Some say that the Christmas season starts as soon as Halloween is over. Others insist that Dec. 1 is when it’s finally acceptable to start playing holiday music. No matter which camp you’re in, there’s no doubt that holiday tunes have started creeping up on radio stations and Spotify playlist recommendations. Love ’em or hate ’em, you’ll run into ’em, so here are the top 10 picks for the best holiday songs of the season.
10. “Blue Christmas”
Is there a groovier Christmas song than this? Elvis’s voice teases and mopes, and the song manages to have a comical tone due to the “ooh”-ing background chorus and Elvis’s demeanor. Nevertheless, there’s the sadness of unrequited love written into the lyrics. There’s a lot of swagger and swing, and “Blue Christmas” is a timeless, fun song.
9. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”
If this song were turned in as an English class assignment, it would get an A+ for imagery. Full of vivid descriptions of familiar Christmas scenes, this song is calming yet funny, poking fun at people’s varied experiences during the holidays. Ultimately, it proves to be another heartwarming song about treasuring the small things in the holiday season, assuring us that “the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door.”
8. “Let It Snow”
Maybe Californians don’t really mind the lack of snow, but those who have enjoyed a snowy Christmas know the magic that settles over streets and fields covered in a thick white blanket. “Let It Snow” speaks of the most universal wish of the holidays — for the weather to transform our neighborhoods into special places. The gentle melodies and simple lyrics make this lighthearted song a long-time holiday favorite.
7. “Sleigh Ride”
“Sleigh Ride” never fails to get you excited for the holidays. The tune captures the joy of children and adults alike as they eagerly climb a snowy hill with a sled or go on a drive around town to look at the wonderful decorations. It’s one of the few Christmas songs that doesn’t rely on catchy lyrics to stay relevant. The instrumentals are thrilling and full of unexpected twists and turns, and there’s nothing like hearing a full orchestra play “Sleigh Ride” to catch all the fun details.
6. “Jingle Bell Rock”
It’s laid back, lighthearted and genuine — who doesn’t like “Jingle Bell Rock?” It gets you swaying to the rhythm instantly, and it serves as the perfect backdrop for walking around town at night or shopping for presents. Bobby Helms’s voice is kind and welcoming; the fun guitar riffs and background chorus complete this Christmas staple. And let’s not forget that it provided the soundtrack for the unforgettable “Mean Girls” dance scene…
5. “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
You’re lying if you say you’ve never tried to sing the “isssssssss” riff in the shower. Sing this to your crush, and you might snag yourself a kiss for New Year’s Eve. Everyone knows Mariah Carey’s vocal acrobatics are impressive, but this song is lovable for other reasons: the easy-to-remember melody, the upbeat sleigh bells, the enthusiastic singers in the background. Maybe it’s not about the gifts and formalities … maybe it’s about finding your soulmate.
4. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
This song is, without a doubt, one of the most ruthless diss tracks ever in the history of music. Never failing to bring a smile to listeners’ faces, “You’re a Mean One” is full of creative insults and a sassy attitude. This song truly stands out from the rest of the holiday classics for its blatant pessimism; with these hilarious roasts, you can’t help but feel a little bit of sympathy for Mr. Grinch. “You’re a Mean One” is one of the highlights of the holiday season for its unconventional humor, contrasting with the all-too-similar celebratory tone of virtually every other Christmas song.
3. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
No one can argue that emotions run high in the winter — everyone’s in a reflective mood at the end of the year, and we’re frequently spending time indoors with loved ones. “Have Yourself” often ends up being the most poignant song of the holidays for its sweeping, slow melodies and moving lyrics. The song promises us that “next year all our troubles will be out of sight,” and for a moment, we can forget our worries and believe in that promise. “Have Yourself” encourages us all to cherish this fleeting celebration and to have hope for what lies ahead.
2. “Last Christmas”
“Last Christmas” is iconic and timeless; it’s an homage to the countless attempts to kindle a flame during cuffing season. George Michael’s voice perfectly complements the unforgettable chorus and melancholy melodies. The upbeat instrumentals mask the heartbroken lyrics and give the song a great throwback vibe. The story arc of the song is also remarkable, starting out with despair and ending with resilience. The remarkable vulnerability of this song is what makes it so enduring and beloved, and there are very few other songs — holiday songs or otherwise — that make us such sympathetic listeners.
1. “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”
I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like “The Christmas Song.” The luscious strings, Nat King Cole’s velvety voice, the heartwarming lyrics — this song has everything. Conjuring up an image of loved ones snuggling by the fireplace on a snowy night, this classic song overflows with the generosity of the holiday spirit and captures the essence of this special season: endless wonder, cherished traditions and the joy of celebrating with friends and family. This song is infinitely tender and comforting, like a much-needed hug on a chilly winter night. To everyone from one to 92 years old, “The Christmas Song” reminds us that the holidays are a truly special time.
Contact Nadia Jo at nejo ‘at’ stanford.edu.