Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

The Most Performed Christmas Song

December 21, 2010

It is almost impossible to get through the Christmas season, in the United States at least, without hearing, at least once, the words chestnuts roasting on an open fire... sung.

Christmas carols are a popular form of music during this season and, from Thanksgiving Day through Christmas Day many radio stations play Christmas music exclusively or almost exclusively.  And, The Christmas Song, with its famous line chestnuts roasting on an open fire is almost always included among the songs generally sent over the airwaves each day during this period.

Like White Christmas, the imagery and emotions evoked by The Christmas Song are those of peace and comfort, love and family as well as the joy of simply enjoying the holiday with loved ones.  If nothing else, hearing the song causes us to mentally  pause amidst the hustle of holiday preparations and remind ourselves that this is a season of joy and sharing of happy times with loved ones.

Trying to Cool Off on a Hot Day in July

While it is easy to see why The Christmas Song is considered the most performed Christmas song by BMI (Broadcast Rights, Inc.) the group that collects license fees on behalf of song writers when their work is performed or used, its origins are surprisingly simple and almost accidental.

According to singer and songwriter Mel Tormé, who co-wrote the song with Bob Wells in the summer of 1944, the inspiration for the song were some words jotted on a piece of paper by Bob Wells (see video clip below). In those days before air conditioning was standard in homes, Wells had been trying to cool himself off on a hot July day by jotting down chestnuts roasting... followed by other words, that ended up in the song, that evoked images of Christmas and winter.

While Wells had simply been trying to use the words to mentally escape the July heat, Tormé, upon seeing and reading them, felt they had potential for a Christmas song. This was an era during which many of our modern Christmas carols and songs were produced so it was natural that Tormé would see commercial opportunities in the words Wells had written. The two went to work and produced the song that became a big hit.

Mel Tormé On the Merv Griffin Show Describing Origin of the Song and then Singing It

Ricky Nelson Singing The Christmas Song

I Discover the Joy of Eating Roasted Chestnuts

As a child, I recall chestnuts being common at Christmas time.  There were almost always a few chestnuts included in the fruit baskets that were popular gifts that adults gave to each other.  And there were references in stories and articles about roasting chestnuts.

However, I never saw anyone eating chestnuts, let alone roasting them.  Of  course, the homes that I was familiar with either didn’t have fireplaces or they were rarely used and I assumed from this that roasting chestnuts was simply tradition from the past that was remembered but not done anymore.

While flying with the Wisconsin Air National Guard while I was in graduate school I found myself taking a number of temporary duty trips to the U.S. A. F. Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany.  

On one such trip a couple of fellow aircrew members and myself discovered that we had a 4 day weekend on our schedule so we took advantage of an American Express vacation package and took off for Paris, France for the weekend.  As we were walking along a street returning to our hotel one evening we came across a vendor, with a roaster on a push cart, selling roasted chestnuts.

Nat King Cole Sings The Christmas Song

I Miss a Chance to Introduce My Wife to Roasted Chestnuts on the Streets of Italy

On impulse we brought a bag freshly roasted chestnuts. They were very good and the memory of them stayed with me and came back each Christmas when I heard The Christmas Song.

While on a cruise in Europe last month, my wife and I were heading back to the ship after touring one of the cities in Italy where the ship had stopped when we passed a peddler with a roaster on a cart selling roasted chestnuts.

I asked my wife if she had ever had roasted chestnuts and learned she had not but, concerned about getting back to the ship on time she suggested we wait until the next port.

Unfortunately, we didn’t encounter anyone selling roasted chestnuts on the streets at our other stops.

Michael Buble Singing The Christmas Song

Unable to Return to Europe, I Decided to Roast Chestnuts Myself

In an attempt to make up for missing the experience of eating roasted chestnuts on the streets of Europe, I turned to the Internet to learn how to roast chestnuts myself.

Lacking the open flame of a fireplace or even a gas stove, I had to settle for our electric oven for roasting. However, the web has instructions and suggestions for roasting with any practically type of cooking device (although I didn’t see anything for a microwave).

So, if you would like to try an old fashioned treat this Christmas here is how you can roast chestnuts in an electric oven.

This is not as romantic as buying them from a street vendor while strolling the ancient cobblestone streets of a city in old Europe at dusk or even over flames dancing on a log in your fireplace on a cold winter evening.

However,  it is still easy and makes for a good snack while curled up on the couch with your true love while basking in the glow of the Christmas tree with Christmas carols playing in the background.

Step 1: Go and Buy some Chestnuts
Step 1: Go and Buy some Chestnuts
Step 2:  Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees
Step 2: Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees
Step 3: Carefully make a slice along the round side of the chestnut.
Step 3: Carefully make a slice along the round side of the chestnut.

Instructions for Roasting Chestnuts in Your Electric Oven

Step one: Go to your local supermarket and buy some chestnuts

Step two: Preheat your oven to 425

Step three: Select some chestnuts to roast and make a cut in the round side of each chestnut.  This will prevent the shell from exploding in your oven.

Step four: Place the chestnuts with the flat side down on flat baking pan or dish.  Wet your hands and sprinkle water over the nuts - you just want to slightly dampen the outer shell of the nuts - don’t soak the nuts and don’t leave a pool of water in the pan.

Step five: Place the pan in the oven on the bottom shelf so it is close to the heating element.

Step six: Let the chestnuts  roast in the oven for ten minutes and then turn each one over and roast for ten more minutes (maybe a little more or a little less - they are done when you can easily peel the shell with your fingers.

Roasted chestnuts are best eaten right out of the oven.  Simply peel away the shell and enjoy.

After making a slice along the round side of the chestnut, place in a flat pan or baking dish and place on the bottom shelf of the oven.
After making a slice along the round side of the chestnut, place in a flat pan or baking dish and place on the bottom shelf of the oven.
When done, the shell will start to pull away from the nut.  Peel off the shell with your fingers and eat while still warm
When done, the shell will start to pull away from the nut. Peel off the shell with your fingers and eat while still warm

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Comments 16 comments

Dot 5 years ago

Love the song. Love Mel! Thanks for keeping his memory alive! What a great singer and song writer.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 5 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Patty Inglish,MS - Thanks for the comment about Jimmy Fallon's band playing the Christmas Song. I just used a couple of the videos of people singing this song on YouTube. However, the dozens of videos on YouTube of various singers and bands performing this song over the years and, as you pointed out, numerous singers and bands still perform it regularly during the season today.

Thanks


Chuck profile image

Chuck 5 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Nan - I grew up in Rochester, New York - the snow belt of the state - and, now that you mention it, I remember the chestnuts my parents received ending up being put out in the backyard for the squirrels.

Thanks for the memory.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 5 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

C.J. Wright - I just received some pecans as a gift at work so I will try your suggestion of roasting them with garlic salt and butter.

Thanks


Don Simkovich profile image

Don Simkovich 5 years ago from Pasadena, CA

Fun Hub. So Mel Torme wrote the song, hmm? I've had roasted chestnuts a few times and they're okay. We were in Manhattan for Christmas in 2007 and they were sold on most street corners from what I recall.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America

Jimmy Fallon;s band The roots did an excellent version last night! Thanks for the Hub!


Nan 5 years ago

I'm going to try the roasted chestnuts in my oven! I bought nuts for Xmas and my son put them out for the squirels, he said there is a lot of snow and they would like them too. We have a white Xmas every year, somthing that you don't get in Arizona.


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

I love the song, especially Mel Torme's version. Rosted chestnuts are great - I tried them in New York City one time - I bought them from a vendor. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I'll have to try it.


C.J. Wright 5 years ago

I roast shelled pecans with garlic salt and butter. They are great! Nice work by the way! Merry Christmas


GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

Chuck,

Chestnuts are an American icon but I never have had them - wow what a timeless Hub! Excellent music too. Ricky - such fun!

I had figs last year so maybe chestnuts are this year's holiday adventure.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy Hanukkah !


FCEtier profile image

FCEtier 5 years ago from Cold Mountain

"....and every mother's child is gonna spy,

to see if reindeer really know how to fly!"

Thanks for the memories and Merry Christmas to you and yours.


L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

Just in time for Christmas...thanks for the stroll down memory lane and the instructions to roast chestnuts.


chspublish profile image

chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

Eyum! I love them and roast them in the oven. Very delicious and very nutritious. Thanks for the reminder!

Happy Holidays!


Nancy DuPree 5 years ago

I love the song. I've never had any roasted chestnuts. I love White Christmas, too.

Merry Christmas!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I like the song but I don't think I have ever eaten any chestnuts.


SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 5 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

I roasted chestnuts for the first time at thanksgiving this year, it was fun and everyone had a good time. I too used an electric oven and they came out great. I will definitely try it again in the future. Thanks for the great review and tutorial. Also, I was intrigued to find that they are plentiful in some places in Europe and are used as a substitute for mashed potatoes.

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