The 50 best Christmas songs of all time, ranked

20 December 2023, 14:29

Christmas songs
Picture: Columbia/BBC

By Tom Eames

Unlike any other music genre, Christmas songs never seem to get old.

Every December, we guiltlessly wheel them out. We always love singing and dancing along to festive favourites from yesteryear.

But what are the greatest Christmas songs of all time?

We've ranked our very favourite Christmas crackers below. Is yours in there?

  1. The Wombles - 'Wombling Merry Christmas'

    The Wombles - Wombling Merry Christmas

    Yes, we're putting the Wombles in this list.

    'Wombling Merry Christmas' was one of several massive hits by the cuddly creatures in 1974, and was written by Mike Batt.

    The song celebrates the joy of wombling in the snow and wishing everyone a merry Christmas, as we all should do.

  2. The Darkness - 'Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)'

    The Darkness - Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End) (Official Music Video) [HD]

    ‘Christmas Time’ by The Darkness is a humorous and catchy song that parodies (with love) the typical themes of glam Christmas songs.

    It was released in 2003 as a single and features Justin Hawkins’s trademark falsetto vocals, a choir of children, and a guitar solo. The song also contains some innuendos, such as ‘bells end’ and ‘ring in peace’, which the band admitted to be intentional.

    The song was a contender for the UK Christmas number one spot, but lost to a cover of ‘Mad World’ by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews.

  3. The Jackson 5 - 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'

    Jackson 5 - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Official Video)

    'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' is a classic Christmas song that was written in 1934 and had been recorded many times before the Jackson 5 took it on in 1970.

    The song features the lead vocals of Michael Jackson, who was only 12 years old at the time, and the harmonies of his brothers, and showcases the Jackson 5’s signature Motown sound.

  4. The Beach Boys - 'Little Saint Nick'

    The Beach Boys - Little Saint Nick

    'Little Saint Nick' was recorded by the The Beach Boys and released in 1963. The song is about Santa Claus and his sleigh, which are described as a hot-rod and a bobsled.

    The song uses the surf rock style of the band, with catchy melodies and harmonies. It has become a classic holiday tune, and has been covered by many artists over the years.

  5. Elvis Presley - 'Blue Christmas'

    Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas ('68 Comeback Special)

    'Blue Christmas' was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948, but became famous by Elvis Presley’s version in 1957.

    The song has a melancholic vibe and a simple melody, and Elvis's rendition of the song is considered one of his best vocal performances. It is a staple of Christmas music, especially in the country genre.

  6. Jethro Tull - 'Ring Out, Solstice Bells'

    Ring Out, Solstice Bells (2003 Remaster)

    This song is about the winter solstice, which takes place on the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere - either December 21 or 22. The song describes a solstice celebration in medieval times, with dancing druids and ringing bells. Not your usual Christmas hit subject!

    It wasn't a massive hit at the time, reaching number 28 in 1976, but we command you to not tap your feet or clap along to it. It will be impossible.

  7. George Michael - 'December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas)'

    George Michael - December Song (I Dreamed Of Christmas) 2010

    An underrated modern Christmas song, George released this back in 2009, giving him a top 10 hit at the time.

    It samples 'Christmas Waltz' by Frank Sinatra, and is a lovely look back at Christmases as a child. Written for the Spice Girls and then Michael Bublé in mind, George decided to keep it for himself.

  8. Boney M - 'Mary's Boy Child'

    Boney M. - Mary's Boy Child (Officical Video)

    'Mary’s Boy Child' is a cover of Harry Belafonte’s 1956 hit, which tells the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

    Boney M added a new song, 'Oh My Lord', to the medley, which praises God for sending his son to save humanity. The song was released in 1978 and became a huge success, topping the UK Singles Chart for four weeks and becoming the Christmas number one.

  9. Mud - 'Lonely this Christmas'

    Mud - Lonely This Christmas (Official Video)

    'Lonely This Christmas' was Mud's second number one single in the UK, and it sold over 750,000 copies.

    The song is a sad ballad about spending Christmas without the person he loves, and was performed in the style of Elvis Presley’s slower songs, and it was often mistaken for an Elvis song.

  10. Bon Jovi - 'Please Come Home for Christmas'

    Please Come Home For Christmas

    The song is a cover version of a 1960 blues song by Charles Brown and Gene Redd, and was later recorded by the Eagles.

    It is a Christmas ballad that expresses the longing for a lover who has left. This version was released as a single in 1994 and reached number seven in the UK, and was credited to just Jon Bon Jovi.

  11. Queen - 'Thank God It's Christmas'

    Queen - Thank God It's Christmas (Official Lyric Video)

    'Thank God It’s Christmas' is a somewhat-forgotten Christmas single by Queen, written by Brian May and Roger Taylor.

    It was released in 1984 and peaked at number 21 in the UK. The song was not included on any Queen studio album until 2011, when it appeared on the deluxe edition of The Works. In 2019, an animated music video was produced for the song123

  12. Kate Bush - 'December Will Be Magic Again'

    Kate Bush - December Will Be Magic Again (1979 Xmas Special)

    ‘December Will Be Magic Again’ is a festive-themed song by Kate Bush, released as a single in the UK in November 1980.

    The song celebrates the magic and wonder of the Christmas season, with references to Bing Crosby, Oscar Wilde, and mistletoe. The song also features a distinctive piano melody and sleigh bells.

    Kate Bush wrote and produced the song, and recorded two different versions, one for the single release and one for her 1979 Christmas television special.

  13. Johnny Mathis - 'When a Child is Born'

    Johnny Mathis - When a Child Is Born (from Home for Christmas)

    This song was based on the melody of 'Soleado', a tune from 1974 by Ciro Dammicco and Dario Baldan Bembo. After songwriter Fred Jay added English lyrics, it was covered by various artists, including veteran crooner Johnny Mathis.

    Mathis scored an unexpected Christmas number one in 1976, selling over 800,000 copies.

  14. Cliff Richard - 'Mistletoe and Wine'

    Cliff Richard - Mistletoe and Wine (Official Music Video)

    Sir Cliff became the new King of Christmas after releasing this festive ballad in 1988, becoming that year's Christmas number one.

    The song was actually written for a musical called Scraps, which was an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, set in Victorian London. Cliff loved the song, and tweaked it to have a more religious angle.

    Bonus fact: Smooth's Myleene Klass provided backing vocals in the choir part of the song when she was just 10 years old!

  15. Leona Lewis - 'One More Sleep'

    Leona Lewis - One More Sleep (Official Video)

    ‘One More Sleep’ by Leona Lewis celebrates the feeling we all have on Christmas Eve, and was released in 2013 as the lead single from her first Christmas album.

    It has a Motown-inspired sound became one of the most popular Christmas songs of the 2010s, reaching number three in the UK.

  16. Jose Feliciano - 'Feliz Navidad'

    José Feliciano - Feliz Navidad (Official Audio)

    ‘Feliz Navidad’ is a bilingual Christmas song that was written and recorded by Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Jose Feliciano in 1970.

    The song combines a simple English verse with a Spanish chorus, which means 'Merry Christmas, a prosperous year and happiness'. The song has become a Christmas classic in America, and has become more popular in the UK in the era of streaming.

  17. Mike Oldfield - 'In Dulci Jubilo'

    Mike Oldfield - In Dulci Jubilo

    In 1975, Mike Oldfield released an instrumental version of the German Christmas carol 'In Dulci Jubilo', and it's still one of the jauntiest Christmas tunes ever.

    In case you wondering, 'In dulci jubilo' is translated as 'In sweet rejoicing'.

  18. David Essex - 'A Winter's Tale'

    David Essex - A Winter's Tale

    Songwriting giants Mike Batt and Tim Rice wrote this ballad after David Essex asked them specifically.

    The song was a comeback of sorts for Essex, giving him a number three hit in 1983.

  19. Ed Sheeran & Elton John - 'Merry Christmas'

    Ed Sheeran & Elton John - Merry Christmas [Official Video]

    This team-up was released in 2021 and supported two charities, the Ed Sheeran Suffolk Music Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundatio. The music video for the song pays homage to various British Christmas hits and films, such as ‘Last Christmas’, The Snowman and Love Actually. It also features cameo appearances by celebrities such as Jonathan Ross, Michael McIntyre and Mr. Blobby.

    It should have been Christmas number one, but instead LadBaby somehow convinced them to do a sausage roll version of the same song, meaning they held both number one and two that year.

  20. Gordon Lightfoot - 'Song for a Winter's Night'

    Song for a Winter's Night

    This song is a folk ballad written by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in 1967. It expresses the longing to be with a loved one on a cold, snowy night.

    Like Joni Mitchell's 'River', it is a popular song for the winter season, particularly in Canada, and has a melancholic and romantic mood.

  21. The Waitresses - 'Christmas Wrapping'

    The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping (Music Video)

    This underrated song is told from the perspective of a busy single woman trying not to participate in the exhausting Christmas period, while also trying to finally agree to a date with a man she met earlier in the year.

    Songwriter Chris Butler wrote the lyrics in a taxi on the way to the recording studio. He explained that the idea came from "just very much that for years I hated Christmas ... Everybody I knew in New York was running around like a bunch of friends. It wasn't about joy. It was something to cope with."

  22. Darlene Love - 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)'

    Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Audio)

    This song was originally included on the 1963 compilation album, A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records and producer Phil Spector.

    It was intended for Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes, but according to Darlene Love, Ronnie was not able to put as much emotion into the song as needed. Instead, Love was brought into the studio, and it became one of her signature tunes.

  23. Joni Mitchell - 'River'

    Joni Mitchell - River (Official Audio)

    This folk song is about the recent breakup of a relationship, with Joni longing to escape her feelings. It is thought to be inspired by her relationship with singer Graham Nash.

    Although the song is merely set near Christmas time, rather than being about Christmas, it has become a modern Christmas standard.

  24. Jona Lewie - 'Stop the Cavalry'

    Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry

    Jona Lewie has said that this song was never intended as a Christmas tune, and that it was actually a protest song.

    However, the line 'Wish I was at home for Christmas' as well as the brass band arrangements, made it an accidentally-perfect Christmas pop song.

  25. Chris de Burgh - 'A Spaceman Came Travelling'

    Chris de Burgh - A Spaceman Came Travelling

    You might not know this song by title alone, but you'll no doubt know its familiar soaring 'la la la la' chorus.

    The song was created after Chris de Burgh was inspired by a book which made him think "what if the star of Bethlehem was a space craft and what if there is a benevolent being or entity in the universe keeping an eye on the world and our foolish things that we do to each other?"

  26. Carpenters - 'Merry Christmas Darling'

    Merry Christmas, Darling - The Carpenters

    The lyrics of this song were written in 1946 by Frank Pooler, who was the choir director at California State University, where Karen and Richard Carpenter were both part of the choir.

    In 1966, at Pooler’s request, Richard composed the music, which was first released in 1970. This sparked the interest of a Christmas album by the Carpenters, and in 1978, Christmas Portrait was released.

  27. Kelly Clarkson - 'Underneath the Tree'

    Kelly Clarkson - Underneath the Tree (Official Video)

    This was recorded for Kelly Clarkson's sixth album and first Christmas album, Wrapped in Red in 2013.

    The song features a Wall of Sound production, sleigh bells, bell chimes, and a saxophone solo, and has been praised by critics and compared to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’.

    While not a massive hit at the time, it has since grown to become a modern Christmas favourite.

  28. Paul McCartney - 'Wonderful Christmastime'

    Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmas Time.avi

    It may be one of Sir Paul's cheesiest ever songs, but it's a feel good Christmas classic.

    Paul released the tune in 1979, giving him a UK top 10 hit. While the rest of Wings appear in the knees-up video, they did not actually play on the song.

  29. John Lennon and Yoko Ono - 'Happy Xmas (War is Over)'

    Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John & Yoko, The Plastic Ono Band with The Harlem Community Choir

    Released in 1971 by Lennon with Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band, this Christmas song is set to the traditional English ballad 'Skewball'.

    It is also a protest song against the Vietnam War, and has since become a Christmas standard every December, and is often named in polls as a holiday favourite around the world.

  30. The Pretenders - '2000 Miles'

    The Pretenders - 2000 Miles

    This Christmas ballad is one of the best-loved Pretenders song, and gave them a number 15 hit in 1984.

    While many people believe the song refers to two long-distance lovers who miss each other at Christmas, it was actually written for James Honeyman-Scott, the group's original guitar player, who died the year before it was released.

  31. Bobby Helms - 'Jingle Bell Rock'

    Bobby Helms - Jingle Bell Rock (Official Lyric Video)

    ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ is a classic Christmas song that was first released by Bobby Helms in 1957. It is a rock and roll update of sorts of the traditional ‘Jingle Bells’, with references to other popular songs of the 1950s.

    It has become one of the most played songs during the holiday season in America and beyond, and is considered Helms’ signature song.

  32. The Ronettes - 'Sleigh Ride'

    The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride (Official Music Video)

    ‘Sleigh Ride’ by The Ronettes is a cover of a popular Christmas song that was originally composed by Leroy Anderson in 1948 and later added lyrics by Mitchell Parish in 1950.

    The Ronettes recorded their version in 1963 for Phil Spector’s album A Christmas Gift for You, which featured Spector’s signature Wall of Sound production style.

    The Ronettes’ version is notable for its catchy “Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong-ding” backup vocals, as well as the use of sleigh bells, castanets, and a horse whinny sound effect.

  33. Bing Crosby - 'White Christmas'

    Bing Crosby - White Christmas (1950).avi

    The popular Christmas song that arguably started it all. Written in 1940 by Irving Berlin, the Bing Crosby version became the best-selling single in the world of all time.

    Bing recorded it for the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, and its mixture of melancholy and images of home became particularly popular during World War II, helping to cement it as one of the most popular Christmas songs ever.

  34. Michael Buble - 'It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas'

    Michael Bublé - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Official Music Video)

    We could have picked any song from Michael Buble's Christmas album, but this has easily become his signature festive tune.

    ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ is a popular Christmas song that was originally written by Meredith Willson in 1951. The song describes the festive atmosphere and decorations that signal the arrival of the holiday season. It also mentions some of the gifts that children wish for, such as dolls, boots, and pistols.

    Michael Buble recorded a cover version in 2011, and regularly re-enters the charts around the world every December.

  35. Brenda Lee - 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree'

    Brenda Lee - Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree (Official Lyric Video)

    One of the most timeless Christmas songs ever made, Brenda Lee first recorded this festive party anthem in 1958 when she was just 13!

    It has continued to return to the charts in recent years, and in 2017 it returned to the top 10 for the first time since 1963, reaching number nine.

  36. Dean Martin - 'Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!'

    Dean Martin - Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

    'Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!' is a popular Christmas song written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1945. It was first recorded by Vaughn Monroe and became a hit during a snowstorm that hit the US (and was later used in the Die Hard movie).

    Dean Martin recorded two versions of the song, one in 1959 for his album A Winter Romance, and another in 1966 for The Dean Martin Christmas Album. His smooth and warm voice perfectly captured the cozy and romantic mood of the song, which describes a couple enjoying a snowfall by the fire.

  37. Slade - 'Merry Xmas Everybody'

    Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody (Official Top Of The Pops Video)


    That's almost all you need to say about this song! Slade and Noddy Holder's 1973 Christmas number one is a festive banger unlike any other, and has sold over 1.2 million copies in the UK alone.

  38. David Bowie and Bing Crosby - 'Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy'

    Bing Crosby, David Bowie - Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy

    This song was an early form of a mash-up of sorts, featuring the 1941 Christmas song ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ and new composition ‘Peace on Earth’.

    David Bowie performed the song with Bing Crosby for the latter’s 1977 TV special, filmed just five weeks before his death. The song was preceded with a short skit in which the pair exchanged scripted dialogue about what they each do for their family Christmases.

    Bowie admitted to having only appeared on the show because “I just knew my mother liked him”.

  39. Elton John - 'Step Into Christmas'

    Elton John - Step Into Christmas

    Curiously, this song was not a huge hit at the time for Elton, only reaching number 24 in 1973. However, it has since become a favourite, and reached a new peak of 11 in 2017.

    The track was recorded to echo the famous 'Wall of Sound', made famous by producer Phil Spector in the 1960s.

  40. Andy Williams - 'It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year'

    Andy Williams - It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (Music Video)

    One of the happiest Christmas tunes ever, this was recorded by Andy Williams back in 1963 for his Christmas Album that year.

    However, it wasn't actually released as a single at the time, with the label going for a cover of 'White Christmas' instead. Over time, it has become one of the standard Christmas songs of all time.

  41. Darlene Love - 'Winter Wonderland'

    Darlene Love - Winter Wonderland (Official Lyric Video)

    'Winter Wonderland' is a classic Christmas song that was written by Felix Bernard and Richard B Smith in 1934.

    It has been covered by many artists, but one of the most popular versions is by Darlene Love, who recorded it in 1963 for the album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.

    Darlene Love’s voice is powerful and soulful, conveying the warmth and happiness of the season.

  42. Band Aid - 'Do They Know It's Christmas'

    Band Aid - Do They Know Its Christmas

    This was the first time the idea of a charity supergroup single came about, after Bob Geldof and Midge Ure saw Michael Buerk's TV report on the famine in Ethiopia.

    Featuring a cast of pop icons from George Michael to Boy George to Sting, the song became the highest-selling ever in the UK until 1997.

  43. Wizzard - 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'

    Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday (Official Music Video)

    Released the same year as Slade's fellow festive glam anthem, Wizzard amazingly only reached number four at the time.

    However, Roy Wood's tune has become a Christmas staple and has charted every year since downloads and streams were included, reaching as high as 15 in 2017.

  44. Shakin' Stevens - 'Merry Christmas Everyone'

    Merry Christmas Everyone (Collectable Version (DVD) - Re-mastered audio 2004)

    It may sum up 'Christmas cheese, but you can't not feel good when you hear this every December.

    Shaky actually delayed releasing this in 1984 as he would have been up against Band Aid and Wham! It paid off, as he scored the Christmas number one for '85.

  45. Chris Rea - 'Driving Home for Christmas'

    Chris Rea - Driving Home For Christmas (Official Music Video) HD

    Released in 1988, this Christmas favourite only reached number 53 at the time! However, it's now a national favourite, and reached a new peak of 14 in 2017.

    Chris Rea said he wrote the song when he needed to get home to Middlesbrough from Abbey Road Studios in London. The inspiration came as he was getting stuck in heavy traffic, while the snow was falling.

  46. Greg Lake - 'I Believe in Father Christmas'

    Greg Lake - I Believe In Father Christmas (Official Video)

    Emerson, Lake and Palmer member Greg Lake wrote this song as an anti-Christmas commercialism tune.

    He said of the inspiration behind it: “For me as a child, it was the visual image of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. It was the symbol of generosity and feeling good. And that’s what I think Christmas is all about”.

  47. Nat King Cole - 'The Christmas Song'

    Nat King Cole - "The Christmas Song" (1961)

    Bob Wells and Mel Tormé wrote this song in 1945 during a blistering hot summer. In an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool”, the most-performed Christmas song was born.

    The Nat King Cole Trio recorded it in 1946, and Cole recorded a version in 1953 with a full orchestra with Nelson Riddle conducting. His 1961 version with Ralph Carmichael is generally considered as definitive.

    It has been recorded by countless artists, from Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Stevie Wonder, Glen Campbell, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan.

  48. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl - 'Fairytale of New York'

    The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale Of New York (Official Video)

    Another song to stall at number two for Christmas (this time behind Pet Shop Boys' cover of 'Always on My Mind'), this folk ballad has become a must-listen every single December.

    Frontman Shane MacGowan has said that the song came about after a bet made by the their producer at the time, Elvis Costello, that they would not be able to write a Christmas hit single. He was wrong!

  49. Mariah Carey - 'All I Want for Christmas is You'

    Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You

    Released in 1994, this modern Christmas classic continues to be a huge hit every year since downloads and streaming were included in the singles chart. With global sales of over 16 million copies, the song remains Mariah's biggest international hit, and is the 11th best-selling single of all time.

    In case you were wondering, that's Mariah's then-husband Tommy Mottola making a cameo appearance as Santa Claus in the video.

  50. Wham! - 'Last Christmas'

    Wham! - Last Christmas (Official 4K Video)

    One of the most popular Christmas pop songs of all time, this track had to settle for the Christmas number two spot in 1984, as it was also the year Band Aid released 'Do They Know It's Christmas' (which George also featured on).

    The song finally reached number one in 2021, thanks to the power of streaming.

    Wham's greatest music videos: Andrew Ridgeley breaks down his biggest hits | Smooth's Video Rewind