrees on the days when he wore the Dementor costume, and the water in his helmet had started to boil.

10. THE REAL TURBO MAN DIDN'T SWEAT.

Daniel Riordan's Turbo Man suit ensured he wouldn't have trouble with the scorching heat. He was wearing a vest underneath used by race car drivers. "They're very thin membrane vests that are filled with small, plastic tubing that's tightly coiled, back and forth, and they run cold water through it," Riordan explained. "So when they run it, it's like this cold water right up against your body and it was amazing. The sensation was fantastic."

11. TURBO MAN FIGURES WERE SOLD AT WAL-MART.

200,000 were originally produced and sold at 2,300 Wal-Mart shops for $25. They would have made more but, as Fox’s president of licensing and merchandising explained to Entertainment Weekly, there were only six and a half months to produce and promote Turbo Man toys, and it usually takes "well over a year."

12. THEY ALMOST SOLD DEMENTOR DOLLS TOO.

Sinbad recalled that the studio didn't sell Dementor action figures even though they tested high during research. "I had a prototype of the doll but they said 'give it back, we'll get you the real one when it comes out,'" Sinbad said." ...And dude, it NEVER came out!" Sinbad told Redditers his theory: "I think that they didn't want the competition between Turbo Man and my doll."

13. SOME PARENTS HAD ALCOHOL-RELATED COMPLAINTS AFTER TEST SCREENINGS.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Schwarzenegger and Sinbad talking at a bar over some alcohol, and the fact that reindeer also imbibed in beer, were among some of the problems mothers and other early viewers took issue with.

14. THE FILMMAKERS WERE SUED FOR PLAGIARISM, AND LOST.

Randy Kornfield penned the official script, but high school teacher Brian Alan Webster alleged his Could This Be Christmas? script was very similar. The publishing firm that had the rights to Webster's script won a $19 million lawsuit from 20th Century Fox, but the ruling was overturned in 2004. Webster's screenplay was about “the quest of a Caucasian mother attempting to obtain a hard-to-get action figure toy as a Christmas gift for her son. In the course of this pursuit, she competes with an African-American woman, similarly seeking to give the action figure doll as a Christmas gift.”

15. THERE WAS A SEQUEL STARRING LARRY THE CABLE GUY.

None of the original cast members nor characters returned in the straight-to-DVD Jingle All the Way 2 (2014). It was produced by 20th Century Fox and WWE Studios and featured wrestler Santino Marella. Sinbad expressed incredulity when a Redditer inquired if he was asked to return for it. "What they are doing a new version without me! Ain't gonna work!"

Additional Sources:

Schaefer, Stephen: "Sinbad leaps at the chance to go postal in Jingle All the Way," December 6, 1996; Des Moines Register

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