I like odd facts and there are a number of them about the song “White Christmas.”
Berlin’s original name was Israel Baline. His family emigrated to America in 1893 to escape violent pogroms against Jews and settled in New York City.
By the age of 20, the young immigrant was on his way to becoming one of the greatest songwriters in modern history, under his Americanized name.
Berlin wrote “White Christmas” sometime in the late 1930s.
But the song first gained true national fame the following year, when it was sung by Crosby in the film Holiday Inn, a musical full of Irving Berlin songs that was released in the US on August 4, 1942.
In the fall of 1942, Decca issued the first recording of Crosby singing “White Christmas.”
It became a huge hit and a sentimental favorite of American troops and their families during World War II.
The recording of the song we’re most familiar with today, however, is not the 1942 version.
By 1947, the Decca master of Crosby’s 1942 recording had been used to make so many records that it was literally worn out.
That version of “White Christmas” went on to become the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales of more than 50 million copies.
In total, over 100 million copies of 78rpm records, 45rpm singles and albums with Bing’s various renditions of the song have been sold, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 1975, “White Christmas” also had a bizarre role at the end of the Vietnam War.
By April of that year, the United States had pulled most of its troops out of Vietnam and the North Vietnamese were closing in on Saigon.
As part of secret preparations for the evacuation of all remaining American personnel, the American embassy distributed a 15-page booklet to US civilians who were still in the city. It included a map showing where evacuation helicopters would be landing.
A page inserted into the booklet said:
“Note evacuational signal. Do not disclose to other personnel. When the evacuation is ordered, the code will be read out on American Forces Radio. The code is: THE TEMPERATURE IN SAIGON IS 112 DEGREES AND RISING. THIS WILL BE FOLLOWED BY THE PLAYING OF ‘I’M DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS.’”
The final panicky evacuation of Saigon is now inglorious history — and the fact that “White Christmas” played a role in it is one more odd thing about the song.
OK, now please sing along with Bing, without panicking:
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the tree-tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow…”
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