I Believe in Father Christmas by Greg Lake with lyrics by Peter Sinfield. Released in 1975, the song reached number two on the UK Singles Chart.
Although it is often categorized as a Christmas song, this was not Lake’s intention. He said that he wrote the song in protest at the commercialization of Christmas. Sinfield, however, said that the words are about a loss of innocence and childhood belief.
Lake wrote the song at his West London home, after tuning the bottom string of his guitar from E down to D. While the song is against the commercialisation of Christmas, it has often been misinterpreted as an anti-religious song and, because of this, Lake was surprised at its success. He explained in a Mojo magazine interview:
“I find it appalling when people say it’s politically incorrect to talk about Christmas, you’ve got to talk about ‘The Holiday Season’. Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas.”
The instrumental riff between verses comes from the “Troika” portion of Sergei Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite, written for the 1934 Soviet film Lieutenant Kijé; this was added at the suggestion of Keith Emerson (an adaptation of the same song was used on Emerson’s later Christmas album). Sinfield described the song as “a picture-postcard Christmas, with morbid edges.”
The song has been covered by other artists, including Toyah Willcox on “Pop Goes Christmas” in 1982, Elaine Paige (on her 1986 album Christmas), Canadian band Honeymoon Suite (on the 1989 WEA compilation album Revellion), Vertical Horizon (on the 2002 compilation Holiday: Sounds of the Season 2002), Sarah Brightman (on her 2008 album A Winter Symphony), U2 (on the 2009 Starbucks charity compilation All You Need Is Love), Joe McElderry on his 2011 album Classic Christmas, Susan Boyle (on her 2013 album Home for Christmas) and Hannah Peel as the B-side of her 2014 single Find Peace.
In 2005 Lake wrote a letter to The Guardian about the song, in answer to a reader question regarding whether it was possible to survive on Christmas royalties alone:
In 1975, I wrote and recorded a song called “I Believe in Father Christmas”, which some Guardian readers may remember and may even own. It was a big hit and it still gets played on the radio every year around December, and it appears on more or less every Christmas compilation going. So I can tell you from experience that it’s lovely to get the old royalty cheque around September every year, but on its own, the Christmas song money isn’t quite enough to buy my own island in the Caribbean. I’m on tour at the moment and the Christmas song is as well received now as it was 30 years ago – maybe even more so. If Guardian readers could all please request it be played by their local radio stations, maybe that Caribbean island wouldn’t be so far away – and if I get there, you’re all invited.
A second recording by the full ELP trio, but with a more sparse arrangement, was included on the 1977 album Works Volume 2. It was recorded a third time in 1993, for the ELP box set The Return of the Manticore, and Lake revisited it yet again for the 2002 Sanctuary Records compilation A Classic Rock Christmas. The song has also appeared on several other ELP and Christmas compilation albums including a 1995 EP titled I Believe in Father Christmas, which includes Lake’s original single as well as the Works Volume II version.
Here are the tabs: Emerson, Lake & Palmer - I Believe In Father Christmas
Here is the backing track: