15 Vintage Christmas Songs to Get You in the Holiday Spirit

GraphicaArtis/Getty Images
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

The holiday season is the most nostalgic time of year, so it only makes sense that the most popular Christmas songs are from the 1940s and '50s. To really put a retro spin on the season, we gathered up 15 songs from even earlier—the '10s, '20s, and '30s. And while they might not be coming directly out of a record player, they're sure to put you in a very merry sepia-tinted mood.

1. "Hail! Hail! Day of Days" by the Edison Mixed Quartet // 1913

Perhaps the most traditional song on this list, its performers—the Edison Mixed Quartet (also sometimes referred to as the Edison Concert Band)—also recorded a few similar-sounding Christmas tunes during the early 20th century.

2. "Santa Claus Hides In the Phonograph" by Santa Claus Himself (Ernest Hare) // 1922

OK, this isn't a song—but we just had to include this 1922 bit that does end with a rendition of "Jingle Bells."

3. "At the Christmas Ball" by Bessie Smith // 1925

If you're a music lover, you know (and love) Bessie Smith, but you might not have heard this holiday track, which combines Smith's soaring vocals with delightfully jazzy horns and piano.

4. "The Santa Claus Crave" by Elzadie Robinson // 1927

We've included a few blues tracks here, because, hey: The holidays are the best time to be cheerful—and depressed.

5. "Santa Claus, That’s Me" by Vernon Dalhart // 1928

Vernon Dalhart was an important figure in the early days of American folk and country music—even with a background in opera. He auditioned for Thomas Edison and, over the course of several years, recorded hundreds of songs for Edison Records under a number of pseudonyms. After that, Dalhart began to record country songs, becoming a household name with 1924's "The Wreck of the Old 97."

6. "Christmas in Jail—Ain’t That A Pain?” by Leroy Carr // 1929

If the name didn't tip you off, here's another blues track. And if you find yourself in need of more, click on over here, here, here, and here. Yes, there are a surprising number of great blues songs about the holidays, and these somber tunes will definitely bring you joy.

7. "I Told Santa Claus to Bring Me You" by Bernie Cummins and His Orchestra // 1930

While the Christmas music of the '40s and '50s would start to make its way into the studio, much of the earlier music of the holidays still had that live, big band sound—including this 1930 recording.

8. "The Santa Claus Express" by Henry Hall featuring Dan Donovan and the BBC Orchestra // 1933

This is the kind of song you might expect to hear in a Christmas special for kids (which is a total compliment).

9. "Does Santa Claus Sleep With His Whiskers Over or Under the Sheet?" by Jack Jackson and His Orchestra // 1933

A very cheeky song honoring the age-old question you've never thought to ask: "Does Santa Claus sleep with his whiskers over or under the sheet?"

10. "In a Merry Mood" by Barnabas Von Geczy and His Orchestra // 1934

An instrumental track that's perfect for you if orchestra swells are what really get you in the holiday spirit.

11. "Swingin’ Them Jingle Bells" by Fats Waller // 1936

"Swingin" might actually be the best way to describe this 1936 jazz carol.

12. "What Will Santa Claus Say?" by Louis Prima & His New Orleans Gang // 1936

This song is sometimes listed as "What Will Santa Claus Say? (When He Finds Everybody Swingin')," which is a pretty fun image to conjure if you ask us.

13. "The Fairy on the Christmas Tree” by Three Sisters // 1936

This 1936 Christmas song sounds a bit like a scene out of an old Disney movie—and tells the tale of all the little girls who dream of being the fairy on top of the tree. (It's OK, we've never had that dream either.)

14. "I Want You for Christmas" by Russ Morgan // 1937

Before "All I Want For Christmas Is You," there was "I Want You For Christmas."

15. "The Only Thing I Want for Christmas" by Eddie Cantor // 1939

Don't let that creepy preview image above fool you: This 1939 song is a sweet ode to all the things we already have (with some not-so-subtle nods to the turmoil happening around the world at the time).

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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12 Things You Might Not Know About Juneteenth

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There's more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced enslaved people were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation. Here's what you should know about the historic event and celebration.

1. Enslaved people had already been emancipated—they just didn’t know it.

The June 19 announcement came more than two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. So technically, from the Union's perspective, the 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were already free—but none of them were aware of it, and no one was in a rush to inform them.

2. There are many theories as to why the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t enforced in Texas.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

News traveled slowly back in those days—it took Confederate soldiers in western Texas more than two months to hear that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. Still, some have struggled to explain the 30-month gap between Lincoln’s proclamation and the enslaved people’s freedom, leading to speculation that some Texans suppressed the announcement. Other theories include that the original messenger was murdered to prevent the information from being relayed or that the federal government purposely delayed the announcement to Texas to get one more cotton harvest out of the enslaved workers. But the real reason is probably that Lincoln's proclamation simply wasn't enforceable in the rebel states before the end of the war.

3. The announcement actually urged freedmen and freedwomen to stay with their former owners.

General Order No. 3, as read by General Granger, said:

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

4. What followed was known as “the scatter.”


Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr // No known copyright restrictions

Most freedpeople weren't terribly interested in staying with the people who had enslaved them, even if pay was involved. In fact, some were leaving before Granger had finished making the announcement. What followed became known as "the scatter,," when droves of former enslaved people left the state to find family members or more welcoming accommodations in northern regions.

5. Not all enslaved people were freed instantly.

Texas is a large state, and General Granger's order (and the troops needed to enforce it) were slow to spread. According to historian James Smallwood, many enslavers deliberately suppressed the information until after the harvest, and some beyond that. In July 1867 there were two separate reports of enslaved people being freed, and one report of a Texas horse thief named Alex Simpson whose enslaved people were only freed after his hanging in 1868.

6. Freedom created other problems.

Despite the announcement, Texas slave owners weren't too eager to part with what they felt was their property. When freedpeople tried to leave, many of them were beaten, lynched, or murdered. "They would catch [freed slaves] swimming across [the] Sabine River and shoot them," a former enslaved person named Susan Merritt recalled.

7. There were limited options for celebrating.

A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
2C2KPhotography, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When freedpeople tried to celebrate the first anniversary of the announcement a year later, they were faced with a problem: Segregation laws were expanding rapidly, and there were no public places or parks they were permitted to use. So, in the 1870s, former enslaved people pooled together $800 and purchased 10 acres of land, which they deemed "Emancipation Park." It was the only public park and swimming pool in the Houston area that was open to African Americans until the 1950s.

8. Juneteenth celebrations waned for several decades.

It wasn't because people no longer wanted to celebrate freedom—but, as Slate so eloquently put it, "it's difficult to celebrate freedom when your life is defined by oppression on all sides." Juneteenth celebrations waned during the era of Jim Crow laws until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the Poor People's March planned by Martin Luther King Jr. was purposely scheduled to coincide with the date. The march brought Juneteenth back to the forefront, and when march participants took the celebrations back to their home states, the holiday was reborn.

9. Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday.

Texas deemed the holiday worthy of statewide recognition in 1980, becoming the first state to do so.

10. Juneteeth is still not a federal holiday.

Though most states now officially recognize Juneteenth, it's still not a national holiday. As a senator, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, though it didn't pass then or while he was president. One supporter of the idea is 93-year-old Opal Lee—in 2016, when she was 90, Lee began walking from state to state to draw attention to the cause.

11. The Juneteenth flag is full of symbolism.

a mock-up of the Juneteenth flag
iStock

Juneteenth flag designer L.J. Graf packed lots of meaning into her design. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the enslaved people and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting "new star" on the "horizon" of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.

12. Juneteenth traditions vary across the U.S.

As the tradition of Juneteenth spread across the U.S., different localities put different spins on celebrations. In southern states, the holiday is traditionally celebrated with oral histories and readings, "red soda water" or strawberry soda, and barbecues. Some states serve up Marcus Garvey salad with red, green, and black beans, in honor of the black nationalist. Rodeos have become part of the tradition in the southwest, while contests, concerts, and parades are a common theme across the country.