These words are heard in almost every store and in many homes when the Christmas season arrives. But have you ever wondered who actually wrote them?
His name is Israel Isidor Beilin [ or Baline].(1) He was born on 11 May 1888 in Siberia likely in the area of Belarus. Israel was born to Moses and Leah Baline. "His father [Moses] was a shochet (one who kills kosher animals as prescribed by Jewish religious laws) who was also the cantor in the synagogue."(2)
The family was Jewish and because of that when the pogroms (anti-Jewish revolts) started happening in Siberia the family needed to leave. So in 1893, the family made their way from Siberia to New York. "The Balines smuggled themselves from town to town, and country to country, and finally boarded the S.S. Rhynland in Antwerp, Belgium bound for New York City. They eventually settled on Cherry Street on the Lower East Side in a basement apartment with no windows or hot water."(3)
The lack of hot water and windows was not to be the family's only problem. Israel's father Moses passed away leaving the family to find other means to provide for themselves. Israel helped to support the family by singing in the streets and selling newspapers. Because of his job Israel only gained two years of schooling and could not read music. "Though he could not read music he taught himself enough piano to begin writing songs. He sold his first song in 1907 at age 19, but a printer's error on the cover gave him the name, Irving Berlin."(4)
Love soon came to Berlin's life, her name was Dorthey Goetz. "In 1911, she met Berlin with whom her brother, Ray, had been collaborating. The couple's courtship was brief, within weeks, Berlin proposed. They were married in February 1912, and the couple took a honeymoon trip to Cuba. They were met by a typhoid epidemic on the island, and upon their return to the US, she fell seriously ill. Her health declined rapidly over the several weeks. Doctors were unable to halt the progress of the disease, and she succumbed to typhoid at the age of 20. Berlin was inconsolable for months." (5)
Then World War One came and Berlin turned to writing music to support war effort. Near the end of it (from 1918 - 1919) Irving Berlin served as a sergeant in the 152 Depot Brigade.
Yet Berlin was not to be alone, love would find him again. This time it was a young New York heiress named Ellin Mackay. On 4 January 1926 Irving and Ellin were married. The family soon welcomed a son, named Irving Berlin Jr. on 1 December 1928. However, their son would not live long passing away on the 25th of December 1928. After that every year Berlin would visit his son's grave.
As the war clouds gathered again (WWII began in 1939 in Germany), Berlin would return to writing music for the war effort. On 7 December 1941 an event, know as Pearl Harbor, would happen that would change American history. After that Berlin wrote a new Christmas carol, that would come to be known as White Christmas. "Just a few days after this [7 December] — December 24, 1941 — Bing Crosby introduced White Christmas, perhaps as a note of hope, on his highly successful radio broadcast, Kraft Music Hall. By late December of 1941, Americans were enlisting in the military in record numbers as America mobilized for war. They heard White Christmas not as a spoof but as a longing for days “just like the ones I used to know.” The lyrics took on a whole new meaning for soldiers on their way overseas."(6)
Besides White Christmas, one of Berlin's other most well known songs is GOD Bless America.
Well I don't know about you, but even though this year has been hectic and crazy and strange, I will say that:
"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white."(7)
Other Sources/ Resources:
Wikipedia - Irving Berlin