John Lennon – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

John Lennon

Happy Xmas War is Over John and Yoko Plastic Ono Band Piano solo (sheet music)

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“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is a Christmas song released in 1971 as a single by John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. It was the seventh single release by John Lennon outside his work with the Beatles.

The song reached number four in the UK, where its release was delayed until November 1972, and has occasionally re-emerged on the UK Singles Chart, most notably after Lennon’s murder in December 1980, when it peaked at number two.

Also a protest song against the Vietnam War, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” has since become a Christmas standard, frequently recorded by other artists, appearing on compilation albums of seasonal music, and named in polls as a holiday favourite.

In a UK-wide poll in December 2012, it was voted tenth on the ITV television special The Nation’s Favourite Christmas Song.


So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you had fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas (war is over)
For weak and for strong (if you want it)
The rich and the poor ones (war is over)
The road is so long (now)

And so happy Christmas (war is over)
For black and for white (if you want it)
For yellow and red ones (war is over)
Let’s stop all the fight (now)

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas (war is over)
And what have we done? (If you want it)
Another year over (war is over)
And a new one just begun (now)

And so happy Christmas (war is over)
We hope you have fun (if you want it)
The near and the dear ones (war is over)
The old and the young (now)

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

War is over
If you want it
War is over

Happy Christmas
Happy Christmas (happy Christmas)
Happy Christmas (happy Christmas)
Happy Christmas (happy Christmas)

The full story of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon and its anti-war message

Whenever December is arriving, in the streets we can hear a lot of songs referring to this date. Christmas carols cannot be missing at the end of the year festivities, but beyond those themes created specifically for the occasion, there are others that, in their own way, also talk about the Christmas season. Such is the case of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” , one of the classics in John Lennon ‘s solo career .

In 1970 and after the dissolution of The Beatles, Lennon decided to resume the projects he put aside to return to the studio with Paul, George and Ringo to record Abbey Road and what would later become Let It Be . In addition to focusing on solo albums and with the Plastic Ono Band, the British musician returned to his campaign against the Vietnam War, which he started years before and which, of course, gave something to talk about. 

It was in 1969 when John Lennon and Yoko Ono raised their voices with a propaganda campaign about this armed conflict in a very peculiar way. To start, they put up posters in major cities around the world such as New York, Rome, Tokyo, Athens and London that read “War Is Over (If You Want It)” – or “The war is over (if you want it)” – . However, this was not the only thing they did to show their discontent with what was happening in Vietnam.

On March 20 of that same year, Lennon and Ono got married and taking advantage of their fame, they decided to use the publicity that this event would bring them to promote their message of peace. Instead of spending any honeymoon, they both stayed in a suite at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam where, lying on a bed and surrounded by flowers and posters, they peacefully protested against the war that the United States was waging in the Asian country.

They repeated this same act in Montreal, where they were accompanied by journalists and special guests such as Timothy Leary – known for being the main promoter of LSD and for whom John Lennon composed “Come Together” for his failed campaign for the governorship of California in 1969–. However, in addition to protesting the Vietnam War, they also took the opportunity to record a song, “Give Peace A Chance ,” which became an anti-war anthem.

Lennon takes up his ideas against the war

After all this movement and after the dissolution of The Beatles, Lennon continued to protest from his trench, although in reality he focused his efforts on composing music . In 1970 he released his debut album as a solo artist, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band , which had a great reception from critics, but a year later he would release an album that marked his career forever, the iconic Imagine , which includes the perhaps it is his most famous role.

Although in “Imagine” he managed to reflect his vision of peace and a utopian world in which we will all be one regardless of race or religion, it seems that that was not enough for Lennon. The conflicts in Vietnam did not seem to end, that is why, taking up the phrase that he used for the 1969 propaganda campaign and seeking to demonstrate once again his discontent, he together with Yoko Ono composed a very special song. 

The birth of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”

In 1971, John Lennon wanted to record a Christmas album , but he was not looking to include Christmas carols or songs typical of the holidays. In fact, it is said that he hated the song “White Christmas” so much that he set out to write a song appropriate for the holidays but that had a much more important message , that did not stop at remembering Santa Claus or those traditional characters but that would have the vibe of the time.

Thus was born “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” , a song that Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote in their hotel room in New York and recorded a demo at the end of October 1971 at the Record Plant studios in the Big Apple. Later, they produced this song with Phil Spector – who worked with the British musician on Let It Be and was behind another of his great songs, “Instant Karma” – and during the final recordings quite curious events occurred.

To start, Spector hired four guitarists to play acoustic guitars: Hugh McCracken (who had recently worked in Paul McCartney’s Ram ), Chris Osbourne, Stu Scharf and Teddy Irwin. According to some people who were at the sessions, when John Lennon taught them the song, he asked them to “pretend it was Christmas”; However, one of the musicians said that he was Jewish, to which John replied: “Well, pretend it’s your birthday then.”

The “curiosities” of this role

From the beginning and even though it sounds like a Christmas song, what Lennon did was disguise it with music and include simple lyrics but with phrases that denoted his protest about the Vietnam War accompanied by philosophical ideas. Despite that, “ Happy

At 1:15, there is a line in this song where John Lennon sings what sounds like “the road is so long . ” This line was transcribed as “the world is so wrong” on the back cover of Shaved Fish – the first compilation album to feature the song – and, apparently, it was published that way. That is why most versions sing it as “the world is so wrong” , but that would be a rather pessimistic vision and contrary to what he wanted to convey.

That phrase could be translated as:

“For the rich and the poor,
the world is so bad.” 

“The road is so long” seems more congruent with the hopeful message of John Lennon’s song , and is probably what he sang. Everything indicates that this line was transcribed incorrectly and has never been corrected, something quite curious considering the importance of Lennon’s songs in popular culture and music. Either way, that doesn’t mean that this is a masterpiece of his solo discography.

Did the inspiration come from a traditional song?

On the other hand, the chords and melody of “Happy Xmas (War is Over) seem to be inspired by a traditional English folk song called “Skewball” ; particularly in the 1963 version titled “Stewball” and performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, an American folk group. Although he never confirmed or denied the influence of this song, everything indicates that Lennon did borrow these elements to compose his own song.

Finally, the voices of the children heard are those of the Harlem Community Choir , who were brought to sing on this song. As if this were not enough, these little ones – who must all be adults by now – are credited on the single along with Yoko and The Plastic Ono Band . And we are sure that this is something that they should brag to everyone, because not everyone can say that they have merit in a John Lennon song.

Stewball (2004 Remaster)

The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary ℗ 1963 Warner Records Inc.

The influence of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” on popular culture

Finally, John Lennon published “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” on December 1, 1971 in the United States and the truth is that it did not do so well commercially, but over time it became a Christmas classic. The opposite is true in the United Kingdom, because although they released the single there some time later, it quickly entered the hit list and is also a must-have song when playing music at Christmas.

Over the years a lot of artists have covered this song, such as Maroon 5, Céline Dion, The Corrs, The Used and Miley Cyrus along with Mark Ronson and Sean Lennon himself ; Come on, even Tatiana and Pedrito Fernández released their own version of this great song. Each and every one of these musicians has put their touch on it, recognizing that it is a classic of Lennon and popular music in general.

In the end, John Lennon and Yoko Ono achieved their goal with “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” : making a very unusual Christmas song but with the touch of the season. Instead of replicating sleigh bells and talking about Santa Claus, the pair asks us to think about those who live in fear and end wars. Even though the conflict in Vietnam ended in 1975, 50 years after its release, this song still sounds relevant and the message is important to this day.