With the holiday season in full swing and Hanukkah already underway, and Christmas coming just a week from now, I thought I’d celebrate with some of my favorite things about Christmas. Today, I share with you my five favorite Christmas songs of all time. One song you won’t be seeing on this list? “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey. I’ve never cared much for that song, and hearing it sung every year on The X Factor (both the US and UK versions) was enough to finally turn me off from the song for good (thankfully, they didn’t do Christmas songs on The X Factor UK this year, and the US version hasn’t aired since 2013).
So, here are my five actual picks. The only criterion was that the song had to be Christmas or winter-themed. I make no distinction between hymns and secular songs.
5. Billy Squier, “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You”
This song comes from a time when rock music was just as popular on the radio as pop was (something that long fell by the wayside by the time I was coming of age) and Billy Squier was one of the most popular rock stars of the early ’80s (only to have his popularity wane after a particularly disastrous reception for the music video for his single, “Rock Me Tonite”). This is one of the few Christmas songs by pop or rock singers I’ve heard through the years to not come across as cheesy. And the fact that he did this version with the “MTV Chorus” is even more awesome.
4. “Carol of the Bells”
This has got to be my favorite Christmas carol, with all the complex layers of vocals. The version featured here is one done for South Park by the South Park Elementary School guidance counselor, Mr. Mackey. (The random “m’kays” sprinkled throughout this version always make me giggle.)
3. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon
Another rock Christmas classic, this song combines Lennon’s singing talents with his songwriting, which often incorporated themes of peace and justice. This one is no different. Originally written as a protest song against the Vietnam War, it has since transcended its original political origin and has become a beloved Christmas standard throughout the world.
2. “It Must Have Been Love (Christmas for the Broken-Hearted)” by Roxette
You didn’t know this was a Christmas song? It was originally written by the Swedish pop duo as a Christmas song about heartbreak and lost love and released in 1987. A couple of years later, it was selected to be part of the soundtrack for a film that would eventually be regarded as a classic romance film, Pretty Woman. A slight lyrical change the year after its original release made it less Christmas-y (the line “It’s a hard Christmas Day” became “It’s a hard winter’s day”), and it ended up becoming one of four number-one singles in the United States for Roxette (along with “The Look”, “Listen to Your Heart”, and “Joyride”) and one of the most popular songs of the 1990s. The video featured here is from the original Christmas single.
Honorable Mention: “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” by The Chipmunks
This didn’t quite make the main list, but I must mention that this song was on replay constantly when I was a kid and we wore out the cassette tape this song was featured on! It’s also the only Christmas song to ever top the Billboard Hot 100.
1. “Mele Kalikimaka” by Bing Crosby ft. The Andrews Sisters
Okay, I’m from Florida, not Hawaii, but this is still the only popular Christmas song that has a distinctly tropical vibe to it. The title is taken from the actual Hawaiian language greeting for “Merry Christmas” (the language lacks the sounds for R, S, and T; the R becomes an L sound, the C is rendered as a K, and S and T become K sounds, turning “Merry Christmas” into “Mele Kalikimaka”). I first heard this song in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in a memorable scene where Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) is daydreaming about the swimming pool he wants to get with his Christmas bonus, including a spoof on Fast Times at Ridgemont High where he envisions a lingerie saleswoman he was talking to earlier in the movie taking off her swimsuit (in a nod to Phoebe Cates in a similar scene in Fast Times) and diving into the pool, although actual nudity is not seen in order to preserve the film’s PG-13 rating. Even on its own, this song is still a favorite of mine. And though Bing Crosby sang a lot of Christmas songs in his career, this one is still my favorite. The scene is featured below, and the studio version above this paragraph. (And if you care to venture over to my Instagram, I posted a brief little video of me singing the song this afternoon, if you’re brave enough to check it out.)
Do you have any favorite Christmas or holiday tunes? Share them in the comments.