Red noses and white Christmases

Walk into any mall this week and you'll hear Bing oozing out of the sound system. Sleigh bells and dreams of white snow seem to be on his mind. "Let it snow, let it snow," the next song suggests helpfully. And Rudolph is not far behind with his glowing nose to guide you through the oncoming blizzard.

Thoughts of chestnuts roasting on an open fire remind you that even if the weather outside is frightful, you'll soon be rushing home with all your treasures to the ring-a-ling of silver bells in the city. Which could be quite comforting if you live in, say, Birmingham, Ala.

It's the quintessential American Christmas.

Most of this seasonal crooning began in the 1930s and '40s and formed the first real break from the old English traditions and Anglophile nostalgia for things Victorian. Dickensian was out; perky and secular were in.

Jody Rosen's new book, "White Christmas: The Story of an American Song," (see review) looks at the history of a song that sped up this independence movement and helped America create its own unique style of celebration.

When Bing Crosby recorded Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" in 1942, "Christmas music had not yet emerged as a viable pop genre," Rosen writes. But ironically, it was talented Jewish songwriters of the era, with a knack for spotting a trend and a desire to fit in, who wrote some of the best-known Christmas songs.

Christmas movies followed in the 1940s and '50s and the kitsch and commercialism of the season came tumbling after.

When the song "White Christmas" was released during World War II, it started the ball rolling on a very American Christmas.

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