‘Christmas Time Is Here’: A Hymn for the Ages

The 50-year-old song from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is here to stay.


Welcome to The 12 Days of Christmas Songs: an attempt to uncover the forgotten history of some of the most memorable festive tunes. From December 14 through 25, we’ll be tackling one secular song and one holy song each day.

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Go ahead, press play on that video, and listen to the song you’ve probably heard a thousand times before, the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s immortal “Christmas Time Is Here.” But this time, when you hear the beautiful, slightly out-of-tune voices of the children’s choir from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, picture those children as they might be today, men and women 50 years older.

It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like hearing this song for the very first time in 1965, steeped in nostalgia from the opening note. Was there ever a time that this song wasn’t about the passage of time, the marking of another year? Is it possible that Guaraldi didn’t know, as his fingers were dancing across the piano keys, that we’d come back to this song every year without fail, part of an annual ritual that hasn’t been broken in a half century? The song’s periodicity is written into its very title. Shifting moods as regular as seasons are written into its melody. Guaraldi must have sensed that he was crafting a hymn for the ages, that the voices of the children would deepen in meaning, if not in pitch, as we heard them again each December.

The song’s origin story as part of the score for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” certainly suggests otherwise. “We figured [the show] would be on one time and be gone, or maybe twice,” Lee Mendelson, who produced the show and recruited Guaraldi to score it, told NPRs Felix Contreras. According to Mendelson, the simple lyrics to the vocal version were written in one stroke on a napkin and never changed. “I don’t know why, the words just came to me.” And here they still are, years later.

I don’t think it actually matters whether or not we name “Christmas Time Is Here” to the holiday canon. If it wasn’t already a standard that first time it was played, it is now the very definition. Those children’s voices will likely outlive all of us, meaning something different and something sadly and wonderfully the same with every passing year.