The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Up On The Housetop

For Christmas

Words and Music by Benjamin R. Hamby, circa 1864
First published in Volume 4, "The Dove" of Our Song Birds, a quarterly magazine  published by Root and Cady, Chicago.

MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

1. Up on the housetop reindeer pause,
Out jumps good old Santa Claus.
Down thru the chimney with lots of toys,
All for the little ones, Christmas joys.

Chorus
Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go.
Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go!
Up on the housetop, click, click, click.
Down thru the chimney with good Saint Nick.

2. First comes the stocking of little Nell;
Oh, dear Santa, fill it well;
Give her a dolly that laughs and cries,
One that will open and shut her eyes. Chorus

3. Next comes the stocking of little Will
Oh, just see what a glorious fill
Here is a hammer, And lots of tacks
Also a ball, And a whip that cracks. Chorus

Another version has the following third verse:

3. Look in the stocking of little Bill;
Oh, just see that glorious fill!
Here is a hammer and lots of tacks,
a whistle and a ball and a set of jacks.

The original Sheet Music, "Santa Claus," by Benjamin R. Hanby from Chapel Gems for Sunday Schools; Selected from "Our Song Birds" for 1866 (Chicago: Root & Cady, 1866), pp. 108-109.

Santa_Claus-Chapel_Gems-1866-pp108-109.jpg (201970 bytes)

Note: An additional musical setting can be found in Roy Ringwald's Book Of American Carols (2004).

Sheet Music Up_On_The_Housetop sequenced by Douglas D. Anderson from A Victorian Carol Book (2006), p. 75, used with permission.

Up_On_Housetop-DDA-2006-p75.jpg (89719 bytes)

Notes:

The year 1864 was a difficult one for the young minister. Ben Hanby, son of Bishop William Hanby, was struggling. Because of his views on music in church services, the teaching of children, and his opposition to slavery, his pastoral experience had been very difficult. Indeed, he resigned from his second church in this year, and was struggling to make a living for his wife and two children by running a singing school, and also writing music for the John Church Music Publishing company. In his lifetime he would publish over 80 songs.

The original carol, four stanzas and a chorus, was performed by Rev. Hanby's students at a children's service at Christmas, 1864, and later at a Christmas dinner for poor children sponsored by the Society of Friends. Those stanzas and the chorus were:

1. Upon the house top, no delay, no pause
Clatter the steeds of Santa Claus;
Down thro’ the chimney with loads of toys
Ho for the little ones, Christmas joys.

O! O! O! Who wouldn’t go.
O! O! O! Who wouldn’t go,
Upon the house top, click! click! click!
Down thro’ the chimney with good St. Nick.

2. Look in the stockings of Little Will,
Ha! Is it not a “glorious bill?”
Hammer and gimlet and lots of tacks,
Whistle and whirligig, whip that cracks.

3. Snow-white stocking of little Nell,
Oh pretty Santa cram it well;
Leave her a dolly that laughs and cries,
One that can open and shut its eyes.

4. Rover come here, are you all alone,
Haven't they tossed you an extra bone?
Here's one to gladden your honest jaws
Now waga "thank'ee" to Santa Claus.

Two additional stanzas were added by "Paulina" (verses 4 and 5 below), and all six were published in October, 1866 in Issue 4, "The Dove," of the quarterly magazine "Our Song Birds," edited by Hanby and published by Root and Cady of Chicago. It's original title was "Santa Claus." The song was then included in a compilation by Root and Hanby, Chapel Gems for Sunday Schools; Selected from "Our Song Birds," for 1866 (Chicago: Root & Cady, 1866), pp. 108-109; the sheet music is above. "Paulina" has been identified by some as Sophia Taylor Griswold, a prolific writer of hymns, and who wrote the lyrics to music composed by Philip Bliss and George Root. Hymntime has a long list of hymns written by her; see: S.T. Griswold.

It was republished the following year by Root and Cady, and also by the John Church music company. Sadly, Ben Hanby had died in early 1867 of tuberculosis, prior to the republication of his song.

The circumstances surrounding the creation of this song are found in an article by Pamela Allen, Site Manager, Hanby House Historic Site, "Benjamin Hanby composed ' Up On The Housetop.' " The Winter, 2015, issue of the Westerville Historical Society reproduced an interesting article from 1941 by Hanby family biographer Dacia C. Shoemaker, "Story of Christmas Song Appears for First Time."

This is the song as published in "The Dove" in 1866:

1. Upon the house, no delay, no pause
Clatter the steeds of Santa Claus;
Down thro’ the chimney with loads of toys
Ho for the little ones, Christmas joys.

O! O! O! Who wouldn’t go.
O! O! O! Who wouldn’t go,
Upon the housetop, click! click! click!
Down thro’ the chimney with good St. Nick.

2. Look in the stockings of Little Will,
Ha! Is it not a “glorious bill?”
Hammer and gimlet and lots of tacks,
Whistle and whirligig, whip that cracks.

3. Snow-white stocking of little Nell,
Oh pretty Santa cram it well;
Leave her a dolly that laughs and cries,
One that can open and shut its eyes

4. Here are the stockings of Lazy Jim,
What will the good Saint do for him?
Lo! he is filling them up with bran
There, he is adding a new ratan!

5. Pa, ma, and Uncle, and Grandma too,
All I declare have something new;
Even the baby enjoys his part,
Shaking a rattle, now bless his heart.

6. Rover come here, are you all alone,
Haven't they tossed you an extra bone?
Here's one to gladden your honest jaws
Now waga "thank'ee" to Santa Claus.

In his brief life — he was just 33 when he died — Hanby wrote over 80 songs, including a Christmas Hymn, Who Is He In Yonder Stall.

William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader

"Up on the Housetop" may well have been the first American song of importance which elaborates on the theme on Santa Claus. It also is one of the first entirely secular Christmas songs composed in the Unite States. Written by little-known Benjamin R. Hanby (1833-1867), sometime in the 1850s or 1860s , and probably in Ohio, this vivacious song could possibly predate the early secular classic, "Jingle Bells" (1857). The best estimate, though, is that Hanby's song was created in the 1860s.

Hanby's life was short, less than 35 years. Yet he did manage to contribute this bouncy song, which is an especial favorite of children, to the enduring literature of the holiday. Furthermore, he may possibly have composed another popular carol, "Jolly Old St Nicholas" which is of roughly the same period and which has a suspiciously similar style of music and lyrics. There is absolutely no evidence that Hanby was responsible for the other song, yet the chronological and stylistic coincidences, plus the total anonymity of "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," do elicit the conjecture that Hanby might have authored both songs. At the least, Hanby's "Up on the Housetop" may have influenced "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas."

Editor's Note:

 "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" was written by Emily Huntington Miller, and published in "The Little Corporal Magazine" in December, 1865.

William L. Simon, ed., Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (1981)

Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas," written in 1822 and now more familiarly known by its first line, "’Twas the night before Christmas," clarified for many children and their parents the exact fashion in which Santa Claus paid his visits – what he looked like, what the names of his reindeer were, how he got himself down the chimney. "Up on the Housetop," which was written in the mid-19th century by an Ohioan, Benjamin Russell Hanby, probably owes something to "A Visit From St. Nicholas," since no one before Moore had suggested that Santa’s sleigh could land on a rooftop at all.

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