‘Tis is the season to be jolly, but it turns out that far from being merry, some of the biggest Christmas songs were actually inspired by the darkest events.
From a brother’s heartache over his sibling’s suicide to a terrified couple living in fear of being blown up by missiles and a man mourning his baby son, several Christmas hits have truly tragic meanings.
Here, The Mirror reveals the saddest backstories behind the most beloved festive anthems…
The song was written by East 17’s grief-stricken lead songwriter Tony Mortimer about his brother’s suicide.
Speaking to the Big Issue, he said: “It’s so odd that it’s a Christmas song.
“I wrote it about my brother’s suicide – so it’s about the end of a relationship, and missing someone.
“That’s what it’s based on, and I think people like that. It might have been a hit because people felt sorry for me or whatever, but it’s also a very nostalgic song for Christmas, for looking back over the year and times gone by.”
Tony admitted struggling when the song first became a huge Christmas hit.
He said: “I got over hearing Stay Another Day all the time at Christmas – I’ve accepted that. There was a time when that song just didn’t go away, it was a nightmare. Now I’ve got over it.”
Stay Another Day reached Number 1 in the UK charts when it was released in 1994 and regularly reappears in the Top 50 in the lead up to Christmas.
The famous music video shows the band wearing big white jackets against a plain black background with snow falling around them.
The song contains the heartbreaking lyrics: “Baby if you’ve got to go away, I don’t think I can take the pain.
“Won’t you stay another day. Oh don’t leave me alone like this. Don’t you say it’s the final kiss. Won’t you stay another day.”
The reflective song was originally written by Irving Berlin for a Broadway musical that never came to fruition.
It was eventually sung by Bing Crosby and debuted in 1942 film Holiday Inn followed by White Christmas, and became the best-selling single of all time.
But the song actually had a heartbreaking backstory. Irving was Jewish and didn’t celebrate Christmas. However, his son died on Christmas Day when he was just three weeks old and each year, he and his wife would visit their baby’s grave.
“The kind of deep secret of the song may be that it was Berlin responding in some way to his melancholy about the death of his son,” Jody Rosin, author of White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, said.
Released only a few weeks after attack on Pearl Harbour, the song had huge sentimental value for the soldiers who were away fighting in the Second World War.
It was constantly request by troops when Bing performed overseas, but he was reluctant to perform it knowing how upset it made them.
“I hesitated about doing it because invariably it caused such a nostalgic yearning among the men, that it made them sad,” he once said.
“Heaven knows, I didn’t come that far to make them sad. For this reason, several times I tried to cut it out of the show, but these guys just hollered for it.”
It also served as code when played over the radio for American soldiers to evacuate Saigon during the Vietnam War.
The song was written in 1962 by married couple Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne about a lamb who sees a star in the sky with a ‘tail as big as a kite’.
While on the face of it, the song appeared to be a retelling of the nativity, it was actually a plea for peace from the terrified writers amid the Cuban Missile Crisis – with the ‘star’ actually being a missile tearing through the sky.
Gloria later admitted they’d never been able to perform it together because their emotions were so overwhelming. Instead, it was first recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale and later performed by everyone from The Carpenters and Whitney Houston to Belinda Carlisle.
“Noel wrote a beautiful song and I wrote the music. We couldn’t sing it though… our little song broke us up. You must realise there was a threat of war at the time,” she said.
Made famous by the Jackson 5, the hit was written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie in 1934 when the latter was asked to write a festive song for children.
Haven attended the meeting straight from his twin brother’s funeral and politely declined on account of his grief.
But on the train journey home he remembered all the happy Christmas times he’d enjoyed with his sibling and came up with the lyrics to the song, which include: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why…Santa Claus is coming to town.”
But despite the song’s popularity, Haven avoided listening to it at all costs, such was his pain over his brother’s tragic passing.