Christmas (euro)pop songs

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With ‘ White Christmas’ , ‘I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus’, ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ and ‘ Last Christmas’ this time of the year the radio is filled with merry poptunes about the season. But what can be considered as common in the Anglo-American countries is not at all usual in the rest of Europe. Original Christmas pop records are very few, compared to the English or the American markets. Where they started to create popular Christmas songs for the growing market the European contingent stuck to singing the traditional Christmas carols passed around since 15th century. In England and other countries, such as Poland (kolędowanie), Romania (colinde) and Bulgaria (koledari), there is a tradition of Christmas caroling (earlier known as wassailing), in which groups of singers travel from house to house, singing carols, for which they are often rewarded with gifts, money, mince pies, or a glass of an appropriate beverage. Money collected in this way is now normally given to charity.

In France one of the oldest carols is the 16th century carol, ‘Ça, Bergers, assemblons nous’, sung aboard Jacques Cartier's ship on Christmas Day in 1535. In 1554, a collection of French carols, ‘La Grande Bible des Noels’, was printed in Orleans. Another collection, ‘Chants de Noels anciens et nouveau’, was printed by Christophe Ballard in Paris in 1703. In Germany more popular carols were mixed with the traditional Volksmusik in the 19th century. Songs like ‘O Tannenbaum’ by August Zarnack and ‘Der Weihnachtsmann (Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann)’ by Ernst Anschütz are still sung today. But it is The Bohemian ‘Aber (aba) Heidschi Bumbeidschi’  that started a second live in the schlager and pop Christmas circuit (although it is in fact a children’s lullaby).

This theme returns in what maybe is the oldest original Christmas popsong: ‘Petit papa Noel’. The song about a child addressing Father Christmas on the evening of Christmas Eve before falling asleep was written in 1946 by Raymond Vincy and Henri Martinet for the film by Richard Pottier ‘Destin’. The song was rediscovered in the fifties by Tino Rossi who scored an enormous hit with it. Up until today the song has been interpreted by artists like Les Poppys, Nana Mouskouri, Michèlle Tor, The Smurfs, Chantal Goya, Heintje, Engelbert Humperdinck, Placido Domingo, Thierry Gali, Henri Dès, Marianne Rosenberg, Mireille Mathieu, Boney M, Jordy and many, many others.



But Christmas songs stayed a somewhat marginal form of expression in the native tongue. Dalida did an effort in 1961 with a special Noel-EP, without much success. The same was tried by Charles Aznavour, Johnny Hallyday and George Brassens with the same result. In the sixties and seventies The Czech and Slovak countries tried the same with Hana Zagarova and Helena Vondráčková.. In Yugoslavia Radojka Sverko recorded an ep with traditional Christmas carols and one Yugo-traditional called ‘Radujte se’. In Spain orchestral latin adaptions of known christmas tunes were already made in the fifties by the likes of José Guardiola and Miquel Ramos but singer Maria Dolores Pradera gave it a try in 1966 with a special 'Navidad' EP featuring spanish traditional christmas songs. This example was quickly followed by popsinger Raphael. In the Netherlands teen-star Anneke Gronloh recorded a whole Christmas album with Dutch songs. In Portugal fado-diva Amália Rodriquez released the single 'Natal dos simples' in 1970. Next to single recordings there were attempts for original Christmas popsongs on several tv shows like Mina ‘Tu sei un uomo’ (for the 66 Christmas show Veglia di Natale). Mina also gave a more traditional swing to Christmas with the Picollo Core dell Antionio in 71 for a 'Viva Natale' LP. Italian performer Adriano Celentano was maybe the first who didn’t dip into the old carol tradition but recorded the modern popsong ‘Natale 70’. This was followed years later by German rockstar Udo Lindenberg’s single ‘When the snow falls wunderbar’. Both silly but nice attempts to break the English sung tradition. More serious was Italian singer/songwriter Claudio Baglioni who recorded the orchestral and beautifull powerballad 'Notti di Natale'.




The trend continues up until this date when of and on popular artists try to create a original Christmas song (without much success). In the Netherlands the Dutch archfather of rock and roll Peter Koelewijn recorded a special Christmas single 'Een heel gelukkig kerstfeest' in 1975 together with some of the artist he worked with at the time (a.o. Bonnie St. Clair, Nico Haak, Willeke Alberti). The succes of the single made the demand high for an album so Peter compiled an entire Christmas albums in a few days thanks to old tapes and excisting songs. A year(1976) later singer André Hazes did another attempt with 'Eenzame kerst' (Lonely Christmas) about a prisoner contemplating his crimes on Christmas eve. He did another try in 1982 with ‘Met Kerst ben ik alleen’ made to the melody of ABBA’s ‘The day before you came’ coming from an album fileld with Dutch Christmas songs.

In Eastern Europe things were more complicated during the Cold War. Being part of the USSR meant that religion was largely discouraged and that religious events and gatherings were.. well let's say they weren't big fans. Not able to keep the festive season out completely the Russians made an attempt to turn the Christmas tree as a New-year fir-tree (Новогодняя ёлка) in 1935. It became a fully secular icon of the New year holiday, e.g. the crowning star was regarded not as a symbol of Bethlehem Star, but as the Red Star. No wonder Chistmas music wasn't really picking up set aside some attempts in the sixties, seventies. This changed after the fall of the USSR. In Poland (still being very catholic) Polish TV organised an event in 1991 simply called 'Kolędy' (which means Christmas in Polish). That was about the only thing that was simple about it since the show featured a massive choir, a complete symphony orchestra and some of the best jazzpop singers the country had to offer a.o.Edyta Geppert, Hanna Banaszak, Anna Jurksztowicz and Ewa Bem. Ewa returned in 1994 with a complete Polish Christmas album called 'Kolędy na caly rok'. Another original album was made by Anna Maria Jopek in 1999 called 'Dzisiaj z Betleyem'

In Croatia Josipa Lisac gave an very heavy adaptation of traditional christmas songs on 'Čestit Božić' (including a massive choir) in 1992 (in the midst of the war). A more merry (schlager)pop approach came from Danijella in 2003 with her Christmas album 'Božić s Danijelom'. A funky christmas song was made by Dino Dvornik who recorded a duet with Gobac simply called 'Čestit Božić'.

Slovakia's hardrock combo Tublantanka try their version of Christmas on the 2006 album 'Viánočný deň' which is a lot better then the sugarsweet approach from fellow countrywoman Helena Vondrackova in 1995 with 'Vánoce s Helenou' which mostly features the usual translated Anglo-American songs. In Greece Christmas isn't a big thing anyway (over there Easter is celebrated much more elaborate) and the only original Greek Christmas release (next to French/German releases by Nana Mouskouri and Vicki Leandros) we know is a 2004 single by Thanos Kalliris called 'Τα Χριστούγεννα με σένα' (before he also released a Christmas covers album in 1995).


Germany's schlagerpop scene starts a nice tradition at the end of the seventies with a whole string of artists throughout the eighties releasing German original Christmas songs under the title 'Weihnachten mit....'. Think here of artists like Lena Valaitas, Patrick Lindner, James Last, Rex Gildo, Dennie Christian and so on. One of the oldest we heard of (thanks Dave) was that of Bayern artist Nicky who released an album in local dialect (and apparently did a good job as well). Still riding her Eurovision victory wave singer Nicole released her 'Weihnachten mit' album in 1984. In Denmark Anne Linnet’s song ‘Lille messias’ (from the album ‘Min sang’) could be called a modern Christmas popsong. Jean-Louis Murat recorded the song ‘Joyeux Noël et Noël à la maison’ and Belgian comedian Urbanus recorded ‘Bakske vol met stro’ about baby Jesus being fed up with all the hassle around his birth. Belgian child star Jordy recorded a whole Christmas house-album.

Mina and Celentano tried again in the nineties with a special ‘Buon Natale – EP’. In Spain it’s more of the same when popular singer Raphael tries again with ‘Vuelve por Navidad’ and Isabel Pantoja with 'Tu serás mi Navidad'. In Portugal rocksinger Antonio Ribeiro (UHF) records a more credible duet with Miguel Ângelo in 2006 called 'Podia ser Natal'. By lack of better Christmas songs some even dubbed Mylene Farmer’s ‘L'instant X’ as a Christmas song. But recording original Christmas tunes stays a bit of a small phenomenon. One of the more original attempts is maybe done by Dutch performer Fay Lovsky who wrote the English sung ‘Christmas was a friend of mine’ especially for a radiostation that tried to tempt Dutch songwriters to write a new and original Christmas song. In the end she was the only one that responded.

A second competition in 2005 delivered two original Dutch christmas songs one by rapcombo Jeugd van Tegenwoordig and TV personality Katja Schuurman called 'Ho ho ho' and one with Jan Smit and Birgit called 'Kerst voor iedereen'. Which was better then the attempt the singer Rob de Nijs made with his Anglo American covers album 'Licht'. In 2009 Dutch supercollector Vic van der Reijt compiled a whole bunch of Dutch original cabaret and schlager christmassongs for a compilation CD 'Ik voel me als een Kerstboom zonder piek'. In 2010 Germany rock-act Unheilig comes up with the single 'Winterland', in the Netherlands popular singer Marco Borsato released the single 'Kerstmis' (as theme song for the movie 'Het geheim'), in Latvia Dween & Sandija Vigante have a clubby winter with 'Baltas Pārslas' and in Denmark Anne Linnet comes up with an entire Christmas album with only new compositions called 'Linnet’s Jul'. In 2011 legendary French arrangeur and composer Michel Legrand undertakes the project 'Noël!!!, Noël!!!, Noël!!!' featuring a collection of traditional christmas songs and new tracks. He lets them interpret by the young pop-generation amongst whom -M-, Madeleine Peyroux, Emilie Simon, Olivia Ruiz and Coeur de Pirate. From Croatia the band Connect delivers the funky track 'Božićnica'. Macedonia stays more in the romantic mood with singer Hristijan Todorovski who sings 'Sam Na Snegot'. Danish singer songwriter Michael Falch comes with a more credible alternative with the single 'Tænd December'. On the Balkan Hristijan Todoroski released the festive single 'Sam na snegot' while Tuna gets cosy with 'Bebi i Vitit te Ri'. And 2011 sees a new Greek christmas single (a novelty from that country) from Stan with 'Φέτος τα Χριστούγεννα' (This Christmas). In 2012 ABBA's Benny Andersson takes the opportunity to record some Swedish Christmas folk originals with his orchestra under the title 'Tomten Har Åkt Hem'. In Norway actress/singer Herborg Kråkevik takes care of a folky Christmas with 'Jul I Stova'. The question rises if it is pop however. In that sense Alexander Ryback (Christmas tales) and Claudio Baglioni (Un piccolo natale in più) stay closer to Christmas popsongs but in their case its yet another recording of those old American Christmas songbook classics. At least Claudio took the trouble to translate most English songs in Italian. A better effort comes from Donatella Rettore with the original 'Natale sottovoce'. In the Netherlands they go retro with the neo-Beat group Kik releasing the limited vinyl single 'Een kerstliedje voor jou'.

Undoubtedly as the Queen of European Christmas albums Mireille Mathieu cannot stay unnamed. She recorded numerous Christmas albums although she mostly sings the old folk carols in a modern version. For fans of this kind of music it maybe is nice to know that former Eurovision winner Marie Myriam released a special Christmas album in 2008, of course including her interpretation of ‘Petit papa Noel’.

For the ultimate Europop-Christmas CD we listed the tracks we could find below. The order (except for Tino Rossi) is purely randomly. Have a merry Christmas.

  1. Tino Rossi - Petit papa Noël
  2. Udo Lindenberg - When the snow falls wunderbar
  3. Dalida - Joyeux Noel
  4. Andre Hazes - Met Kerst ben ik alleen
  5. Claude François - C'est Noël et j'aurai tout ça
  6. Mina Celentano - Buon Natale
  7. Celentano - Natale '70
  8. Anneke Gronloh – Te Bethlem is geboren
  9. Marianne Rosenberg - Aba Heidschi bumbeidschi
  10. Sylvia Vartan - Noel sans toi
  11. Claudio Baglioni - Notte di Natale
  12. Urbanus – Bakske vol met stro
  13. Helena Vondráčková - Bílé vánoce (also Karel Gott)
  14. Iveta - O Vánocích
  15. Hana Zagorova - Vánoční tajemství
  16. Fay Lovski – Christmas was a friend of mine
  17. Mireille Mathieu – Minuit, Chrétiens
  18. Jordy –Des cadeaux pour Noel
  19. Nicole rieu - Noel, chante d'espoir
  20. Marie Myriam - Petit papa Noël
  21. Anne Linnet - Lille Messias
  22. Raphael - La Ultima Navidad
  23. Charles Aznavour - Noël à Paris
  24. Johnny Hallyday - Mon plus beau Noël
  25. Georges Brassens - Le père Noël et la petite fille
  26. Jean-Louis Murat - Joyeux Noël
  27. Danijela - Božić svaki dan
  28. Mina - Tu sei un uomo
  29. Jean-Louis Murat - Noël à la maison
  30. Rob de Nijs - Stop de cavalerie
  31. Anna Maria Jopek - Gdy śliczna Panna
  32. Raphael - Navidad ep
  33. Isabel Pantoja - Tu seras mi Navidad
  34. Thanos Kalliris - Τα Χριστούγεννα με σένα
  35. Dino Dvornik i Gobac - Čestit Božić
  36. De Jeugd van tegenwoordig & Katja - Ho ho ho
  37. Tuna - Bebi i Vitit te Ri
  38. Michael Falch - Tænd December
  39. Stan - Φέτος τα Χριστούγεννα
  40. Connect - Božićnica
  41. Dween & Sandija Vigant - Baltas Pārsla
  42. Antonio Ribeiro (UHF) & Miguel Ângelo - Podia ser natal