Christmas Tips & Fun

Learn interesting, unusual, unique and useful facts and tips about Christmas and the winter holiday season, in America and around the world.

Music of Christmas

Up On the Rooftop: The Hidden Story


p on the housetop reindeer pause
Out jumps good (dear) old Santa Claus
Down through the chimney with lots of toys
All for the little ones’ Christmas joys

You most likely didn’t know this was the second oldest "popular" Christmas song written in the U.S. – and, if you accept that Jingle Bells was really a Thanksgiving song – then it’s the oldest. Most likely, if you’re of a certain age, you think the song was written especially for Gene Autry.

Instead, it was written in the third year of the Civil War, 1864, by an Ohioan whose family farm was a major stop on the Underground Railway. He was Benjamin Russel Hanby and when you drive into Westerville, Ohio you’ll see a sign that boasts that the town was home to Hanby – and who’s credited with writing Darling Nellie Gray, but not Up On The Housetop.

Darling Nellie Gray tells of a Kentucky slave couple who were planning on being wed but the day before the wedding the bride-to-be is bought by someone "who bound her with his chain" and took her to his Deep South plantation.

Henby was a multi-talented man who died much too young at age 34.

The idea of Santa Claus arriving on the rooftop of children’s houses was not known until Henby wrote the song and the notion caught on with writers and storytellers everywhere.

His own rooftop (and the rest of his home) in Westerville is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public.

Written by Dianne Weller
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