New England and Christmas Songs

Another Christmas season is upon us and yes, Christmas music began playing on local radio stations in mid-November. I hear many say it is way too early, yet, they listen. There is something exciting about this time of year, perhaps it’s the hustle and bustle, maybe it’s the Christmas cartoons like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that take us baby boomers back to our childhoods or maybe it’s the real reason for the season. One thing for sure, families seem to come together for a variety of reasons and that’s a good thing.

But let’s go back to the Christmas carols. After all, music sets the mood for many holidays and events but more so at Christmas. Many traditional Christmas Carols originated in Europe and arrived on our shores with immigrants however some have their origins right here in New England or have ties to this region.

Let’s look at them.


First published as a poem entitled “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear”, this work describes a universal message of peace. Written by Edmund Sears, who was born and raised in Massachusetts and worked as a preacher, the poem was written shortly after the Mexican-American war. In the third stanza of the song, Sears hope for peace jumps out: “And man, at war with man, hears not/The love-song which they bring/O hush the noise, ye men of strife/And hear the angles sing”. In 1850, the poem was put to music with the help of Bostonian Richard Storrs Willis. It has since become a Christmas standard.

The Johnny Mathis version of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"


Originally titled “The Carol of the Drum”, this song was penned in 1941 by Katherine Kennicott Davis who studied music at Wellesley College and later at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. In 1955, the Trapp Family recorded the song and it reached national popularity which continues to this day. When Davis passed away at the age of 87, she left the royalties of this song to the Department of Music at Wellesley College.

Neil Diamond's version of "The Little Drummer Boy"


Written in 1948 by Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Leroy Anderson, who wrote the song as a light orchestral piece which was eventually recorded by the Boston Pops. In 1950, lyrics were added to the song. More aptly described as a winter song rather then a Christmas song, it continues to rank at the top of most played music at the holiday season and has become the signature holiday song for the Boston Pops.

The Boston Pops and "Sleigh Ride"


Written by James Pierpont and published sometime in the 1850s, this song was originally called “One Horse Open Sleigh”. It is said that Pierpont wrote the song at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts while imbibing some adult beverages and watching the citizenry go about their business on a snowy evening. Others say that this romantic story is hogwash and it was actually written in Savannah, Georgia. In any case, Pierpont was born and raised in Boston and I’m sure his inspiration for the song came from the New England weather and not the peach trees of Georgia.

Jingle Bells sing along with the Boston Pops


This work was originally a poem written by New Englander, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day in 1863 and is tied to the American Civil War and a feeling of hopelessness over a nation divided. His feelings are best summed up by this line: “And in despair I bowed my head;/ ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;/ ‘For hate is strong, / And mocks the song/ Of peace on earth, good-will to men!'” However, given the day and the joy he witnessed around him, he ended the poem with a positive message: “The wrong shall fail, / The right prevail, / With peace on earth, good-will to men.” In 1872, the poem was set to music by John Baptiste Calkin and it became a Christmas classic.

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" by Frank Sinatra.


Written by Bostonian Phillips Brooks, he was inspired to write the song while serving as a rector of a Philadelphia church. Brooks later returned to New England to work in a Boston church. This song has become a Christmas favorite.

Nat King Cole's "O Little Town of Bethlehem"

So, as you go about your Christmas shopping and hear the songs playing in the malls, on the radio or on television specials, remember that New England has contributed some classics to the Holiday Season.

Attorney Connelly practices in the area of elder law. This area of law involves Medicaid planning and asset protection advice for those individuals entering nursing homes, planning for the possibility of disability through the use of powers of attorney for the both health care and finances, guardianship, estate planning, probate and estate administration, preparation of wills, living trusts and special or supplemental needs trusts. He represents clients primarily in the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) in 2008. Attorney Connelly is licensed to practice before the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Federal Bars.

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