It turns out this popular and enduring Christmas anthem has very contemporary roots: the Cuban Missile Crisis.
According to The Atlantic, the Christmas classic “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was actually written as a response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a period of 12 days in 1962 where the threat of nuclear war between the U.S.S.R. and the United States loomed large over the world. Oddly enough, few associate “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with that tense episode in world history. It was written by two songwriters: Noël (what an appropriate name) Regney and Gloria Shayne. According to the Los Angeles Times, the songwriting duo was married when they composed it.
Regeney explained the song’s origin, saying “In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated. En route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling.”
The image was strong in their minds. According to AXS, the political events unfolding made them want to write about peace. The song extols the listener to “Listen to what I say/Pray for peace people everywhere.”
Shayne reflected on the song, saying she wanted the track to be commercial but her husband wanted it to be beautiful. The song was both, as its first recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale sold out within the first week of its release. The track has been a part of Christmas in the English-speaking world ever since.
You may never hear this familiar song the same way. Check out this performance below from the early ’60s. Crosby’s recording became iconic and helped catapult the song to the top of the Christmas charts.