It's well-known that the song White Christmas - Irving Berlin, 1942 - is one of the world's most popular songs by any of many measures (only McCartney's Yesterday wins in some measures). Apart from other issues it literally invented what we now think of as "Christmas songs".

However, I was astounded to learn that, possibly, the actual coinage "white Christmas" was indeed a coinage of the song. WTF?!

The common phrase "white Christmas" means obviously "meteorologically, we have snow on the day" and metaphorically a traditional, "old fashioned", "family" etc. -style Christmas.

I assumed that the phrase was a commonplace (since, surely, Victorian times, earlier, whatever), and then, Berlin came along and wrote the great song with that phrase in it.

But apparently there're some assertions that that was the actual coining of the phrase - !

(Just as for example the now-common phrase "Hard day's night" was literally coined in the Beatles song, or sundry Shakespeare coinages.)

I heard about the issue in this (actually, outstanding) documentary about the song: broadwaypodcastnetwork.com.

Armstrong says some opinions differ on whether it is the case or not, and he wasn't able to untangle the facts absolutely in his research.

What's the deal?


2 Answers 2


Berlin clocks in fourth of five here—100 years later . . .

white Christmas noun
A snowy Christmas.
1840   A severe frost accompanying the snow, leads us to look for a ‘white’ Christmas. —Hull Packet 18 December 5/4
1857   We shall have a white Christmas, I expect. Snow's coming. —C. Kingsley, Two Years Ago vol. III. x. 305
1913   A white Christmas. —Collier's 13 December 8 (heading)
1942   White Christmas. —I. Berlin (title of song)
2012   We will huddle together in the most un-Anglican fashion, dreaming not of a white Christmas, but of a new heating system. —Church Times 21 December 37/1

Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)



It seems that there are at least a couple of plays with "White Christmas" in the title from earlier in the 20th century:


Also The Light: A Service of Worship for a White Christmas from 1926.

  • That's damned cool!! Is there a way to know if/when it had currency? (Newspapers?)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22 at 17:52
  • There's always Google Ngrams. Most of the late 19th/early 20th century instances I found were to 'white Christmas roses', but there are a few to proverbs about Christmas weather. A periodical called The Indian Leader of 1915 has an article beginning 'A "white Christmas" is something Kansas does not always have.' Commented Jun 22 at 19:41
  • I was about to say the same, many of the Google Books instances talk about white Christmas roses, but there is this publication, Dec 15 1928 ,which mentions the phrase several times, "There was every promise that this was to be a real “white” Christmas indeed.”
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 22 at 19:48
  • I wonder what "white Christmas roses" was!
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22 at 20:34
  • 2
    @Fattie possibly Helleborus niger. See gardenia.net/plant/helleborus-niger-christmas-rose
    – Peter
    Commented Jun 23 at 9:42

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