Five Innocent Christmas Songs with Surprisingly Dark Pasts

Not all of your favorite holiday carols are about candy canes and fresh snow.

Every holiday song has a special place in our hearts, memories forming along with lyrics that run through crowded department stores and blast from car speakers. Even though these songs are played every single year on a repetitive loop, some might not know the true meaning behind their lyrics. 

Christmas songs are backed with cheerful melodies and the sound of sleigh bells overlapping happy bridges. In a way it masks how dark holiday tunes can really be. There is more than one festive song that keeps a dark undertone. 

1.) "I Wonder as I Wander" | Audrey Assad

Now, I will be the first to admit that this song isn't exactly cheery to begin with, but it is a classic that still takes up most of the radio waves. The rendition above is performed by Audrey Assad but the original composition was written by talented composer John Jacob Niles. 

The story behind the song is actually quite sad. Niles was visiting a small town when he caught wind of evangelicals, or members of the Christian Church, being asked to leave town by local authorities. He watched as one girl, Annie Morgan, repeated a hymn seven times over for a quarter a performance. 

As Niles stated in his autobiography, "A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievable dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins... But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song." 

The song gives a dark look at hard times in the 1930s, it's melody dark and slow, but nothing less than meaningful. 

2.) "The Huron Carol" | Heather Dale

The title of this melancholy Christmas Carol translates to "Twas the Moon of Wintertime." Its haunting sound is backed by a repetitive and strong chant while the lead vocalist in many of the renditions creates an eerie atmosphere with heavy lyrics. 

This song is actually Canada's oldest Christmas song, being written by Jean De Brebeuf in 1642. It's called the Huron Carol because Jean wrote the lyrics in his native langue (The Huron/Wendat people). 

The song intended to teach natives about Christianity and the birth of Christ, which worked fine for awhile. But not everyone was happy with Jean's teachings. Another tribe, the Iroquois, captured the missionary and eventually burned him at the stake. 

3.) "The Cherry Tree Carol" | Judy Collins

This song is yet another example of Bible teachings being taught through Christmas songs and performed worldwide. This song is one of the older ones on this lists, not having a true origin, but is rumoured to have been first sung in the early 15th century. 

Despite the soft tune, this song is actually pretty bitter. In the American version, Joseph and Mary are walking through a cherry orchard when Mary asks her husband to pick a cherry for her and the child that she is carrying. Joseph tells her that if she wants a cherry, she should have the child's father pick it. 

I don't know why I found that odd, but it did create an image in my head about Mary and Joseph sitting on an uncomfortable couch during couples therapy, mumbling under their breaths. 

4.) "The Coventry Carol" | Cambridge

The newer rendition of this classic by Pentatonix may make this song seem a little more innocent than it really is. The original was written as part of a mystery play called the Pageant of Shearmen and Tailors. While that sounds like a collaboration between a paint shop and every girl who was born in the early 2000s, the song has a beyond creepy feel to it. 

The lyrics may be a little blurred, but the dark truth is about nothing short of a massacre ordered by a blood-hungry king. He ordered every male child under the age of two to be killed on the spot. The song is meant to be sung by mothers that are about to lose everything they have. 

To me, if you would add in some creaking sounds, it would fit right in between a few songs on the Titanic soundtrack. 

5.) "Down in Yon Forest" | The Voice Squad

This song lacks one thing: music. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it does bring an underlyingly scary tone to sharp lyrics that carry a deep cadence. It dates back to the Renaissance era and is actually derived from a poem, dawning the nickname Corpus Christi Carol

The tune isn't really about Christmas at all, its lyrics depicting a scene of a fallen knight having his wounds licked by his dog. There are two popular theories that circulate this song; one draws the song back to the teachings of the Bible and Jesus dying for our sins. The other hints towards King Arthur and his many battles. 

Christmas songs may be played until the radio announcers can't take another listen, but they do have a lot of hidden meaning that you wouldn't first think of. Next time you hear "Jingle Bells," or settle down into your seat to watch a stop-motion classic, think about why it was really created.  

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Five Innocent Christmas Songs with Surprisingly Dark Pasts