It was a sweltering hot July afternoon in 1945 when Mel Tormé showed up for a writing session at the Toluca Lake house of his lyric partner Bob Wells. Mel let himself in and called out for Bob. No answer. He walked over to the piano, and there, resting on the music board, was a pad of paper with four lines of a verse:
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos
When Wells finally walked in the room, dressed in tennis shorts and a T-shirt, Tormé asked him about the little poem.
“It’s so damn hot today, I thought I’d writing something to cool myself off,” Wells replied. “All I could think of was Christmas and cold weather.”
The song was first recorded by the Nat King Cole trio in 1946. Over objections of the record label Cole insisted on adding strings to the arrangement and it was this version that became a huge hit for Cole and made the song a staple of Christmas listening.
The song has been made and remade in a variety of genres and by countless artists. Here’s one of the more recent, brought to us by Pentatonix: