Narrowing down the enormous catalog of Christmas songs to the Top 10 is a difficult undertaking. There are so many songs that deserve recognition; a Top 10 list barely scratches the surface. Restricting the list to classics helps to limit the options, although everyone’s definition of “classic” varies. I decided for this list that “classic” would mean anything from the mid-1950s or earlier.
10. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Written by Tommie Connor, and first recorded by Jimmy Boyd in 1952, this song brings back childhood memories of Christmases past: leaving out milk and cookies for Santa (and, perhaps, a carrot for Rudolph); pretending to go to bed and then fighting sleep in the hopes of catching the jolly old elf climbing down the chimney; sneaking downstairs in the early morning light to examine the presents under the tree, trying to guess if one of them held the toy we’d been desiring for weeks. As adults, we can appreciate what’s really going on when “mommy kisses Santa Claus”, but as kids it seemed like a delicious secret!
9. (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays
This song reminds us all that the holidays are a time for family, for recapturing our roots and revisiting the comforts of home. While few of us would consider the traffic to be “terrific” in today’s sense of the word, we can all relate to traveling across town or across the country for friends, family, and just maybe some homemade apple pie. Perry Como’s 1954 version remains the most popular, and the song is well-suited to his good-natured vocals.
8. Silent Night
A true classic, “Silent Night” was written on Christmas Eve in 1818. For me, the song brings to mind a cozy, dark village covered in a blanket of snow – which is all wrong, of course, since Bethlehem has a Mediterranean climate and snow would be extremely unusual! “Silent Night” is best sung by the congregation in a church on Christmas Eve, by candlelight.
7. Blue Christmas
Granted, this song can get annoying when it is overplayed. In moderation, however, “Blue Christmas” is a charming (if somewhat depressing) tune that touches the heart. It reminds us all to be thankful if we are not alone, and hopeful if we are. Elvis’ version, of course, is the quintessential.
6. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Who can resist the song about the most famous reindeer of all? Kids of all ages love to sing along to Rudolph, and it’s not uncommon to see adults mouthing the “audience participation” bits along with their children. Gene Autry’s classic is happy and fun, and allows us to revisit our childhoods in a most satisfactory way.
5. I’ll be Home for Christmas
Another semi-depressing song, but it holds a beautiful sentiment. First written for soldiers overseas during World War II, “I’ll be Home for Christmas” remains one of the most-recorded Christmas songs today. Bing Crosby first made it famous, and his version is still one of the most popular.
4. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
The original lyrics for this song were highly depressing – the opening line was, ”Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last.” Subsequent revisions cheered it up and focused on celebrating the present, rather than dreading the future, turning it into a simple song with a sweet sentiment. Frank Sinatra requested a minor change in 1957, for his upcoming Christmas album, and that version is the most widely-recognized today.
3. White Christmas
Contrary to common belief, “White Christmas” did not originate with the movie of the same name. It was first performed in Holiday Inn in 1942, twelve years before the movie was released, and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Another war-time tune, “White Christmas” was nostalgic for soldiers overseas, reminding them of the comforts of home. Bing Crosby’s 1947 remake is recognized as the best-selling single in any music category in the US.
2. O Holy Night
This French carol, composed in 1847, is a powerful song. Unlike most Christmas carols, which are best when sung by a group with simple accompaniment, “O Holy Night’s” crescendoing, “belt-it-out” chorus warrants a soloist and full orchestra. To sing this song well requires a passion which becomes evident as the song progresses. Combined with the moving melody, this makes “O Holy Night” one of the most beloved Christmas carols in the world.
1. The Christmas Song
No list of Christmas songs would be complete without this one; indeed, no Christmas season would be complete without it. “The Christmas Song” is one of the most-performed, most-recorded, and most-loved Christmas songs of all time. Bringing to mind all the traditional comforts of Christmas – roasting chestnuts, carols, turkey and mistletoe – the song ends with a simple wish for all: “Merry Christmas to you.” While many have tried, none can match the smooth sound of Nat King Cole’s rendition of this Christmas classic.
There are many other songs that would have been just as appropriate for this list; Christmas songs are popular for artists and listeners alike. These ten songs represent just a few of the best. They are the songs that everyone knows and everyone loves, from young children to their grandparents, and to which everyone can sing along.