Best Christmas Songs Of All Time: Top 7 Holiday Hits Most Heralded By Experts

The holiday season is upon us, and what better way to get into the festive spirit than with some timeless Christmas songs? From the classics that have been playing for decades to modern hits that have become instant favorites, the world of Christmas music is filled with joy, nostalgia, and a touch of magic. As we gather around the fireplace and decorate our homes, let’s take a moment to explore the best Christmas songs, the melodies that have stood the test of time and continue to bring us cheer year after year.

Considering that 88 percent of Americans feel the holiday season is the most stressful time of year, letting go and singing along to holiday tunes could allow you to take in the moment. Why not take the opportunity with friends and family to dust off some favorite songs to experience the positive effects of belonging and sharing with others?

Another way to celebrate the season, of course, is consuming other types of holiday media, like films. According to a new poll, the most re-watched Christmas films of all time are “Home Alone,” “The Snowman,” and “Love Actually.” A study of 2,000 adults who watch holiday movies revealed the titles people go back to every year, with the top 40 list also featuring “Elf,” “The Polar Express,” and “Die Hard” — one of the most controversial “Christmas” films on the list. The 1988 Bruce Willis hit film ranks sixth on the list, despite many people arguing that the bloody action flick is not even a Christmas movie! We will let each individual person be the judge of that, however. “A Christmas Carol,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” also made the list, with 44 percent believing the “classics” are better than anything modern. 

However you decide to celebrate the holiday season, we at StudyFinds are here to help. As always, we have researched across multiple expert sources to bring you today’s ranking of the top seven best Christmas songs of all time. Don’t agree with our list or feel we missed out on a classic? No worries. We know the Christmas music market is saturated with good hits, and not every song can fit in the ranking. However we would still love to hear from you in the comments down below! Now, onto the list. 

photo of music score
Christmas Carols (Photo by David Beale on Unsplash)

The List: Best Christmas Songs, According to Music Experts

1. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey (1994)

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” is a timeless holiday classic that has become synonymous with the festive season. Released by Mariah Carey in 1994, this iconic song has not only captured the hearts of millions but has also solidified its place as one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time. “Mariah Carey has a whole album filled with Christmas songs, but this upbeat pop song (complete with jingle bells!) is her most enduring. So enduring, in fact, that the song hit Number One on the Billboard charts at the end of 2021, 27 years after it was originally recorded,” says Good Housekeeping.

“It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when Mimi’s inescapable earworm was just a forgotten novelty song from yet another standard-issue pop-singer holiday album. Now, in a post ‘Love Actually’ world, hearing ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ for the first time in a year is one of the most reliable signs that the holidays are here. Complaining about its ubiquity has become a pastime for killjoys at pubs, but it’s their loss: From the twinkly intro to Mariah’s tour-de-force delivery, everything here is as timeless as it is flawless,” writes Time Out.

“The twinkling percussion and the Queen of Christmas’ warm sugar ‘I-I-I don’t want a lot for Christmas’ ballad-like intro have ushered in each of the last 28 Christmas seasons. And the ubiquitous 1994 yuletide carol just picks up from there, as the’ 60s-inspired groove trots to the beat of church- and sleigh-like bells and soars with her wintery whistle tones as she sings, ‘Oh baby, all I want for Christmas is youuuuuuuuu,'” exclaims Billboard.

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2. “Last Christmas” by Wham! (1984)

“Last Christmas” is a beloved holiday classic that has captured the hearts of listeners since its release. Written and performed by Wham!, the song has remained a staple on Christmas playlists worldwide. “The pop duo composed of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, released this song in 1984, but it didn’t hit the top of the charts until 2017 (after Michael’s death), despite inspiring many cover versions over the years,” notes Good Housekeeping.

“A ballad of doomed romance, ‘Last Christmas’ features sleigh bells and synths, plus some truly memorable knitwear in the video. But what really sets ‘Last Christmas’ apart is George Michael’s heart-on-sleeve delivery: his genuine heartbreak horror (‘My God! I thought you were someone to rely on’) and wistful, sexy whispers. The words’ Merry Christmas’ never sounded so sultry,” adds Time Out.

“Released by Wham! when the UK duo — principally, of course, singer and writer/producer George Michael — were at the very peak of their international pop powers, ‘Last Christmas’ is likely the brightest jewel in the act’s catalog, a never-again torch song with an immaculate synth-pop sheen and a true broken-heartbeat at its core. As always, no one illustrates the helplessness of misguided affection better than Michael, but the song burns just as brightly decades later because of how the holiday spirit inspires him to try harder and do better,” describes Billboard.

3. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby (1942)

Bing Crosby’s iconic rendition of this beloved song has captured the hearts of millions and continues to evoke feelings of nostalgia and warmth. With its soothing melody and heartfelt lyrics, “White Christmas” has become an anthem of hope, love, and the joyous spirit that surrounds us during this magical time of year. “Bing Crosby’s classic hit about a picturesque Christmas scene is one of the most popular holiday songs ever — the Guinness World Records even named it the best-selling single of all time,” comments Good Housekeeping.

“Written by Irving Berlin for the 1942 classic ‘Holiday Inn,’ ‘White Christmas’ stands as the best-selling single of all time and with good reason. Between Bing Crosby’s silky vocals and Berlin’s keen sense of nostalgia, this is one of those rare cases when only the original do,” explains Town and Country.

“Easily one of the finest pop compositions of the 20th century, ‘White Christmas’ is a song written by a Jewish-Russian immigrant (Irving Berlin) and performed by America’s first true multi-media sensation (Crosby), which provided solace to overseas US troops during World War II. In other words, it’s not just an example of Christmas music but of America at its best. Countless others have covered it, but in the hands of Crosby — who once sang it to American troops who would never return home — it attained immortality,” raves Billboard.

4. “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl (1988)

 “Fairytale of New York” is a timeless Christmas classic performed by the Irish band The Pogues and British singer Kirsty MacColl. The song tells a bittersweet tale amidst the backdrop of the bustling city of New York during the holiday season. “When was the last time you properly listened to Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues’ epic Big Apple-set fable? Shut your eyes and give it a go, and if you aren’t a nervous wreck by the fade-out, your heart (like that jumper from your nan) is two sizes too small. ‘Fairytale…’ is a perfect four-minute narrative of hope, despair, and heartbreak – and, despite the profanity, it ends with love,” reports Time Out.

“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 their producer at the time, Elvis Costello, that they would not be able to write a Christmas hit single. He was wrong,” says Smooth Radio.

“About as bittersweet a Christmas song as it’s possible to imagine, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s Celtic folk-flavored ‘Fairytale Of New York‘ was once banned by the BBC for its raw language, but it’s now the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century. Wherever you stand on its lyrics, it’s impossible to deny the power of this truly singular ballad,” writes uDiscoverMusic.

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5. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love (1963)

Released in 1963, this iconic song was performed by the talented Darlene Love, who brought her soulful and powerful vocals to the forefront. With its heartfelt lyrics and catchy melodies, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” has become synonymous with the joy and longing that often accompany the Christmas season. “Is this the most moving Christmas tune of all time? Probably – the combination of Darlene Love’s impeccable pleading vocal, Phil Spector’s gloriously tinselly production, and Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry’s magical songwriting could make anyone, even the biggest Scrooge, melt like a snowman under a hairdryer. It’s just an absolutely perfect Christmas song,” states Time Out.

“The centerpiece of one of the finest holiday albums ever made Love’s signature song is a layered, lush pop symphony from first note to the last. Between Spector’s famed Wall of Sound and Love’s full-throttled vocals, begging that her baby return home so they can frolic like they did last year, the song wraps itself around you like a warm, flannel Christmas blanket,” adds Billboard.

“‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ was not an instant success, though. But over the years, its stature has grown, spurred on by a re-release of ‘A Christmas Gift for You’ on the Beatles’ Apple Records in 1972—as well as a nearly 30-year run, from 1986 through 2014, when Love belted out the song annually on David Letterman’s late-night shows. According to lore, Letterman is something of a Scrooge, but he always had a soft spot for ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),’ and it’s easy to see why. The song recognizes the sadness of the season, but Love finds a way to rise above through her longing—in her roaring delivery, joy brings sorrow, which brings more joy,” notes Pitchfork.

6. “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)” by Nat King Cole (1946)

Released in 1946, “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)” captured the hearts of listeners around the world with its warm and nostalgic lyrics. From the moment Nat King Cole’s smooth and velvety voice graces our ears, we are transported to a magical winter wonderland filled with joy, love, and the enchantment of the holiday season. “One of the most famous Christmas songs of all time, this is just one of the tracks proving Nat King Cole is the King of Christmas. Although, has anyone ever actually roasted chestnuts on an open fire,” questions Town and Country.

“Let the dulcet and warm tones of Nat King Cole lull you to sleep with this instant Christmas nostalgia hit. I love the way the piano, strings, and guitar all blend seamlessly into one another to create a jazzy melody that feels so lovely to listen to,” comments USA Today.

“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,” explains Smooth Radio.

7. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Harlem Community Choir (1971)

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is a timeless track that transcends the traditional cheerfulness associated with Christmas songs. Released in 1971, this iconic song carries a profound message of hope, peace, and the desire for a world free from the horrors of war. “John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded this with the Harlem Community Choir as a protest song against the Vietnam War, and it eventually became a classic Christmas hit,” reports Good Housekeeping.

“The culmination of more than two years’ worth of peace activism undertaken by John Lennon and Yoko Ono that began with the bed-ins they staged in March and May 1969, ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ was partially conceived as an anti-Vietnam War protest song. Recorded with the Harlem Community Choir, the song first charted in the UK Top 5 in 1972 and soon earned its reputation as one of the best Christmas songs of all time,” adds uDiscoverMusic.

“Part Phil Spector-produced holiday spectacular, part conceptual political slogan, part classic John Lennon melody, ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ was the ex-Beatles’ last non-album single and a classic in his and Yoko Ono’s discography of pioneering message-pop. With the Harlem Community Choir delivering the ineffable counter-refrain and Ono’s voice settled inside a Wall of Sound-approved lushness, the song’s radical bona fides might not be audible at first pass. ‘Put your political message across with a little honey’ was how Lennon described the strategy; in doing so, he and Ono elevated a surrealist pop novelty to the realm of Christmas standard,” concludes Pitchfork.

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About the Author

Jilly Hite

New York raised and Florida-based Jilly Hite studied screenwriting and theatre at The Lee Strasberg Institute before becoming a full time content creator and podcaster. She loves old movies, musical theatre, and her pup Ted.

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