Behind the Christmas Song: Christmas Shoes

Christmas Shoes came out just a few months after Daddy died of cancer.  The song and story really resonated with me and christmas shoescontinues to touch me even years later.

The story first appeared in the book, Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul.

In the book Helga Schmidt tells the story of a young brother and sister trying to buy their dying mother shoes for Christmas in Alco, Kansas.  They were $3 short, which Schmidt provided.

According to the published story, the little boy said, “These shoes will match the streets of gold in heaven. We learned about those streets in Sunday School class.”

Schmidt was moved by the story and wrote it for a church bulletin before it was reprinted in church newsletters and other publications before making its way into the Chicken Soup for the Soul book.

By the late 1990s the story began to circulate around the internet.

The story is of a boy trying to buy a special pair of shoes at Christmastime for his mother, who is dying of cancer.  The body does

Newsong

Newsong

not have enough money to pay for the shoes and a kind stranger helps him make up the difference.

St. Louis radio personality, DC Chymes, came across the song on the Internet.  He asked Eddie Carswell to write a song based on the narrative.

The song took two years to complete.  On the band’s website, Carwell says “We would read this story, and we knew something was there…so we kept stabbing at it, kept coming back to it.”

Leonard Ahlstrom, who has since left the group to serve as worship pastor for a church, said: “Eddie and I wrote the first verse and chorus but sat on it for a couple years because nobody really seemed interested in the idea,” he said. “We finally finished it and I produced it myself, never imagining that it would mean so much to so many people, and that it would still be getting airplay years later.”

The song was originally included as a bonus track on Newsong’s 2000 album, Sheltering Tree.  According to Carswell, the song was thrown on at the last minute and is the only Christmas song on the album.  At first they were not happy with the sound of the song and swamped with performances, but “hunkered down” and worked out the kinks {including rewriting} to get the track recorded.

“The frantic re-adjusting of schedules and last-minute recording and production, which made it possible for the song to be

Donna VanLiere

Donna VanLiere

included, led Carswell to believe, “God was up to something.”

Chymes was the first to play the song on the radio, but other stations quickly followed suit.  The song became a huge hit for the group on Pop and Country Charts, but surprisingly not on Christian radio.

A year later, The Christmas Shoes, was the title track of Newsong’s holiday album.

The song has since become a Christmas standard.

While working on the song, Carswell mentioned it to his writer friend, Donna VanLiere.  She thought it sounded like a great book, which she wrote.  A short time later the movie was made based on the book.

A sequel, The Christmas Blessing, followed in book, song and movie form.  The sequel continues the life of the little boy and is portrayed in the film by Neil Patrick Harris. Four more books would follow, for a total of six.

Christmas Shoes bookA Christian cantata, was also written for churches in the early 2000s.

The Christmas Shoes is one of the few modern original holiday songs to be successful.  Carswell told The Daily Beast, “I call it the little song that could… it’s just been a crazy thing how God’s blessed that little song. Just when you think it’s all over, something else happens about it. So it’s been an amazing song to be a part of.”

The Christmas Shoes continues to be Newsong’s best known song.

Even today the song still makes me cry, as it does many others.  There are also a number of people that don’t like the song.  Most often it is the emotion of the little boy and situation that people relate with.