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The Best Christmas Songs of All Time

Let me begin by stating the obvious: these are really just my personal choices for the best Christmas songs ever written, performed and recorded for posterity. But, on the other hand, if you haven't heard Enya's "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" or Charles Haugabrooks' "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" or Boney M.'s reggae version of "Mary's Boy Child" or Simon and Garfunkel's "Comfort and Joy/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" sung in rounds, how can you be sure that your personal list is complete? So perhaps you'll want to consider mine, compare notes, and update yours. 

Christmas Music Trivia: Despite all the ta-dah about the Beatles, Elvis Presley and the other gods and demigods of rock'n'roll, did you know that the best-selling single of all time remains Bing Crosby's version of "White Christmas," with over 50 million sales? And did you know that his version of "Silent Night" is number three, with over 30 million sales? It seems a lot of people still love and admire the "oldies but goodies."

My pick for the number one Christmas song of all time is Eartha Kitt's sexy, sassy "Santa Baby." But all the songs near the top of my list provide strong competition, from the atmospheric vocals of Enya, Jackie Evancho and Andrew Johnston, to the orchestral thunder of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra belting out "Carol of the Bells" and "Christmas Canon Rock." And then there are the wonderfully tender and touching performances, such as Amy Grant's breathless "Breath of Heaven," Clay Aiken's wonderfully touching "Mary Did You Know?" and Roy Orbison's lovely "Pretty Paper." (Can you guess who wrote "Pretty Paper"? Betcha can't, not in a million years! But I will reveal the answer shortly below.) There are also the wonderful Christmas hymns of yore, like "O Holy Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful," sung by such stellar performers as Mahalia Jackson, Josh Groban, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. One of my favorites is a little-known song, The Ballad of the Christmas Donkey, sung tenderly and soulfully a cappella by my wife, Beth Burch. Before you accuse me of nepotism, please allow me to point out that when Johnny Carson asked Lynn Anderson (of "I Never Promised You A Rose Garden" fame) to name an up-and-coming young country singer to keep an eye on, she named Beth (then Beth Harris). You can click any of the hyperlinked song titles below to hear the songs you haven't heard before, or want to hear again.

The Ten Best Christmas Songs of All Time (Popular/Contemporary)

Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby (aka "Santa Cutie" the song has been covered by Kylie Minogue, Shakira, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, even Michael Bublé!)
Elvis Presley - Santa Claus is Back in Town
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Carol of the Bells and Christmas Canon Rock (On this Very Christmas Night)
Wham! featuring George Michael - Last Christmas
John Lennon and Yoko Ono - Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas (original version/extended version)
Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and Merry Christmas Baby
Boney M. - Mary's Boy Child (reggae version)
Bing Crosby and Human Nature - White Christmas
Pentatonix - Carol of the Bells

Is this the Most Beautiful Vocal Performance of All Time, Regardless of Season or Theme?

Enya - O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The Ballad of the Christmas Donkey

I may be accused of nepotism, but I love the way my wife performs this song, with tremendous tenderness and compassion. Beth also delivers a touching message about discrimination and bullying. Our son was bullied in elementary school, to the extent that he had to change schools, so we do understand the problem and sympathize with the victims of bullying. But as Beth points out, we can "take the power back" from the bullies. And as Eleanor Roosevelt once pointed out, no one can make you feel bad about yourself without your consent!

Beth Burch - The Ballad of the Christmas Donkey

The Best Christmas Songs by Category

The best humorous Christmas songs: Santa Baby, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, anything by the Chipmunks!
The best sexy & sassy Christmas songs: Santa Baby, Baby It's Cold Outside, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
The best Christmas songs to cuddle by: Baby It's Cold Outside, All I Want for Christmas (Is You), Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, White Christmas
The best upbeat Christmas songs: Jingle Bells, Sleigh Ride, Let It Snow, Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Santa Claus is Back in Town, Merry Christmas Baby
The best Christmas hymns: Silent Night, O Holy Night, Sweet Little Jesus Boy, Mary Did You Know, Ave Maria, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Angels We have Heard on High
The best traditional Christmas carols: Little Drummer Boy, Do You Hear What I Hear, We Three Kings, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Come All Ye Faithful
The best sad Christmas songs: Last Christmas, Blue Christmas, White Christmas, Do They Know It's Christmas, If We Make it Through December, Where Are You Christmas?, Auld Lang Syne
The best Christmas lullabies: Away in a Manger, Silent Night, Old Toy Trains
The best Christmas opera/oratorio: Handel's Messiah, composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel
The best "spirit of the season" Christmas songs: Do They Know It's Christmas, Happy Xmas (War is Over), Christmas is Coming!

Christmas is Coming!

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!

This is my favorite Christmas lyric, because it really captures the true spirit of the Christmas season. The small poem above is a traditional nursery rhyme often sung in rounds during the Christmas season. There are many variations of the lyrics due to the antiquity of the rhyme. A "ha'penny" is an English half-penny coin, so someone without a ha'penny is flat broke. The rhyme was adapted into the Bing Crosby song Christmas is A-Comin' when Frank Luther added verses such as the fine opening lines: "When I'm feeling blue, when I'm feeling low, / I start to think about the happiest man I know." Despite its inauspicious beginning as a nursery rhyme, "Christmas is Coming" has been performed in one version or another by major artists like Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Lorne Greene, Pat Boone, The Kingston Trio, The Manhattan Transfer ... even in a calypso version by John Denver and the Muppets! But perhaps more importantly it has been sung by millions of unknown carolers around the world as a call for compassion, generosity and "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" during the Christmas season. When I hear carolers singing the song, I always think of Tiny Tim exclaiming "God bless us, every one!"

The Ten Best Christmas Songs You May Have Never Heard

Queen - Thank God it's Christmas
Simon and Garfunkel - Comfort and Joy/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (sung in rounds)
Boney M. - Mary's Boy Child (reggae version)
Charles Haugabrooks - Sweet Little Jesus Boy
Andrew Johnston - Pie Jesu
Ed Ames - The Ballad of the Christmas Donkey
Amy Grant - Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)
Dan Fogelberg - Same Old Lang Syne
Death Cab for Cutie - Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)
Roger Miller - Old Toy Trains

Nashville's 13 Best Christmas Songs

Bill Monroe - Christmas Time's A-Comin (1951) was a big holiday hit for the Father of Bluegrass. (Elvis Presley's first single was an up-tempo cover of Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky.")
Bobby Helms - Jingle Bell Rock (1957); it's ironic that two of the best-known "rocking" Christmas songs were originally recorded by country artists!
Brenda Lee - Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (1958) was recorded when Little Brenda Lee was only 13 years old. (And she never got much taller, only better.)
Roy Orbison - Pretty Paper (1963), a song written by country music superstar Willie Nelson.
Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas (1964), a song the singers assumed would never get published because of all the woo-wooing in the background!
Loretta Lynn - Country Christmas (1966)
Roger Miller - Old Toy Trains (1967)
Grandpa Jones - The Christmas Guest (1969) is not technically a song, but a spoken word poem.
Merle Haggard - If We Make it Through December (1973)
John Prine - Christmas in Prison (1973)
Alabama - Christmas in Dixie (1982) contains a small fib: when the band sang "From Fort Payne, Alabama, merry Christmas tonight," they were actually in a Nashville music studio!
Amy Grant - (Have a Tender) Tennessee Christmas (1983)
Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene - Mary Did You Know? (1991) has become a much-covered classic Christmas song ... did you know that it and the other songs above all originated in Nashville?

Nashville Trivia: Although she stood only 4' 9", Brenda Lee was known as Little Miss Dynamite and remains the only female artist to chart songs in five major genres (pop, blues, rock, gospel and country). She was a musical prodigy; at age three she would stand on a counter and sing for money (her family was poor). She won a talent contest and sang on a live radio show at age six. By age ten she was a professional singer and her family's primary breadwinner. Her first appearance on TV was as a country singer, and she still lives in Nashville today. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" remains her biggest hit. She was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997, then to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

The Best Christmas Songs of All Time (Traditional)

Martina McBride - O Holy Night
Martina McBride - Do You Hear What I Hear
Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
David Bowie and Bing Crosby - Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth
CeeLo Green - Mary Did You Know?
Pentatonix - Mary Did You Know?
Josh Groban - O Holy Night
Josh Groban - Angels We Have Heard on High
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing - the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Andrea Bocelli - Gloria in Excelsis Deo
Manheim Steamroller - Handel's Messiah Hallelujah Chorus
Aaron Neville - Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
Charles Haugabrooks - Sweet Little Jesus Boy
Beach Boys - We Three Kings
Simon and Garfunkel - Comfort and Joy/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (sung in rounds)
Art Garfunkel - O Come All Ye Faithful
Jackie Evancho - Ave Maria and Celine Dion - Ave Maria (English lyrics)
Jackie Evancho - Silent Night
Andrew Johnston - Pie Jesu
Michael McDonald - Go Tell it on the Mountain
Vince Gill - Do You Hear What I Hear
Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige - What Child Is This?
Clay Aiken - Mary Did You Know?

The Rest of the Best Christmas Songs of All Time

Beth Burch - The Ballad of the Christmas Donkey
Pentatonix - Little Drummer Boy
Michael Bublé and Anne Murray - Baby It's Cold Outside
Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé - Baby It's Cold Outside
Mariah Carey - All I Want for Christmas is You
Otis Redding - Merry Christmas Baby
Amy Grant - Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)
TLC - Sleigh Ride
Andy Williams - Sleigh Ride
Roy Orbison - Pretty Paper
Boney M. - Jingle Bells
Ray Charles - Merry Christmas Baby
Judy Garland - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Ella Fitzgerald - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Michael Bublé - White Christmas
Gene Autry - Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Dean Martin - Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Enya - Oíche Chiúin [Silent Night in Gaelic]
Christina Aguilera and Dr. John - Merry Christmas Baby
Charles Haugabrooks - Angels We Have Heard on High
Cast of Glee - Last Christmas
Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas
Frank Sinatra - Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
Frank Sinatra - Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Harry Belafonte - Mary's Boy Child
Enya - Christmas Secrets
Jim Reeves- O Come All Ye Faithful
Josh Groban with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - O Come All Ye Faithful
Jose Feliciano - Feliz Navidad
Dan Fogelberg - Same Old Lang Syne
Faith Hill - Where Are You Christmas?
Sarah McLachlan - River
Sarah McLachlan - Angel
Mahalia Jackson - Sweet Little Jesus Boy
Ed Ames - The Ballad of the Christmas Donkey
Sarah McLachlan - O Little Town of Bethlehem
Christina Aguilera - This Christmas
Christina Aguilera and Brian McKnight - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Mormon Tabernacle Choir - Carol of the Bells
Bruce Springsteen - Merry Christmas Baby
Eagles - Please Come Home for Christmas
Bon Jovi - Please Come Home for Christmas
Death Cab for Cutie - Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)
Bob Seger - Little Drummer Boy
Mahalia Jackson - Silent Night
Josh Groban - Little Drummer Boy
Sarah McLachlan - What Child Is This
Aaron Neville - Please Come Home for Christmas
Charles Haugabrooks - Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head
Sinead O'Connor - Silent Night
Michael Bolton - Joy to the World
Whitney Houston - Joy to the World
Billy Squier - Christmas is the Time to Say "I Love You"
Celine Dion - O Holy Night
Frank Sinatra - Mistletoe and Holly
Beyonce - Ave Maria
The Royal Guardsmen - Snoopy's Christmas
Harry Simeone Chorale - Little Drummer Boy
Rhea's Obsession with Athan Maroulis - We Three Kings
Elton John - Step Into Christmas
Josh Groban - Thankful
Josh Groban - What Child is This
Chris Rea - Driving Home for Christmas
Billy Corgan, Emilie Autumn and Dennis DeYoung - We Three Kings
The Carpenters - Merry Christmas Darling
The Beach Boys - Little St. Nick
Il Divo - O Holy Night
Sting - Gabriel's Message (a Basque folk song with English lyrics)
Dido - Christmas Day
Vanessa Williams - Do You Hear What I Hear
Josh Groban - It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey - Baby It's Cold Outside
Enya - White is the Winter Night
Barbra Streisand - Sleep in Heavenly Peace/Silent Night
Vanessa Williams - I Wonder as I Wander
Aretha Franklin - Winter Wonderland
The Ronettes - Winter Wonderland
Ed Ames - Away in a Manger
Brenda Lee - Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
Mel & Kim - Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
Lady Gaga and Beyonce - Christmas Tree
Boyz to Men - Silent Night
The Temptations - Silent Night
Beyonce - Silent Night
Faith Hill - O Come all Ye Faithful
Luther Vandross - O Come All Ye Faithful
Mariah Carey - O Holy Night
Mariah Carey - Auld Lang Syne (the New Year's Anthem) with lyrics by Scotland's greatest poet, Robert Burns
Ed Ames - O Holy Night
Faith Hill - O Holy Night
Jewel - Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Jars of Clay - Little Drummer Boy
Jackson 5 - Up on the Housetop
Bette Midler - Cool Yule
Martina McBride - Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
Josh Groban - Petit Papa Noel
Bing Crosby - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
Bing Crosby - Do You Hear What I Hear
Chuck Berry - Run Rudolph Run
Commodores - Deck The Halls
Bobby Helms - Jingle Bell Rock
Randy Travis - Jingle Bell Rock
Elmo and Patsy - Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
Bruce Springsteen - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Dean Martin - Let It Snow
Dean Martin - Walking in a Winter Wonderland
Gene Autry - Frosty the Snowman
Gene Autry - Here Comes Santa Claus
Andy Williams - It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Paul McCartney and Wings - Wonderful Christmastime
Johnny Mathis - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
Perry Como - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
Burl Ives - Have a Holly Jolly Christmas
The Pogues - Fairytale of New York
Mel Torme - The Christmas Song
Drifters - White Christmas
Justin Bieber - (I'll Be Under the) Mistletoe
Taylor Swift - White Christmas
Taylor Swift - Santa Baby
Ariana Grande - Santa Tell Me
Perry Como - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Roger Whittaker - Twelve Days Of Christmas
Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody
Spike Jones - All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth
Tammy Wynette - Joy To The World
Teresa Brewer - I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus
Adam Sandler - The Chanukah Song
The Balfron Christmas Stars - It's Christmas Day
Darlene Love - All Alone on Christmas
Jimmy Boyd - I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Mud - Lonely this Christmas
The Chimpmunks - The Chipmunk Song

Related page: The Best Christmas Poems of All Time, The Most Beautiful Lines in the English Language

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