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Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Round the Christmas Tree”: 9 Things You Didn’t Know About the Holiday Classic

The song hit is No. 1 on the charts 65 years after it was first recorded! Discover more secrets here.


When you’re “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” this holiday season to Brenda Lee’s classic song that hit the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 (beating out Mariah Carey’s perennial favorite “All I Want for Christmas Is You”), you might not know that this iconic singer first recorded the song 65 years ago at the age of 13. And today, at 79, she is the oldest artist ever to top the chart. Here’s some more facts about the beloved singer’s life and her classic rockabilly Christmas tune.

1. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” wasn’t a hit at first

Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree portrait, 1960
Brenda Lee Christmas portrait, 1960GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty

When “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” was originally released in 1958, it failed to make a dent in the charts. But in 1960, when Lee’s teenage anthem of unrequited love “I’m Sorry” became a #1 smash hit, Decca Records reissued “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” and the song turned into a #14 hit.

Over the last six decades, the song has become a holiday favorite and has sold more than 36 million copies with the fifth most digital downloads sold of any Christmas single. “It’s been my signature song. I never thought that. I always thought that ‘I’m Sorry’ would be my signature song, But it’s ‘Rockin,’” Lee said recently on her Instagram. (Find “Rockin'” in our sister site’s collection of the top 12 country Christmas songs!)

2. Home Alone featured the song in a memorable scene

Brenda recalled the moment she heard “Rockin’” (that’s how she refers to the song) was featured in the hit 1990 Christmas movie. “I was sitting at home and the phone rang and it was one of my friends and she said, ‘Brenda, have you seen the movie Home Alone? I said no. She said, ‘Well, your song is all over it.’ I said which song? She said, ‘Rockin,’’ and that was really the catalyst that pushed it to where it went [on the charts].”

The famous scene in Home Alone (which was just selected for preservation this year in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry) shows burglars, Harry (played by Joe Pesci) and Marv (played by Daniel Stern), staking out the McCallister house to plan their robbery.

The house is supposed to be vacant, but they see through the windows what seems to be a lively holiday party with people dancing. Kevin McCallister (played by Macaulay Culkin), the boy who was accidentally left behind by his family, uses cardboard cutouts and mannequins to create the illusion of a party as “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” plays. He operates strings to move the mannequins and uses lighting to cast shadows, tricking the burglars into thinking the house is occupied.

3. The Beatles opened for her

In 1962, at the peak of her worldwide popularity, while in Hamburg, Germany, on tour, The Beatles opened for Brenda Lee. Years later, Rolling Stone magazine said John Lennon declared that Brenda “has the greatest rock ’n roll voice of them all.”

4. Brenda was her family’s sole breadwinner at age 11

Brenda Lee performs on the street, 1959
Brenda Lee performs on the street, 1959Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty

She was born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944, in Atlanta. At age three, she was standing on the counter at the general store singing for change. When she was seven, she was singing Hank Willams tunes on local television in Atlanta. “My third grade teacher would let me put my head down on the desk and sleep until about one o’clock,” she said on her Instagram. The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner never even took a singing lesson. “It just came natural,” she said.

Her father died in a construction accident when she was seven. “I came from a very poor family and I was so thrilled that I was going to get to go and work and do what I love and get paid for it where I can help my family. She would tour by car. “I slept up in the back window,” she said.

5. Her nickname is “Little Miss Dynamite”

Brenda Lee performs "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree" onstage, 2023
Brenda Lee is still dynamite onstage, 2023 Jason Kempin/Getty

In 1957, her explosive hit “Dynamite” and her powerful voice earned her a massive international audience and the nickname “Little Miss Dynamite.” She performed the song on the Ozark Jubilee TV show. Today, Brenda, at 4 feet, 9 inches, wears a size 2 1⁄2 shoe. She shops in the children’s footwear section and brings an empty suitcase to Thailand as it’s the only place she can find adult shoes that fit her, according to an interview she gave to The New York Times.

6. Her new video of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” features two fellow country music superstars

The song’s peppy video shows Brenda getting ready for the holiday, trimming the tree and baking cookies, and features cameos of two fellow country superstars, Trisha Yearwood and Tanya Tucker. But there was an earlier video for the song that was animated.

(See Brenda Lee honor Tanya Tucker at the 2023 Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony!)

7. The song’s writer was inspired to write it while at the beach

“Rockin” was written by Johnny Marks (a World War II veteran turned composer who was dubbed the “Mr. Christmas of the Music World”) who also wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” When Brenda asked him how he wrote “Rockin’,” she said he told her, “Well, I was laying on the beach (in New York) and I went to sleep and ‘I woke up and the pine trees were kind of swaying in the breeze.‘All of a sudden, I thought about Christmas, and I watched them begin and they were kind of rockin’ and I thought about a rockin’ Christmas, and then I changed it to where people might want to rock around the Christmas tree.’ And that’s kind of how it was born, and I’m lucky, so lucky that I was able to get that song.”

Brenda Lee with "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" producer Owen Bradley and Pat Boone, 1960
Brenda Lee with producer Owen Bradley and Pat Boone, 1960Bob Grannis/Getty

When Brenda and her producer Owen Bradley both heard it, she told the music site, “It was just one of those magical moments in the studio when everything came together. The sax solo, the little guitar lick that’s in there. Everything just sort of fell into place.”

8. Brenda was the first woman to be inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll of Fame

Inductee Brenda Lee at The 17th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony, 2002
Inductee Brenda Lee at The 17th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony, 2002Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty

Brenda had the fourth most chart hits in the 1960s — 47 — surpassed by only Elvis, The Beatles and Ray Charles. She has sold more than 100 million records worldwide.

8. She was good friends with Patsy Cline

She toured with Patsy Cline with whom she was especially close. When Patsy died in 1963 at the age of 30, the plane that she was riding in crashed right near Brenda’s home.

Patsy and I were the best of friends and even though I was a lot younger when I was a kid I’d go in and she talked to me about show business,” she said on The Bobby Bones Show. “She taught me a whole lot about how to deal with people in a good way. I lived at the time in Brentwood [Tennessee] and her plane went down almost in our backyard. It broke my heart.” She continued, “ I just loved her. I loved her for her goodness. I loved her for her kindness. I’m still close to her kids to this day.”

Related: Patsy Cline Songs, Ranked: 10 Classics That Can Get You Through Any Heartache

9. She’s been married to the same man for 60 years

Brenda Lee with her husband Ronnie Shacklett, 1964
Brenda Lee with her husband Ronnie Shacklett, 1964Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty

Brenda is married to Ronnie Shackett; they’ve been together since she was 18. They have two daughters, Julie and Jolie, and are grandparents.

Learn more about your favorite classic hits below!

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Tammy Wynette Songs, Ranked: 14 Iconic Hits From the First Lady of Country Music

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