The origin of the famous “O Holy Night” dates back to 1847, when Placide Cappeau, a wine merchant and amateur poet, wrote a Christmas verse that he sent to composer Adolphe Adam. Adam set it to an eloquent melody that would come to be known in French by the first two words of the first line, Minuit, Chrétiens. The story doesn’t end there, however: the score would cross the Atlantic in the luggage of Quebec musician and historian Ernst Gagnon and be sung on December 24, 1858, by Marie-Louise-Joséphine Caron, the future mother of Louis-Alexandre Taschereau.
Some of the most popular holiday songs are more recent compositions and often originated in the United States. Written in 1857 by James Lord Pierpont for performance during Thanksgiving Day festivities and quickly becoming an American holiday classic, “Jingle Bells” was virtually unknown in France until 1948, when it was published and recorded as “Vive le vent.”
First broadcast in its original version on American radio in November 1934, “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” was an instant hit. Composed by Irving Berlin in 1940 for the film Holiday Inn, “White Christmas” received the Oscar for best song and has been recorded by Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Ginette Reno and Mario Pelchat, among many others.
© 2022 Florence Leyssieux
Translation by Craig Schweickert