White Christmas

Mon Dec 12 18:02:53 UTC 2005

        How old is "white Christmas"?  The phrase's current popularity,
of course, derives from the 1937 Irving Berlin song, but he did not coin
it.  In Nancy: A Novel, by Rhoda Broughton (1874) (via Making of
America), we read "It is Christmas-day - a clean white Christmas, pure
and crisp."

        That 1874 quotation, with "white" mixed in with other
adjectives, made me wonder if the usage was the same as our standardized
term.  There's no doubt about this example from 1878, from Appletons'
Journal (Dec. 1878) (also via Making of America):  "Once she lifted the
closed curtain and looked out; snow was still falling.  It was to be a
white Christmas, and people had said all day that if the storm did not
abate by nightfall there could be few carols sung this year."

        "White Christmas" still had currency when Berlin wrote the song.
>From the 12/24/1934 New Yorker (reprinted in The Complete New Yorker):
"For once, it looks like we might have a white Christmas."  This is the
caption of a cartoon; the speaker is the father of an African-American
family, looking out the window.

John Baker

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