The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Up On The Housetop

Words and Music by Benjamin R. Hamby, circa 1860

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.

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 NicholasJolly Old Saint 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."

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.

Note: A musical setting can be found in Roy Ringwald's Book Of American Carols (2004), who adds two additional verses.

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