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The Ringer’s Definitive Holiday Songs Rankings

From Mariah Carey to Run-DMC to lots of Bing Crosby, we counted down our 50 favorite tunes for your merriment

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Here’s the thing about holiday songs: Only the most depraved among us would cop to them being our favorite type of music, but nearly everyone knows at least some of the words to the most famous tunes. When I say “Jingle Bells,” the baritone chorus instantly materializes in your brain, right? How about Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”? Do you instantly hear those synths and that children’s choir? (Some—not this writer, but some—would argue that having that particular song imprinted in your brain is not necessarily a good thing.)

Holiday songs are inescapable this time of year. As we inch closer to Christmas, they’re in every department store and in most of the movies on basic cable. And now they’re on The Ringer. Our staff got in the holiday spirit and voted on our favorites. From there, we whittled the list to 50 and counted them down using our highly scientific method. They are presented to you here for your merriment (or for your bah humbug-ness). You may disagree with some of our rankings, but you likely won’t have any trouble recalling these songs. —Justin Sayles

50. “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

Best version: Dean Martin

We can get this out of the way immediately: Yes, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is extremely problematic. The woman in the song literally says no several times, and roofies may or may not be in play. But not all classics are palatable, and as unpalatable as “Baby It’s Cold Outside” so obviously is in 2019, there’s something undeniably classic about it. Feel free to skip it, or at most let it serve as a clear example of how times change. Andrew Gruttadaro

49. “Please Come Home for Christmas,” Charles Brown

Bells WILL ring this sad, sad news: I had to add the original “Please Come Home for Christmas” to this list myself. Then my coworker Andrew Gruttadaro thought I meant the Eagles version, which is the problem here: The easy-listening version is crowding out a classic. Please put some respect on Charles Brown’s name, and on this perfect slice of Christmas blues. P.S. this low ranking is an insult. —Amanda Dobbins

48. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” Alvin and the Chipmunks

“AAAAAAAAAALVIIIIIINN!” No song struck joy into my childhood heart like “The Chipmunk Song,” spoken-word interludes, tiny, annoying voices and all. It’s the most relatable Christmas song for kids, from the repeated line, “We can hardly stand the wait,” to shouting for things you feel that you’ll absolutely die without: “Meeee, I waaaant a HUUULAAA HOOOOP!” And from constantly shading Dave to pleading to “sing it again,” Alvin is and remains one of Christmas’s greatest rebels. —Kate Halliwell

47. “Frosty the Snowman”

Best Version: Jimmy Durante

There are Christmas songs for grown-ups and there are Christmas songs for kids, and this is, to be clear, one of the finest of the children’s songs. Written in 1950 by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson, “Frosty the Snowman” is a holiday classic because it captures the fun of imagining new worlds while playing around in the snow. (It’s also the rare “Christmas” song that works whenever there’s powder on the ground, which means it works in February as well as December.) The song was originally recorded by Gene Autry, whose smooth, crooning style is basically the aural version of a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s a delightful version, but my pick will always be Jimmy Durante’s cover. Durante was the narrator of the 1969 cartoon special “Frosty the Snowman,” and his version is awesome because it basically sounds like one of the supporting characters on The Sopranos is doing the singing, gravelly and wise-guy-accented. —Kate Knibbs

46. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”

Best Version: Bing Crosby

I moved from the Northeast to Los Angeles a while ago now, but I’ll never get used to how California never quite looks like Christmas at this time of year. There’s a Santa in the mall, but outside it’s still 70, and it will be until the next ice age. Sure, the bells will start, and you may hear some carols, but even if the palm trees are sturdy, I’m pretty sure they’d mind the snow. —Justin Sayles

45. “Little Saint Nick,” the Beach Boys

The Beach Boys wrote their most successful Christmas song not about Santa, but about his sled. Better yet, Brian Wilson rushed home from a date to get the lyrics down, so you know it had to be one boring-ass evening if you come home daydreaming about Santa’s sweet, sweet ride. It’s also the only song I can think of that makes Santa seem chic. —Julie Kliegman

44. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”

Best Version: The Jackson 5

When you think about it, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is one of the most viral songs in history. For starters, it may well be the proto-explanatory tweet thread: “You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen, but do you recall the most famous reindeer of ALL? (1/36)” is a perfect hook, and clearly paved the way for more aggro-niche “Yo fools, listen up while I EDUCATE you about the RHUBARB, you think you know but you have no idea (1/???)” content online.

And then there’s the message delivered in the song, which is exactly the kind of thing that spreads like wildfire on Facebook—“What Santa Said to This Freakish Creature Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity”— and is, like most Facebook content, a real heart-warmer until you pause to consider the initial cruelty the story begins with. (Not to harsh anyone’s mellow, but Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is totally that guy who can’t afford a car whose coworkers buy him a used bicycle after he spends 25 years walking along the highway and we’re supposed to feel great about it. Catchy tune, though!)

On a brighter note, as with “Jingle Bells,” what truly elevates Rudolph is the universal children’s remix. Who among us hasn’t fought the urge to scream “LIKE A LIGHTBULB!”? And how did every child on Earth independently know that version? When it comes to going viral, even “Baby Shark” has nothing on Rudolph. That guy’s nose didn’t just light up, it was a Wi-Fi hotspot, too. —Katie Baker

43. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” Gayla Peevey

A deepcut earworm for the real holiday music fans! This song is direct, consumer-focused, and immensely annoying, which might make it the most on-brand Christmas song of all. “No crocodiles, or rhinoceroses / I only want hippopotamuses”; if only all gift guides were this clear. —Amanda Dobbins

42. “Sleigh Ride”

Best Version: TLC

Yes, this song has been recorded by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Grant, and Johnny Mathis, but do any of those versions feature Left Eye rapping “Giddyup, giddyup, giddyup, and away we go” like a long-lost Bone Thugs-n-Harmony member? (Also, some bonus trivia: The TLC cover was pulled from the compilation A LaFace Family Christmas, which featured Outkast’s first single, “Player’s Ball.” Once you realize that, you’ll hear that Andre and Big Boi dropped a shocking amount of Xmas Easter eggs.) —Sayles

41. “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” Burl Ives

As a former part-time seasonal sales associate at Macy’s, it took me a while to listen to “A Holly Jolly Christmas” after the trauma of hearing it approximately 17 million times as I tried to convince harried businesspeople in Chicago that $90 Ugg earmuffs were a terrific gift. However, 2020 will put a decade between me and my misadventures in holiday retail, and now I can enjoy this song again. Which is good, because Burl Ives crooning “I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer” is the closest thing to a pure shot of uncut nostalgia that exists on this round planet. Listening to this song now brings me happy feelings about laying down at the top of my parents’ carpeted stairs with my brother to take a peek at the mound of presents in the living room. It’s driving around looking at Christmas lights while the windshield wipers go top speed to clear away the relentless white flurries, or a sprig of mistletoe right above your crush. I no longer believe in Santa or Ugg earmuffs, but I do believe in having a holly, jolly time, and this song is a timeless shortcut to that feeling. —Knibbs

40. “Mele Kalikimaka,” Bing Crosby

It’s impossible to hear this song and not see Clark Griswold daydreaming at his kitchen window. It’s part of why I fell in love with Bing’s island classic as a kid. Growing up in Philly—where December is cold and gray and the plumes of factory smoke make it look like we’re about to shoot a Batman movie with Jack Nicholson—I loved to hear about “the land where palm trees sway.” Shoveling snow was always a little more bearable with Crosby crooning about Christmas being “green and bright” and painting a picture about how the “sun will shine by day and all the stars at night.” It’s enough to inspire the last true family man to blow his bonus check on a backyard pool once it gets warmer. —John Gonzalez

39. “Christmas Wrapping,” the Waitresses

The pride of Akron, Ohio—well, one of ’em—the Waitresses were early-’80s New Wave hometown heroes who somehow peaked with this timeless, buoyant, sax-driven and half-rapped tale of harried Christmas ennui that ends with our heroine finally hooking up with her longtime crush whilst making a cranberry-sauce run at the all-night grocery store. It’s far more romantic than it sounds; ask the Spice Girls. —Rob Harvilla

38. “Christmas / Sarajevo,” Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I don’t know what else to tell you other than this song fucking shreds. This is “Jingle Bells” via Metallica; “Silent Night” by way of Hans Zimmer. It is the perfect Christmas song for that cousin of yours who insists Slayer is the only good band. Moreover, it’s one of the only holiday songs to consider that Christmas is just a little scary—and that’s an insightful observation! It’s the darkest time of year, roads are treacherous, there’s apparently some guy breaking into everyone’s homes through chimneys. That sort of mythic weirdness needs to be acknowledged once in a while. —Gruttadaro

37. “What’s This?,” Danny Elfman

I’m still sad that “What’s This?” couldn’t crack our Disney songs ranking, but it’s getting its due today. Written and sung by Danny Elfman for the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack, “What’s This?” proves that the spirit of the season has been best expressed by a spindly, undead skeleton. Elfman views Nightmare as more of a Halloween movie than a Christmas movie, but “What’s This?” is still a classic Christmas song. Jack Skellington’s musical monologue as he discovers and explores Christmas Town captures the joy, wonder, and insatiable desire for presents of a childhood Christmas morning, but it also hints at how dismaying it is to feel left out of the festivities. —Lindbergh

36. “Winter Wonderland”

Best Version: Frank Sinatra

“Winter Wonderland” is an interactive Christmas song: As you listen, you’re being invited into the singer’s world, where together you’ll build snowmen, make romantic plans, and conspire next to a roaring fire. It’s a perfect Christmas-card snapshot melted down into a song. Frank Sinatra’s version, with its classic meld of string instruments and caramel-like tempo, perfectly spotlights the crooner’s voice and draws you into this magical alternate universe. It’s old school, and certainly more than a little corny, but it’s also hopeful and tender, and therefore extremely fitting for the Christmas spirit. —Megan Schuster

35. “Christmas Waltz”

Best version: The Carpenters

I like a lilting Christmas song full of whimsy, and “Christmas Waltz,” especially in the hands of the Carpenters, is perhaps the most whimsical of them all. The song dances along like a reindeer prancing through snow, dropping you into a mind-set that smells like pine and feels like an open fire. It’s by no means the coolest Christmas song, or even the best—but it’s essential nonetheless. —Gruttadaro

34. “Joy to the World”

Best Version: Whitney Houston

I first heard this song performed by a bunch of perhaps not vocally gifted septuagenarian Bostonians in my childhood church. It was OK, I guess, but have you heard Whitney Houston’s version from The Preacher’s Wife? She’s backed by the Georgia Mass Choir and also she’s Whitney Houston, so naturally it’s fantastic. There’s a lot going on—the requisite fun key changes, some moments when it’s just Houston’s voice, and some when the choir seems to multiply her. Performed this way, it’s actually the kind of song that makes you want to dance from joy. — Charlotte Goddu

33. “Wonderful Christmastime,” Paul McCartney

Want to know how hated this song is in some circles? Venerable media outlets from USA Today, to The AV Club, to Golf freakin’ Digest have taken their shots at Sir Paul’s Xmas banger. I am here guarantee that The Ringer will not follow suit. Paul’s solo career doesn’t often get enough credit for its experimentation. (Go back and listen to Ram, one of the more daring Beatles solo records.) McCartney goes full weirdo on “Wonderful Christmastime,” using space-age synths, jingle bells, and a children’s choir to build a song that reportedly still nets him $400,000 a year in royalties. Part of me still finds it hard to believe those kids practiced all year long just to sing “DING DONG,” but hey, sometimes genius takes a lot of hard work. (Also, if you have any doubt about how hard those keys can hit in a different context, this mid-period De La Soul song may change your mind.) —Sayles

32. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

Best Version: Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan

Even though it was released in 2004, this is the most ’90s possible version of the 16th-century-or-so carol, with a gentle binge-watching-Friends swing to it and an ethereal “We Three Kings” drive-by for good measure. It’s enough to make you want to ask Santa for an upright bass. —Harvilla

31. “Silver Bells”

Best Version: Elvis Presley

Despite the song’s title, “Silver Bells” is not the flashiest of Christmas songs. The melody is classic and easy-going. And the message is about simple things, like busy sidewalks, children laughing, even stop lights changing over from red to green—all transformed from ordinary to extraordinary just by the feeling of the holiday season. Because of the song’s almost effortless vibe, my favorite version is Elvis Presley’s. The King’s warble adds a warmth to the tune, and you can almost hear him smiling as he describes the sights, sounds, and bells of Christmas. —Schuster

30. “The First Noel”

Best Version: Whitney Houston

The world did not know it needed a sultry slow-jam version of a centuries-old English hymn until Whitney Houston, in her infinite melismatic wisdom, delivered it unto us on 2003’s One Wish: The Holiday Album, which is very thrilling to sing along with until Whitney enters nuclear-gospel mode (which is every 20 seconds or so) and leaves us all in her (red and green) dust. Verily, it’s the Last Noel you’ll ever need. —Harvilla

29. “Little Drummer Boy”

Best Version: Bing Crosby and David Bowie

The best version of this song is the famed duet between Bing Crosby and David Bowie. In the preamble, Bowie comes in from the cold, finding common ground with the elder statesman Crosby in family, music, and holiday traditions. Bowie’s poignant refrain, “Peace on Earth, can it be?” is a new addition that harkens back to the best Christmas songs—it’s nostalgic, hopeful, and stinging in its impossible premise. Though peace on earth seems as real as Santa or Rudolph, for a few minutes the song allows us to bask in the glow of its soft-focused harmonies and hope. At the end, you can hear Crosby saying, “It’s a pretty thing, isn’t it?” He’s talking about the song, but I think he’s talking about more than that. —Cory McConnell

28. “Jingle Bell Rock”

Best Version: Bobby Helms

A lot of Christmas classics contain a sliver of mysticism, as if their popularity could be explained only because a magical reindeer sneezed on its author. “Jingle Bell Rock” is no exception. The holiday hit appeared at the tail end of 1957, courtesy of country musician Bobby Helms, and soon shot to the top of the charts. It is gentle, repetitive, and sometimes illogical (what is a jingle horse? Where is this so-called “Jingle Bell Square”?). And though Helms is a solid Nashville-bred musician, there’s no real explanation for why he was positioned to become the Christmas ambassador of his generation. If I had to galaxy-brain it, the song’s success probably had something to do with the fact that he and his collaborators distilled the softer ingredients of rock ’n’ roll (light electric guitar riffs, references to other popular rock songs) into a wholesome bell-chimey tune that, upon a single listen, is impossible to dislodge from your brain. But I’m not mad at it! When you’re three spiked eggnogs into the evening and overcome with Christmas cheer, you don’t really want to overthink why you’re having a good time, you just need something foot-tappable that reminds you of simpler times when people earnestly used the word “swell.” —Alyssa Bereznak

27. “O Tannenbaum”

Best Version: Vince Guaraldi Trio

“O Tannenbaum” is one of the oldest songs on this list, a traditional German folk song that morphed into an ode to evergreen trees in 1824 and then evolved again and again—the tune has been used all sorts of ways, including as Florida’s former state anthem (“Florida, My Florida”) and a Boy Scouts camping song called “Scouts Vespers.” There are dozens if not hundreds of popular covers, including Nat King Cole and Andrea Bocelli versions. But my favorite is the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s instrumental take, a jazzy and slightly meandering spin on the song. Some versions of “O Tannenbaum” sorta sound like the singer is shouting compliments at a tree, which is nice but honestly pretty stressful for the holidays. The Vince Guaraldi Trio transform it into the perfect sitting-in-front-of-the-fire-feeling-classy-as-hell track. —Knibbs

26. “Someday at Christmas,” Stevie Wonder

There is no one on earth who doesn’t like—doesn’t love—Stevie Wonder, which makes his 1967 album Someday at Christmas an excellent party-starter and argument-neutralizer. The title track dispenses with vapid holiday cheer from its very first lines (“Someday at Christmas, men won’t be boys / Playing with bombs like kids play with toys”), but like Wonder’s (and thus, America’s) best work, the song radiates both gritty realism and infectious optimism. It’s a way of conjuring utopia by daring to imagine it: “Someday all our dreams will come to be / Someday in a world where men are free / Maybe not in time for you and me / But someday at Christmastime.” More than a half-century on, we’re not there yet, but he can always make you see it. —Harvilla

25. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”

Best Version: Thurl Ravenscroft

Long before Pusha-T completely destroyed Drake’s reputation with “The Story of Adidon,” Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscroft absolutely tore the Grinch apart on what is perhaps one of the first and only Christmas diss tracks. This song is so packed with sick burns that I feel compelled to list the top five:

  1. “Your soul is an appalling dump feed overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled-up knots.”
  2. “Your heart is full of unwashed socks.”
  3. “The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: stink, stank, stunk.”
  4. “You’re a three-decker sauerkraut-and-toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.”
  5. “You’re as charming as an eel.”

The Grinch definitely had to call his publicist after this single dropped. —Bereznak

24. “Fairytale of New York,” the Pogues

Three of my favorite things in the world are accordions, running harmonies in male-female duets, and songs that change meter halfway through. I also have an overpowering visceral hatred for Christmas songs about domestic bliss, written in the musical vernacular of the 1940s—which is to say 90 percent of the American holiday music canon. It’s just grossly inappropriate for a society as desperate, angry, and messy as ours. And the Pogues are definitely desperate, angry, and messy.

So I’m probably preconditioned to like “Fairytale of New York,” though it must be said that the jarring and gratuitous homophobic slur in the fifth verse tests that initial impulse to the limit. I don’t know how acceptable it was in 1987, but it’s positively bracing in 2019. If you can write that off as the product of its time, this is an all-time great Christmas song, but it’s entirely understandable if you can’t. —Michael Baumann

23. “Santa Baby”

Best Version: Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt is a name not everyone will remember, but her sultry drawl on “Santa Baby” is unforgettable. She asks Santa for things Rick Ross might brag about (a yacht, a platinum mine, expensive furs, valuable real estate) in a delightfully rapacious commentary on Christmas commercialism. Sonically, the song is remarkable—sparse string plucks, meandering woodwinds, and its trademark “buh-booms” never get in the way of Eartha’s pleas. It’s sexy and funny in a genre that rarely attempts pulling those strings, which makes it an instantly recognizable holiday staple. —McConnell

22. “The Christmas Song,” Nat King Cole

It’s pretty presumptuous to title a song “The Christmas Song”—not a Christmas song, but the Christmas song. Yet when I think of Christmas, my mental soundtrack starts with Nat King Cole, so the song’s bold branding worked. Written by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé in 1945 and recorded by Cole four times (with the final, 1961 version taking cultural precedence), the song has made millions of listeners who’ve never really roasted chestnuts on an open fire nostalgic for that activity. Does buying roasted chestnuts from an open street vendor count? —Lindbergh

21. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”

Best Version: Brenda Lee

Here’s the thing: Hanging stuff up is, in general, more of a chore than a treat. Unless, of course, it’s Christmas and you’ve thrown on “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and now you get to dance around while dangling ornaments from branches in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” demands a holiday shimmy and turns a ritualized task into a party. Also, it’s impossible for me to hear this song without remembering the scene in Home Alone where Kevin stages a party—a classic moment in cinema, and made all the more perfect because it is soundtracked by the most merry-making and festive of Christmas tracks. —Knibbs

20. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

Best Version: Frank Sinatra

I love a song that straight up encourages me to stay inside all day, every day. Bing Crosby, of course, has the classic version, though Frank Sinatra’s take slaps harder. Hell, turn on Carly Simon if you need a little variety this season. This song’s only misstep is affirming huggers, who are bad, in the interest of keeping warm. (“But if you really hold me tight / All the way home I’ll be warm.”) Let go of me so I can make it home faster, thanks. —Kliegman

19. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

Best Version: Mahalia Jackson

We have two dogs named Dasher and Blitzen. My in-laws have a third named Vixen. As I write this, I have already watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, Scrooged, Home Alone, AND Home Alone 2 (which is underrated though shockingly sadistic) this December. Several batches of cookies have been made and consumed. The apartment was decorated and the tree was trimmed before Thanksgiving. I mention all this to establish that my Christmas-loving credentials are unimpeachable. This song is … fine. When it comes on the car radio, I will listen—the first two presets are programmed to Christmas classics—though it’s not exactly a holiday banger. It’s … fine. —Gonzalez

18. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Lennon’s single sequel to “Imagine,” produced by Phil Spector and featuring backing vocals by the Harlem Community Choir, is the most significant contribution to the Christmas songbook by a Beatle. (Sorry, I Wanna Be Santa Claus.) Lennon, who said he wrote “Happy Xmas” because he was “sick of ‘White Christmas,’” injected just enough of his scathing wit and confrontational tone to set his song apart from the pablum that makes up much of December’s soundtrack, asking listeners “and what have you done?” and tossing in a sarcastic-sounding “I hope you had fun.” War still isn’t over, but John and Yoko’s 1971 paean to peace had more staying power than their bed-in and billboards. —Lindbergh

17. “Run Rudolph Run,” Chuck Berry

The most half-assed Christmas song is also an enduring classic. Chuck Berry took an existing song of his (“Little Queenie”) and changed the lyrics to create “Run Rudolph Run.” On first glance it may appear to be a cynical cash grab, but the song’s charm actually comes from the fact that it’s phoned in. The drummer screws up the intro, Berry slouches through a lazy (by his standards) guitar solo, and then it just … ends. “What would please you most to get?” is possibly the weirdest way to ask someone what they want. But that tossed-off, last-take-of-the-session vibe is what endears it to me. I like to imagine Chuck and the boys laying this down in one go out of some contractual obligation before hitting the bar for some spiked eggnog. While barely trying, they made the second-best song about Rudolph. —McConnell

16. “Linus and Lucy,” Vince Guaraldi Trio

Don’t start this blurb with “good grief,” don’t start this blurb with “good grief,” don’t … Did you know that only one jazz album in history has outsold A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio? (Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, which has also gone quadruple platinum, with more than 4 million copies sold.) Such is the power of prematurely bald children … er, dogs who decorate their dog houses for Christmas … er, messages of anticommercialism and the power of the holiday spirit to unite people. Oh, and songs like “Linus and Lucy,” whose jaunty energy always gets my shoulders going (even when I hear it in the mall, to the chagrin of anyone I’m with) and my foot tapping. The upbeat piano and twangy bass worked in 1965, and it works today. —Jack McCluskey

15. “O Holy Night”

Best Version: Celine Dion

No Christmas song gives me goose bumps like “O Holy Night.” No one is too good to sit down and get absolutely shaken to their core by a great rendition, whether it’s Ella Fitzgerald, Mariah Carey, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, or my personal favorite rendition, Celine Dion. That key change? Absurd. When she hits that final “fall on your knees”? Are you kidding? That last “Noel … noEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLL”??? Come on! I’m shook every time. It’s the best church-y Christmas song, and I personally feel that there are a lot of great church-y Christmas songs. No song does it like “O Holy Night,” and no one does “O Holy Night” like Celine. —Halliwell

14. “Last Christmas,” Wham!

Lots of people sing this classic, but no one does it better than Wham! George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley make the song soar, which is especially impressive when you consider that it’s essentially a holiday diss track. “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart / But the very next day you gave it away / This year, to save me from tears / I’ll give it to someone special.” First, the heartbroken party puts his/her former paramour on blast—do the kids still say “on blast?”—by calling him/her out for giving a heart away the day after Christmas. Which is cold. Then we learn that this year’s heart will go to “someone special,” not-so-subtly implying that the old lover is nothing special at all. But it’s not until later in the song when the chestnuts get really roasted. The aggrieved is in a crowded room “hiding from you and your soul of ice.” Even Nas never ethered anyone so well. Somehow, George and Andy manage to pull it off with cheer. As Ryan Reynolds rightly noted in Deadpool, Wham! earned that exclamation point. —Gonzalez

13. “Silent Night”

Best Version: Boyz II Men

“Silent Night” is a holy song, sure, but it’s also a ballad about the cleansing, redemptive power of the natural world. You know when it snows so much, and so deeply, that it feels like the whole world has drifted to sleep, just for a little while? That brief window, before all the muddy boots tamp down on the sparkle and all the plows turn everything into salt and slush, when the word “peace” holds brief, bright meaning? Those few minutes are the true meaning of Christmas, and “Silent Night” is their song. It is soothing and pure, beautiful in any voice, and you wish that final note could lay there like a cool blanket forever, before everything hardens back into ice and then melts. —Baker

12. “White Christmas”

Best Version: Bing Crosby

Midge Maisel may claim not to know the words to “White Christmas,” but everyone else does. Bing Crosby’s 1942 recording of Irving Berlin’s classic composition, which became a Christmas anthem for a nation at war, is the best-selling single of all time, one that spawned a songbook of secular Christmas music and made “White Christmas” the most-covered Christmas song. It’s a timeless standard because it summons memories of an idealized perpetual past, both through its lyrics (“just like the ones I used to know”) and its melancholy mixture of minor and dissonant chords, which evoke an unquenchable yearning that lies beneath the song’s optimistic sentiment. —Lindbergh

11. “Feliz Navidad,” José Feliciano

It takes a rare Christmas song to be played again and again, year after year, and never feel the slightest bit tired. Such is the magic of “Feliz Navidad,” Puerto Rican singer-songwriter José Feliciano’s pop holiday megahit. The magic consists of one incredibly catchy Spanish hook: “Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad”; and one simple English hook: “I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas.” Altogether, it’s the kind of song that encapsulates the sincere, earnest fun of the Christmas season—every time you think you’re over the magic of it all, it pops back up and proves you wrong. —Halliwell

10. “Merry Christmas Baby,” Otis Redding

A song for those who view Christmas as a secular holiday, “Merry Christmas Baby” is about love or capitalism (or both), depending on how you look at it. What’s Christmas about, if not presents, diamonds, and an overworked Santa who doesn’t arrive until 3 a.m.? Of course, I can’t rule out the possibility that listening to Redding’s scratchy voice overlaid with horns and an organ is a religious experience for some; frankly, this song slaps. —Goddu

9. “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” Bruce Springsteen

When Christmastime rolls around, we’re all wondering one thing: Has Clarence, Bruce Springsteen’s saxophonist since 1975, been practicing enough to warrant Santa’s leaving him a new saxophone under the tree? Thanks to “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” it’s possible to hear the Boss himself voice these queries for us each holiday season. Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” is the fun drunk-uncle version of the original, rather draconian tune (“You better not cry, you better not pout”? Yikes!): mumbly and repetitious and full of great love for objectively unnecessary saxophone solos. —Goddu

8. “The Chanukah Song,” Adam Sandler

“The Chanukah Song” is basically it when it comes to, well, Chanukah songs. No pressure! But Adam Sandler’s celebration of “eight crazy nights” (the less said about the corresponding movie the better) is enough to warm every Jewish kid’s heart. So tell your friend Veronica, there are three more parts where the first one came from-ukah. When you get sick of hearing Sandler’s voice, there’s always “Christmastime for the Jews” to soothe your soul in between movies and Chinese food. —Kliegman

7. “Blue Christmas,” Elvis Presley

All religious Christmas music is about the baby Jesus; all secular Christmas music is about longing to be with the one you love. I appreciate the light spitefulness of “Blue Christmas”—“you’ll be doing all right, with your Christmas of white”—and the on-the-nose blues arrangement. Sometimes the holidays are about drinking a lot of eggnog and feeling sorry for yourself. Elvis gets it. —Dobbins

6. “The Nutcracker Suite,” Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” is not a Christmas story, but it has become a Christmas tradition. Set on Christmas Eve and featuring an anthropomorphic nutcracker who battles a mouse army and befriends a sugar plum fairy, the ballet that Tchaikovsky himself derided as “infinitely worse than Sleeping Beauty” is a wild time. And the music that powers it is full of whimsy, big flourishes, and drama. “Trepak (Russian Dance)” anyone? “Waltz of the Flowers” will make you want to waltz in your seat. And, of course, “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is a true classical music banger, one that helped popularize the celesta in all its tinkling glory (you’re welcome, John Williams and Harry Potter fans). —McCluskey

5. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Best version: Judy Garland

“Next year all our troubles will be miles away.”

Christmas, very tenderly, is a time of rest, reunion, and reminiscing. Enveloped by family, food, and feeling, you’re walled off from the pressure of everyday life. It’s a time of comfort, of contemplation. No song clarifies the joy of Christmas more than “Have Yourself… .” It is at once sad and ruminative, hopeful and optimistic. And sung by Garland, or anyone who knows how to warble and just where to put the emphasis, it hits harder than any other. Also, goddammit, Apple really exploited my emotions when they used this song in a commercial. —Gruttadaro

4. “Christmas in Hollis,” Run-DMC

A Very Special Christmas, the 1987 compilation from which “Christmas in Hollis” is pulled, introduced a young me to a few of the decade’s most important artists: namely Keith Haring (who did the cover art) and Run-DMC. (Shockingly, the Bob Seger cover of “Little Drummer Boy” didn’t do much for me.) At the time, I thought a rap Christmas song was about as cool as it could get. I mean, just look at the video: dookie chains, a pit mix with reindeer antlers, Run’s tight-as-hell Trail Blazers Starter jacket. And that beat! This was hard, and it was nothing like the fussy holiday music I had heard up to that point. Embarrassingly, it may have been my first favorite rap song. It’s still the best holiday-themed rap song, and it also provided the backbone for the second-best Christmas rap song: Dipset’s criminally overlooked “Ballin’ on Xmas.” —Sayles

3. “Christmas Time Is Here,” Vince Guaraldi Trio

San Francisco jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi would’ve had a perfectly lovely career (“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” owns) even if he’d never hooked up with the Peanuts gang, but thankfully he did, and 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas is indeed the single greatest Christmas album of all time. It’s the holidays: Let’s not argue about this. Instead, let us revel in the exquisite forlorn-snowstorm melancholy of “Christmas Time Is Here,” a joyous and heartbreaking ballad available as an instrumental (with a loneliness so vivid it feels communal) or a gentle children’s-choir spectacular (they’re not exactly in tune, but that just makes it more exquisite). Buy a tiny tree, put on a play, and hug a beagle. —Harvilla

2. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love

The first rule of a good Christmas song is that it has to be a good song, period. Darlene Love’s “Christmas” is an incredible song, huge in its sound and forceful in its tempo, anchored by Darlene herself, who wails like a goddess throughout. It’s a song about missing someone and how the holiday is a source of hope that sorrow can be relieved. This is the power of Christmas, right? —Gruttadaro

1. “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey

When those sleigh bells hit, you know it’s lit! Mariah Carey’s modern classic has a way of sprucing up all the holiday season’s mundane stops. It gets heads awkwardly bopping at office Christmas parties. It is the most-played holiday song of all time. It perks you up, just enough and in earnest, whether you’re burning cookies or roaming the aisles at Macy’s—which is fitting, because the song kind of sounds like something composed for a department store commercial. And I mean that with the utmost respect! You don’t just break into the ironclad pantheon of Christmas music with another ethereal, boring spin on “Joy to the World,” or some whiny alt-rock track that happens to include the word “Santa” in the lyrics!

Even setting aside the pun, there’s a huge amount of overlap between a successful holiday tune and an ear-wormy corporate jingle. Carey’s song is a beautiful time capsule (Tommy Mottola as Santa Claus in one of the ’90s-era music videos!) with a timeless mid-century-ish sound. It conjures everything from Jazzercise to Sinatra; it is equally welcomed by children and frat boys; you can pretend that you “hate it,” as if that gives you a personality, but deep down you know that you don’t. It is the magic of Christmas, it is posi vibes only, and even when it comes earlier every year like everything else about the holiday, no one ever complains. —Baker

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