The best Christmas songs ever, as ranked by their ability to spark joy
Written by Kayleigh Dray
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.
Here’s our countdown to the happiest Christmas song of all time ever. Because nobody, and we mean nobody, wants to feel miserable at Christmastime.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, which means we’re ready to “falalala” until our throats are sore, our lips are numb, and that joyful refrain of “Merry Christmas” has lost all semblance of meaning.
But which festive tunes are worth losing our voices over? Not all Christmas songs are created equal, after all: some are proper little earworms, others are horribly overplayed (and overrated, if we’re being honest). And a surprisingly large bulk of Christmas music is… well, it’s bleak AF, quite frankly.
Considering the year we’ve all had, we’ve come to the (very wise) conclusion that we only want to sing along to the happiest of festive ditties this holiday season. We want to feel merry and bright, goddamn it! Above all else, we want the Marie Kondo equivalent of music – by which we mean, of course, songs that spark joy.
To this end, then, we’ve ranked the best Christmas songs of all time, from the most misery-inducing to the ones that lift our spirits and get us toe-tapping in seconds flat.
Apologies in advance, Band Aid fans.
Do They Know It’s Christmas Time – Band Aid
The morose tones of Paul Young. The bizarre assertion that the people of Ethiopia have no idea it’s Christmas (despite being, as one exasperated Spotify employee helpfully pointed out recently in a series of annotations, “one of the oldest Christian nations in the world”). The suggestion that listeners “thank God it’s them instead of you.”
Yeah, I get that a lot of people love this song, but it’s not sparking any joy in me whatsoever. Bottom of the pile for you, Bob Geldof and pals.
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Look, I get that this song has a beautiful underlying meaning – but John doesn’t actually sound like he hopes I’ll have fun. Rather, he sounds like he’s getting at the fact that I’ve achieved very little over the past 12 months and I need to get my act together if I want to put an end to world war. And that’s a lot of pressure, John.
All I really, really, really want to do right now is eat cheese, read terrible cracker jokes, hug my loved ones, and forget about the horrors of reality for a little while. IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK?!
Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty McColl
Every single year, we have the same debate about this song. But, whether you agree with the BBC’s decision to play an edited version of Fairytale Of New York (sans the controversial gay slur) or not, you can’t deny that this is a song about being down-on-your-luck, and desperate, and drunkenly shouting at your soon-to-be-ex on a cold winter’s night.
So, yeah, it’s like the musical version of an EastEnders Christmas special then. Go figure.
Stay Another Day – East 17
This Christmas classic is an undeniably gorgeous example of festive melancholia, thanks to its sombre subject matter and raw emotional harmonies. But, as I stated very clearly at the beginning of this article, I’m in the (Christmas) market for joyful ditties only. Sorry, East 17.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews
Baby, It’s Cold Outside is a song about a man refusing to let a woman go home. In fact, he spends the whole song pressuring her to spend the night with him. The music video for Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews’ version swerves us away from the controversy by transplanting the drama from reality to the OG Bad Place (he’s the devil, she’s the innocent angel who decides to unleash her inner demon: you get the drift). And the big band, big voice reimagining of this oft-covered track is definitely stirring.
Still, though, the song’s questionable lyrics still niggle at the back of our minds. And that makes us feel bad and sad for humming along.
Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
It’s nice enough, this one. But it gets just the tiniest, weeniest, littlest bit monotonous and droning after a while (ever tried to perform this one at karaoke? It goes on forever). As such, the joy peaks and then slowly saps away again until you’re left with nothing more than what you started with. Maybe less.
Stop The Cavalry – Jona Lewie
The horns are so jaunty, but it’s yet more war and misery. I’m sorry you’re not home for Christmas, Jona, but please don’t bring me down.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – John Legend ft. Esperanza Spalding
100% into this. It makes me feel nostalgic for Christmases I’ve never had, the kind with snowflakes kissing at the window, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and all that jazz. But… yeah, the lyrics feel all too poignant, especially this year. Will our Covid-19 troubles be miles away come next Christmas? One can only bloody hope so.
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day – The Wizzards
If songs were dogs, this would be a bouncy Golden Retriever puppy. It’s boisterous, energetic, and overwhelmingly happy. So why isn’t it higher up on the list? Because it’s usually played around 2,500,067 times over December, and each time gets a little more grating. Which does nothing for my zen, quite frankly.
One More Sleep – Leona Lewis
Leona has the voice of an angel and this festive ditty, which sums up the true magic of the holiday (being with the people you love most), is a lot of fun to warble along to. Doing so, though, reminds me that I do not have the voice of an angel. And that sprinkles just the teeniest bit of despair all over my heart, to be honest.
All together now? “One more sleeeeeeeeep…”
Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt is a goddess. And this song is iconic. But, as I mentioned mere moments ago, the yachts and the credit cards and the diamonds aren’t what makes Christmas: it’s the people you surround yourself with.
Also, has Santa ever bought anyone else the deed to a platinum mine? Asking for a friend.
Last Christmas – Wham!
George Michael’s Christmassy tale of lost love and heartache feels happy enough, thanks to that nifty 80s beat. Its attachment to the film of the same name (yeah, the one with the twist) and George’s sad passing, though, means it’s not as happy a ditty for me as it once was. I’m sorry.
Driving Home For Christmas – Chris Rea
This is a Christmas staple, especially when the car is laden with presents and you’re off to see mum. This year, though, the song makes me cry every single time I hear it because I really haven’t seen those faces for so, so, so long. As such, it’s lost a few joy points. So sue me.
Mary’s Boy Child – Boney M
An underrated classic? Absolutely. But I consider this banger to be more zen than joyful, which means it’s more likely to become the star of my Christmas yoga session than my sing-into-the-hairbrush-microphone moment.
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas – Michael Bublé
Every single year, Scrooges start discreetly foot-tapping to Michael Bublé under the table – and that’s because his smooth vocals are utterly irresistible, no matter how much you try and fight them. And his version of this 1951 tune is an undeniable festive staple, triggering all those slow-burn fuzzy feels that come hand-in-hand with the happiest season.
8 Days Of Christmas – Destiny’s Child
Bublé might think it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, but the holy triumvirate that is Destiny’s Child are well and truly riding the wave of that lovely 00s nostalgia. And that’s largely due to all the diamond belly rings, back rubs, and dirty denim jeans they’ve been gifted, obviously. No wonder it’s a favourite of Stylist’s Jazmin Kopotsha, eh?
The Mistletoe Jam (Everybody Kiss Somebody) – Luther Vandross
Because this is the mistletoe jam, quite frankly. Fair warning, though: it probably will make you want to kiss somebody.
Wonderful Christmas Time – Diana Ross
Oh sure, Paul McCartney’s version is good. But Diana Ross’ voice is among the loveliest ever recorded, and that – combined with its old fashion sleighbells, makes this a magical Christmas number.
Santa Tell Me – Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande’s Christmas ditty is an absolute bop. That’s it. That’s all I have to say.
Christmas Time – The Darkness
This glam rock song has it all: innuendos aplenty, tubular bells, insane guitar riffs, gently jingling bells, and the sweet vocals of a children’s choir. Better still, it sums up the reality of Christmas for all of us (“Feigning joy and surprise at the gifts we despise over mulled wine with you”) without losing any of that fabulously OTT festive magic in the process.
Merry Christmas Everybody – Slade
Stylist contributor Katy Harrington insists this song should take the top spot. And, to be fair, she makes a good case for it: it’s exuberant, it’s joyful, and it’s heavy on the magic (“It’s the time when every Santa has a ball / Does he ride a red-nosed reindeer? / Does a turn upon his sleigh? / Do the fairies keep him sober for a day?”).
Sadly, though, Katy isn’t in charge of this list. I am. And, while this song is another glam smash hit, it’s scored far too many a miserable Christmas in soapland for me to consider it a purely joyful number. Sorry not sorry.
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – Andy Williams
There’s a reason this song has been used in so many Christmas films. Don’t believe me? Just those first seven seconds will have you swaying in your seat and dreaming of New York in the snow. If that doesn’t do it, Andy Williams’ powerhouse vocals and cheery observations about the “happiest season of all” should. And, if you’re still not there, take note of the fact that the backing singers are just belting out the words ‘Ding dong, ding dong’ over and over again, and voila! Merriment is yours.
The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
Right from the very first “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, this song is absolutely enchanting. And it reminds us, too, to take the time to relax over Christmas and slow the fuck down – which is a very important message, quite frankly.
Jingle Bells – Michael Bublé
It was inevitable that Mr Christmas would bop up twice in this list, wasn’t it? This time, though, it’s not just for him (although he truly gives this one his all): it’s for the backing singers who absolutely steal the show with their sleigh bell-inspired scatting. Love your work, ladies.
Sleigh Ride – The Ronettes
As you may have guessed by now, I’m a traditionalist. But this timeless tune is the very definition of jolly, and I won’t hear otherwise.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love
Fun fact: I love The Gremlins to little pieces, and this song scores the film’s snowy opening. Setting that aside, though, Darlene Love’s soaring vocals and evocative imagery make us all imagine we’re living the sort of 25 December that appears on Christmas cards. And that, my friends, is a surefire route to happiness.
All I Want For Christmas – Mariah Carey
Controversially, Mariah Carey isn’t at the top of this list, and that’s largely because, whenever I’ve been single, this gorgeously romantic song has poked at my heart like a sharp stick. Tell me I’m not the only one, please.
Step Into Christmas – Elton John
My boss loves this Elton John banger, so, naturally, it had to come somewhere near the top. Ignoring my ass-kissing antics, though, it truly is a lot of fun. The kind of fun that comes hand-in-hand with mulled wine, karaoke, and office Christmas parties. The kind that makes us remember a time before Covid ruined pretty much everything. The kind that makes us want to step into Christmas forever and ever and ever.
So who made the top of the list?
Underneath The Tree – Kelly Clarkson
I may be a traditionalist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate contemporary music. And I appreciate the hell outta this number from the goddess that is Kelly Clarkson.
Let’s take a moment to bask in the magic, shall we?
Used in countless Christmas films (most recently, Netflix’s The Princess Switch: Switched Again) sings its release in 2013, this song is synonymous with joy, and festive feels, and love. The kind of love that makes you think of family, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, and everyone in between.
It has sleigh bells. It has impossibly fun lyrics. It bounces like Buster the Boxer in John Lewis’ feel-good Christmas advert of 2016. It speaks to everything we love about the holidays, and it does it all with Clarkson’s inimitable vocals, too.
It’s my ultimate Christmas song, essentially. And if it doesn’t spark joy in you, then you need to do a Grinch and grow your heart by two sizes, OK? Don’t @ me.
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