John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote this in their New York City hotel room and recorded it during the evening of October 28 and into the morning of the 29th, 1971 at the Record Plant in New York. It was released in the US for Christmas, but didn't chart. The next year, it was released in the UK, where it did much better.
John and Yoko spent a lot of time in the late '60s and early '70s working to promote peace. In 1969, they put up billboard advertisements in major cities around the world that said, "War is over! (If you want it)." Two years later this slogan became the basis for this song when Lennon decided to make a Christmas record with an anti-war message.
The children's voices are the Harlem Community Choir, who were brought in to sing on this track. They are credited on the single along with Yoko and The Plastic Ono Band.
Lennon and Ono produced this with the help of Phil Spector. Spector had worked on some of the later Beatles songs and also produced Lennon's "Instant Karma." It was not Spector's first foray into Christmas music: he spent the summer of 1963 putting together A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, featuring artists like The Ronettes and Darlene Love. Unfortunately, the album was released on November 22, 1963, which was the same day US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the album was pulled from the market.
This was originally released on clear green vinyl with Yoko Ono's "Listen, The Snow Is Falling" as the B-side.
At the beginning of the song, two whispers can be heard. Yoko whispers: "Happy Christmas, Kyoko" (Kyoko Chan Cox is Yoko's daughter with Anthony Cox) and John whispers: "Happy Christmas, Julian" (John's son with Cynthia). (thanks, Martin - Rostock, Germany)
This has been covered by The Alarm, The Cranes, The December People, and Melissa Etheridge (in a medley with "Give Peace a Chance").
Lennon was shot and killed less than 3 weeks before Christmas in 1980. The song was re-released in the UK on December 20th of that year.
Australian artist Delta Goodrem covered this in 2003. She received special permission from Yoko Ono to record the song. (thanks, Katie - Australia)
This was covered by a group called Street Drum Corps. Bert McCracken, the frontman for rock band The Used, supplied vocals for their cover. It appears on the album Taste Of Christmas, released in the winter of 2005. The album is a compilation of classic and original Christmas songs as done by artists on the Taste Of Chaos tour. (thanks, Chris - Andover, MN)