I love music. I love everything about music. It’s fuel for the soul, a source of energy when you’re feeling drained, a remedy for what ails your heart or mind, and above all else it’s a means of creative expression whether you have the talent to play a single note or a complete song.
Christmas music is one of my favorite music genres because its particularly expressive and motivating. While the sights and smells of Christmas are equally as important to the joy of the season, the sounds help set the tone for just how much Christmas spirit you have this time of the year.
I compiled a list of 36 of my favorite songs, arranged by how much Christmas spirit they inject into my life. Just to preface my list, these aren’t necessarily what I think are the 36 “best” songs. For instance, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is perhaps my favorite of all time. But instead, these are the ones that give me the greatest boost of Christmas spirit. Also of note, this list has fluidity; the order may change and new songs may come and go.
The criteria I used for ranking these include, but are not limited to: Nostalgia: do they make me fondly reminisce of Christmases past? Entertainment: does the tempo and rhythm of the song pique and keep my attention, perhaps stirring me to turn up the volume? Meaning: do the lyrics, history and/or context of the song have deep roots or purpose? Inspiration: does the song give me goosebumps, warm my heart, and perhaps even bring me to tears?
- Little St. Nick (Beach Boys)
I’m not the biggest The Beach Boys fan there is. I don’t like all the “oohing” and “ahhing” laced throughout their songs. I realize that’s their sound, but it’s not for me. However, this one is a catchy tune with a fun chorus.
- Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Bruce Springsteen)
The live version of this song is what makes it as good as it is. The fun that “The Boss” has while up on stage, engaging with the band and his audience and the energy hovering over the venue are nice to hear.
- There’s no place like home for the holidays (Perry Como)
A classic old school Christmas song, this one has a nice upbeat rhythm to it, and with Perry Como’s smooth, soothing tones you can’t help but sing along and tap your feet.
- Happy Holidays (Andy Williams)
Another old school foot-tapper, these older Christmas songs all have the same characteristics. The band in the background on this one help make the song what it is. Andy Williams really punctuates his notes.
- Holly Jolly Christmas (Burl Ives)
This one is truly a Christmas sing-along. With simple but effective lyrics, you can’t help but try to hit certain phrases with a little more emphasis each time — such as the “Have” in “Have a holly jolly Christmas”, and the “kiss her” in “kiss her once for me”.
- Sleigh Ride (The Ronettes)
A nice, upbeat tune, I think what really gives this song pop is the backup singers (I can never fully make out what they sing, but I think it’s something like: “jing-a-ling-a-ling-a ding dong ding”). Plus, the sleigh bells, which are commonplace in many Christmas songs, really motivate me to want to jump on a sleigh ride.
- We Need A Little Christmas (Johnny Mathis)
This is another song in which the voice of the singer — Johnny Mathis, in this case — is the driving factor behind what makes the song enjoyable. Between his voice, how he punches the notes, and the speed with which he sings it, how can you not “want” a little Christmas?
- The Most Wonderful Time of The Year (Andy Williams)
This song always makes me think about my favorite Christmas movie, “Jingle All the Way”, when Arnold Schwarzenegger is running all over town trying to find a last-minute Christmas gift. In that movie, they use Johnny Mathis’ version, which is a good one, too. This is a good song for those cold days when you’re out and about shopping.
- Here Comes Santa Claus (Gene Autry)
Featured in Christmas Vacation, this song has a nice rhythm to it and I can’t help but sing along to the chorus.
- White Christmas (Bing Crosby)
I truly dream of White Christmases, so this song is right up my alley. Bing’s got a soothing voice and when I hear this song, I think about memories of the past as well as Christmases that predated me.
- The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole)
Maybe one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time (I’ve seen it ranked that way), this is certainly one of the most recognizable. If somebody asked me to identify the single most depictive, illustrative song about what it means to be in a warm, cozy house surrounded by family on a cold winter’s night, this would be it.
- All I want for Christmas is you (Mariah Carey)
If you can’t tap your foot, nod your head, or have some kind of involuntary body movement to this song, you must be sedated. An uptempo love song with a catchy beat, you can’t help but sing along while thinking about that special someone in your life (*cough* Rachel *cough*) who is worth more than any present Santa can deliver on Christmas morning.
- Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Mariah Carey)
Another Mariah Carey song with a love theme, I just had to rank this and the previous one together. Believe it or not, I like this one slightly better than her more popular “All I want for Christmas is you”. You can feel the love and energy and the warmth of Christmas while listening to this one.
- I saw three ships (Blackmore’s Night)
Released by Blackmore’s Night, a British group, in 2006, I first heard their version of this song within the last two years, but had obviously heard of this ancient classic before then. My favorite version of this song was actually done by a quartet of sisters who once played at my church with flutes, violins and drums.
- Snoopy’s Christmas (The Royal Guardsman)
I love Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, but that’s only part of the reason why I like this song. The chorus is the most engaging part and I can’t help but sing out loudly: “Christmas bells those Christmas bells / Ring out from the land / Asking peace of all the world / And good will to man”. Also, each successive verse kicks up a notch.
- Wonderful Christmas Time (Paul McCartney)
The Beatles are my favorite band of all time and the primary reason and source of inspiration for how I became interested in music. So, of course I’m going to enjoy a Christmas tune from one of its members. Yes, Sir Paul, when you belt out these lyrics, I’m having a wonderful Christmas time.
- Happy Christmas (War is Over) (John Lennon)
Another Beatles member with another catchy, moving tune. This song has deep significance for its peace message, and it also has had a long-lasting affect on our culture of people of all ages, races, and income levels.
- Do They Know It’s Christmas (Band Aid)
A song, like Happy Christmas by John Lennon, with a deeper meaning than the commercialization of popular Christmas tradition. This song draws attention to those in Africa (and other parts of the word, really) where those less fortunate are hungry and impoverished. A song to be thankful for what you have but to possibly move you to action.
- Mary Did You Know? (Pentatonix)
A song that is relatively new by Christmas standards, I just heard this version of it recently. I have great respect for a cappella groups, those who can make sweet music and beats with just their voices. That alone gives me goosebumps, but the lyrics are powerful to boot.
- Hallelujah (Cloverton)
Originally a moving song by Leonard Cohen, Christian band Cloverton turned it into wonderful story of the Nativity of Jesus. This is a more sentimental song about the real reason for the season, and if you close your eyes and imagine being in Bethlehem, you’re sure to get goosebumps and possible tears.
- Soldier’s Silent Night (James M. Schmidt)
Not really a song, per se, but more of a recital of a spinoff of the popular poem, The Night Before Christmas. The words were written by a soldier, James M. Schmidt, and are spoken from the perspective of Santa Claus, who enters a house and notices it barren and undecorated. It was a soldier’s house, and Santa caught a glimpse of the sacrifice this soldier made to give us all freedom to enjoy such things as Christmas morning in peace and joy.
- Believe (Josh Groban)
Josh Groban is becoming — has already become — one of my favorite Christmas singers. The power and emotion behind his voice are so moving. Believe is a song from one of my top Christmas movies, The Polar Express. Faith and belief are core principles to who I am as an individual.
- Christmas at Carnegie Hall: O Come, All Ye Faithful; O Little Town of Bethlehem; Silent Night (John Williams)
This song ranking is more about “O Come, All Ye Faithful” than the other two, but my favorite version is part of a composition of the three songs together, which is why I included them all. The “O Come, All Ye Faithful” portion of this composition (the first 60 seconds) is heard in Christmas movies like Home Alone 2 and Christmas Vacation. I like this song best when played by an orchestra, but it is also very moving sung by a choir.
- Carol of the Bells (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
I have to admit, I had difficulty narrowing down my choice for this song between an orchestra version and a choir version. I have much respect and admiration for anybody with any kind of creative talent, and those who can sing this song right on the money will give you goosebumps. But I ultimately went with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra version of this song due to its energetic rendition.
- We Three Kings (Blackmore’s Night)
“We Three Kings” is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time. There are several good versions out there, but I chose this particular one because I love the Renaissance instruments used in their music. I can feel the energy and emotion behind the rhythm and tempo of the song, and it’s definitely a song that moves me to turn up the volume.
- Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy (Bing Crosby / David Bowie)
This is the highest-ranked “old school” song I have on the list. I love the duo of Bing and Bowie as they sing together bringing Christmas cheer and “peace on Earth” to all who listen. It’s a comforting song that brings back memories of years past.
- Silent Night (Jewel)
There are literally hundreds of versions of Silent Night, which is one of the best and most inspirational Christmas songs of all time. The song brings goosebumps to me all the time, and when sung a cappella by an entire choir or church congregation, it can move me to tears. I chose this particular version, though, because I think it’s beautifully sung by Jewel.
- What Child is This? (Jessica Simpson)
Jessica Simpson has some pipes on her. Sometimes, she can get a little too — oh, let’s say “screamy” — but when she belts out these lyrics about the baby Jesus, it’s emotionally moving.
- The First Noel (Josh Groban / Faith Hill)
As previously mentioned, Groban is fast becoming one of my favorite Christmas artists and when you throw in Faith Hill’s lovely voice as the duet sing this beautiful song, I can’t help but sing along with the volume raised.
- Do You Hear What I Hear? (Whitney Houston)
This is my favorite Christmas song of all time, but it’s just a smidge below these other songs because they are a little more powerful and “Christmas spirit”-inducing than this one. Still, Whitney has tremendous ability to stir up your emotions about the birth of Jesus.
- O Holy Night (Celine Dion or Josh Groban)
I could not decide which version of this wonderful song I like better, so I included them both. Really, it comes down to which type of voice you prefer to hear more, that of a female or a male. There’s something about this song that brings about a wave of emotions, and anybody who possesses the ability to hit these notes and draw them out is truly blessed.
- I’ll be home for Christmas (Josh Groban)
Between Groban’s amazing voice and the sentimentality and emotional Christmas wishes from and for our soldiers, this song is emotionally stirring and makes you appreciate all that you have — especially the relationships — this time of the year.
- The Night Before Christmas (Amy Grant)
I first heard this song while watching one of my favorite Christmas movies, Mixed Nuts. It’s got a touch of sentimentality because the title itself refers to Christmas Eve, which is my favorite day of the year. The chorus is moving and sends waves of memories through my mind, specifically family gatherings of Christmases past. The core message is in one of the final lyrics: “The heart of this Christmas is in you and me.”
- Where are you Christmas? (Faith Hill)
This song is part of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas soundtrack. I think Faith Hill has a beautiful voice and the notes that she hits in this song are amazing. This song gets me every time and makes my eyes a bit misty. I think about those who have lost their Christmas spirit — or have otherwise a negative opinion toward the season — and I just think, hope, and pray they find it once more.
- The Christmas Shoes (Newsong)
Sung by a Christian band, this song has tremendous meaning to me. Too often in our world and specifically our American society, our minds are consumed with more trivial things that deter us from remembering the more important things in life. This song, featured in a movie of the same title — is about a man who doesn’t have the Christmas spirit and is peeved by the busyness of the season. He encounters a little boy whose mom is dying and the boy wants nothing more than to buy a pair of shoes for her so she can look nice when she meets Jesus. The boy doesn’t have enough money and that’s when the spirit fills the man to the point that he buys the shoes for the little boy and he remembers “what Christmas is all about.” This song brings me to tears literally every time I listen to it intently.
- Christmas Canon (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
Two of my favorite events in life — Christmas and weddings — are brought together in this wonderful rendition. To say I get goosebumps or get emotionally stirred when I hear Canon in D would be a gross understatement. I love to see the union of two souls becoming one flesh in God’s eyes. But then when you throw a Christmas twist to the song, it’s all the more moving to me.