In the musical, the lyrics to the song are a reference to things Maria loves, such as "Raindrops on roses and Whiskers on Kittens, Bright Copper Kettle and Warm Woolen Mittens". These are the things she selects to fill her mind with when times are bad.
The original Broadway musical places this song in the Mother Abbess's office, just before she sends Maria to serve Captain von Trapp's family as governess to his seven children. However, Ernest Lehman, the screenwriter for the film adaptation, repositioned this song so that Maria would sing it with the children during the thunderstorm scene in her bedroom, replacing "The Lonely Goatherd", which had originally been sung at this point. Many stage productions also make this change, shifting "The Lonely Goatherd" to another scene.
The first section of the melody has the distinctive property of using only the notes 1, 2, and 5 (Do, Re, and So) of the scale. Rodgers then harmonized this same section of the melody differently in different stanzas, using a series of minor triads one time and major triads the next. This song has 16 bars of D minor 7, followed by eight bars of E b minor 7 and another eight of D minor 7. It also has an AABA structure.
The happy, optimistic lyrics---"Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudel"---are just a counterpoint and cover up an undercurrent of fear. As noted above, the song was written to be sung by a young woman scared of facing new responsibilities outside the convent. In the film script the song is repositioned, with Maria singing it to the von Trapp children during the thunderstorm; but the terror contained in the melody is still the dominant emotion.
The song ends with a borrowed line of lyric and notes from Rodgers' earlier composition with Lorenz Hart, "Glad to Be Unhappy", a standard about finding peace in the midst of unrequited love. Using the same two notes for the phrasing of "so sad" in the original song, Rodgers brings the gloom of my "Favorite Things" to a similar upbeat ending-–-"and then I don't feel so bad".
Jazz artist John Coltrane did an extended, close to fourteen-minute version on his 1961 album taken from the title of the song. It became a jazz classic and a signature for Coltrane in concert, also appearing on Newport '63 in 1963, Live at the Half Note: One Down, One Up in 1965 and Live at the Village Vanguard Again! in 1966. Coltrane's version differs significantly from the song as originally conceived, using modal patterns and being much darker and more frenzied in feel.
The wintertime imagery of the lyrics has made "My Favorite Things" a popular selection during the Christian Holiday season. It has appeared on many Christmas albums, including:
- 1964: Jack Jones on his album The Jack Jones Christmas Album
- 1965: Eddie Fisher on his album Mary Christmas
- 1965: Diana Ross & The Supremes on their album Merry Christmas
- 1965: Andy Williams on his album Merry Christmas, he had also done a duet of the song with his wife, Claudine Longet, and premiered it on the The Andy Williams Show.
- 1966: Kenny Burrell on his album Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas
- 1967: Barbra Streisand on her album A Christmas Album
- 1968: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass on their album Christmas Album. This version became a #45 Billboard 100 hit single the following year.
- 1968: Tony Bennett on his album Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album
- 1969: Johnny Mathis on his album Give Me Your Love for Christmas
- 1981: Kenny Rogers on his album Christmas
- 1984: The Carpenters on their album An Old-Fashioned Christmas
- 1993: Lorrie Morgan on her album Merry Christmas from London. This version received Christmas airplay in 1994 and again in 1999, bringing it to #64 and #69, respectively, on the Hot Country Songs charts in those years.
- 1994: The Whispers on their album Christmas Moments
- 1995: Luther Vandross on his album This Is Christmas
- 1995: Russ Freeman on his album Holiday
- 1997: SWV on their album A Special Christmas
- 2000: Vanessa Williams, Plácido Domingo, and Tony Bennett on their Live concert Christmas special, Our Favorite Things: Christmas in Vienna
- 2002: Barry Manilow on his album A Christmas Gift of Love
- 2002: Anita Baker on her album Christmas Fantasy
- 2004: Dionne Warwick on her album My Favorite Time of Year
- 2005: The Brian Setzer Orchestra on their album Dig That Crazy Christmas
- 2005: Kenny G on his album The Greatest Holiday Classics
- 2007: Yolanda Adams on her album What a Wonderful Time
- 2007: Connie Talbot on her album Over the Rainbow
- 2009: Family Force 5 on their album Family Force 5 Christmas Pageant
- 2011: Carole King on her album A Holiday Carole
- 2011: Chicago included a Latin/Brazilian jazz infused version on their album Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three
- 2012: Avila on their single Curtains, used on Victoria's Secret Holiday Campaign
- 2013: Kelly Clarkson on her album Wrapped in Red
- 2013: Mary J. Blige on her album A Mary Christmas