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Classic Christmas Songs That Are Darker Than You Realized

Updated December 20, 2019 3.5k votes 884 voters 66.4k views11 items

List RulesVote up the most shockingly dark tunes.

The never-ending broadcasting of carols during November and December may be a depressing idea, but Christmas music with dark meanings can make the holidays downright bleak. Ugly sweaters and too many cookies are horrible enough, and it's a proven fact that Christmas music can be bad for you. And despite the twinkly lights and shiny things of the holiday season, there are plenty of classic Christmas songs that are darker than you thought – way darker. 

Grandmothers getting flattened by flying deer and Mommy having an affair with Old Saint Nick can make for some dark Christmas songs, but listeners generally know they were written in good humor. Some of your favorite Christmas songs, on the other hand, may actually be about a massacre of children, inspired by the death of a loved one, or originally suppressed due to bigotry. You've probably been hearing these songs ever since your very first holiday, but after learning the truth about secretly creepy Christmas music, you might not feel as jolly. Vote up the evil Christmas carols and depressing Christmas songs whose true meanings surprise you the most.

  • "White Christmas" Was Written Partly In Memory Of The Songwriter's Late Son
    Video: YouTube

    "White Christmas" holds the surprising record of being the world's best-selling single, first released by Bing Crosby only a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The song was written by Irving Berlin for a Broadway musical that was never made, but managed to find its way into the Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby movie Holiday Inn (and its spiritual successor, White Christmas).

    Since Berlin was Jewish, he didn't really celebrate the holiday. But he had developed a yearly tradition of visiting his son's grave; the child had passed away on Christmas Day when he was three weeks old. The melancholy Berlin associated with Christmas certainly came through in the song, and it became a hit after resonating with sentimental listeners during World War II.

    Continuing the dark history of the song, the playing of "White Christmas" over the radio also served as code for American soldiers to evacuate Saigon during the Vietnam War.

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  • 2

    "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Refers To The Cuban Missile Crisis

    "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Refers To The Cuban Missile Crisis
    Video: YouTube

    "Do You Hear What I Hear?" has been covered by many artists, including Carrie Underwood and Whitney Houston. The lyrics describe a lamb pointing out a star to a shepherd boy, who then tells the king to bring silver and gold to a special child. It sounds like a sweet, not overly religious tune, and thank to the repeating verses, it's a classic holiday selection for choirs.

    What many people don't know, however, is that the star with the "tail as big as a kite" actually refers to a missile. The song was written in 1962 by Gloria Shayne Baker and Noel Regney, both terrified of being blown up as the Cuban Missile Crisis went down. The lines at the end urge listeners to "pray for peace people everywhere" and were the songwriters' response to the tense situation.

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  • "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" Was Originally Incredibly Depressing
    Video: YouTube

    "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" has been covered by everyone from Amy Grant to Barry Manilow, but it was originally written for the 1944 movie Meet Me in Saint Louis and sung by Judy Garland. Hugh Martin was given the task of creating a song that could show the family's sadness over celebrating the last Christmas in a home they were soon moving from. With lyrics like "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last," Martin did such a good job of writing a melancholy tune that Garland complained it was too depressing.

    The lyrics were changed, but one of the song's last lines as heard in the film, "From now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow" was later altered to "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough." That was at the request of Frank Sinatra, who thought the song was still too dark. Despite the fact his more jolly version was the one that turned the song into a holiday classic, most people agree that it's the song's melancholy undertone that they really relate to.

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  • 4

    "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" Was Written Immediately After A Family Member's Funeral

    "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" Was Written Immediately After A Family Member's Funeral
    Video: YouTube

    In 1934, songwriter Haven Gillespie was asked by his publisher to write a Christmas song for children. Having gone to the meeting directly from his brother Irwin's funeral, Gillespie had no interest in the project. Somehow he was talked into it and began writing the song on his train ride home. Thinking of all the pleasant memories he created with his brother during the holidays, Gillespie wrote "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town."

    The song was later recorded by Eddie Cantor and became a huge hit, inspiring many covers and a classic stop-motion animated film. Gillespie, however, never liked hearing the song, since it reminded him of his brother.

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