Growing up and hearing the words to "Do you hear what I hear?" every Christmas, I always thought of it as a simple song about the shepherds hearing the announcement of baby Jesus' birth and the wise men following the star to find Him and bring Him gifts, but this classic 20th century Christmas carol has a haunting backstory.
Written in 1962, the song by Noel and Gloria Regney came about in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, according to History? Because it's Here!
Noel had been tasked by a record producer with writing a new Christmas song, but he felt reluctant to with how commercialized the holiday had become. As he was walking through Manhattan in October, though, he could feel the weight of despair around him and see the worry in people's faces as the United States and the Soviet Union stood at the brink of nuclear war. Then, as he walked along, he saw two babies in strollers smiling at each other. The simple emotion stirred hope in his heart, and the lyrics for "Do you hear what I hear?" were formed in his mind by the time he got home.
But the work, which he composed with his wife Gloria, was not just a song of hope but a prayer for peace on Earth. Noel, who was forcibly drafted into the Nazi army after his homeland of France was invaded and later deserted to join the French underground, witnessed the horrors of war firsthand and did not want to see his adopted country go through another horrific conflict.
"Pray for peace, people, everywhere."
It makes you wonder if there's a double description behind the lines, "Way up in the sky, little lamb. A star, a star, dancing in the night, with a tail as big as a kite." Mushroom cloud, anyone?
Now listen to the song beautifully performed in an icy winter wonderland by the a cappella group Home Free with that history in mind: