These are the classic Christmas songs of your youth and today. Check out the most beloved holiday songs of the season, and the origins and history behind them.
All I Want For Christmas Is You
The poppy Christmas anthem “All I Want for Christmas Is You” first hit airwaves in the early 90s, delighting Mariah Carey fans everywhere. The song, upbeat and poppy in tone, was written by Carey and a songwriting partner, and was released right before the 1994 holiday season. Since the song was released, it’s been a Christmas favorite, especially for heartsick singles suffering with unrequited love around the holidays.
In the music video, Columbia Records chose to have Carey playing around with Santa in the snow in a fitted, red jumpsuit, as well as candid shots of her getting her hair and makeup done. It was a part of her fourth studio album, and topped the charts worldwide, even being the most played Christmas song for nearly a decade in the United Kingdom.
Performed by artists such as WHAM!, “Last Christmas” is a holiday classic that dates back to the early 1980s. After WHAM! released it, the song made history in being the largest selling single in the United Kingdom. However, it never reached #1 on the Billboard Charts, peaking at #2. The song was covered by a few additional artists from the UK before migrating overseas, with American bands like Jimmy Eat World releasing their own versions.
Cascada, Disney Star Ashley Tisdale, and Ariana Grande are the most recent artists to put their own take on the 80s classic. Grande’s version was slightly rewritten to take the perspective of a jilted woman around Christmas, rather than the lovelorn single woman.
Not all new holiday releases are created equally, as Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe” reveals. The song was a surprising hit for Bieber, who was still a new and emerging artist during it’s release on his first Christmas album. “Mistletoe” plays off of Bieber’s poppy tone, thrilling fangirls everywhere. The song was released in the late fall of October 2011. It made history as the best-selling first digital holiday song in a year, and ranks 4th of the most popular, best-selling holiday songs.
The song has seldomly been covered by other artists, and Bieber got mostly positive feedback from critics, citing it the next big Christmas hit.
Santa Tell Me
In a similar pop holiday hit, up and coming artist Ariana Grande released “Santa Tell Me” in time for the 2014 holiday season, hitting iTunes in December of that year. Grande’s lighthearted, yet soulful holiday song struck a chord with audiences, perhaps disheartened by other unsuccessful Christmas hits. The music video features Grande, who had recently been involved in a public relations fiasco, prancing around a large mansion in an oversized sweatshirt with a group of girls.
Grande announced the upcoming launch of the song on Twitter, teasing the release of the video in November. It peaked at #42 on the Billboard charts, and received mostly positive feedback from critics, who called it a feel-good holiday hit.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Judy Garland was responsible for the success of the next Christmas hit, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, which first hit radio airwaves in the 1940s. The song has become increasingly popular since, eventually being one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time. Frank Sinatra covered the hit, with some slight lyrical adjustments, after Garland sang an early version in her classic film, Meet Me In St. Louis.
Recent artists such as crooner Sam Smith have released versions, revitalizing the classic and getting it on Billboard 100, at #90. It’s the first time the song has been included on the prestigious chart.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
“Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”, is one of the most famous Christmas classics, and was written by composer/lyricist Haven Gillespie and famous songwriter John Frederick Coots. Since its release in the 1930s, the song has been covered by stars such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Dolly Parton and Neil Diamond, with recent covers by pop singer Kylie Minogue and hit a Capella band Pentatonix.
The song was first played in the fall of 1934, on performer/comedian Eddie Cantor’s beloved family friendly radio show. Rocker Bruce Springsteen frequently covers the song during winter concerts, and is regularly on the band’s play list.
Little Drummer Boy
“The Little Drummer Boy,” written by composer Katherine Kennicott Davis, first hit airwaves in the early 1940s. The Trapp Family singers, a German family who inspired the Broadway hit and eventual Sound of Music movies, as well as a recent Carrie Underwood TV special. The song is one of the most popular religious based songs, with references to the nativity.
The song was first written for girl choruses, in a soprano melody. The song was a massive success, and was re-released in 1963, and again in the late 80s by Casablanca Records in “The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival.”
Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was a 1970s holiday release by John Lennon, famously of hit band The Beatles. The song didn’t actually reach its fame until after Lennon’s death, hitting #2 on the Billboard charts. Lennon crafted the song to be somewhat of a protest against the Vietnam War, and was inspired by all the political activism that Lennon, and his wife, Yoko Ono, did.
This activism, which included “bed-ins” during the couple’s honeymoon, also included billboards that literally read “War Is Over”, and wished fans a happy holiday from the couple. It was the first holiday hit that any of The Beatles released after they split up in the 1970s.
“White Christmas,” a song that reminisced about old Christmas times, is now one of the most well-known holiday tunes. The song has various versions, with popular covers from stars such as Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Tony Bennett and The Partridge Family. In the early 90s, even Neil Diamond, country star Garth Brooks, and crooner Michael Bolton all put their own spin on “White Christmas.”
The song has been ranked highly, the most notable being Bing Crosby’s version, was also called one of the most significant recordings in history. The song is also the best-selling single of all time, with Elton Johns’s “Candle In The Wind” right behind it at #2.
“This Christmas,” which was released in 1970, has been remodeled and retooled to a more modernized version. The song was written by Donny Hathaway and Nadine McKinnor. It was one of the first holiday songs released by an African American singer, (Hathaway). Its success only continued with covers by artists such as Train, Chris Brown, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Destiny’s Child, Harry Connick, Jr, Lady Antebellum and a capella band Pentatonix.
Although the song was released in 1970, it didn’t hit Billboard charts until 1972. McKinnor, who worked closely with Hathaway, said that he was a highly spirited musician, with an immense passion for his music career.
“Santa Baby,” which is a snappy, poppy holiday song that pokes fun at women who want materialistic gifts such as jewelry, real estate, and diamonds for Christmas. The song was a huge hit for singer Eartha Kitt, and has had similar luck for pop singers such as Ariana Grande, Ashanti, Kylie Minogue, and even Miss Piggy.
The song has been featured in an array of holiday hits, such as Driving Miss Daisy, Elf, as well as Boynton Beach Club. The song mentions the famous jewelry store Tiffany’s as a gift destination, and mentions lavish, elaborate gifts such as boats, property, and diamond rings.
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, by Johnny Marks and Brenda Lee, is a holiday hit that was first released in 1958. The song has famously been covered since it’s launch, with artists such as country artist LeAnn Rimes, pop star Cyndi Lauper, Toby Keith, and Jann Arden releasing their own versions of the holiday song. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Charts in the 1990s.
Marks and Lee’s song went on to sell 25 million copies, and has become of the most famous Christmas songs in history. Even Zoey Deschanel’s duo, She + Him, released a version of the song in the winter of 2011.
O Holy Night
“O Holy Night”, the Christmas carol turned hit song, originated in France in the 1800s. It started out as a poem, and eventually, music was added to it for a Christmas service in a church in Roquemaure, France. The religious based song was sung by an opera singer in the 1847 holiday service.
The song has been covered by famous singers such as Celine Dion, Cher, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey. While Celine Dion’s is the most popular version, singer Josh Groban, who first appeared on TV’s Ally MacBeal, opera singer Andrea Bocelli, and Jackie Evancho have also released versions of the classic
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
It was 1952, and Jimmy Boyd was just 13 years old when he first recorded “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” It was picked up by department store Saks Fifth Avenue to help with their holiday advertising, and then made it on the UK Charts before peaking at #3. At first, the song was banned by the Roman Catholic Church, with it eventually lifting later in the 1950s.
The song was comically covered by Rugrats child cartoon star Tommy Pickles and Spike Jones. Jones recorded a cruder version as well, contrasting with John Mellencamp’s cover, with the latter being for a charity album.
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne ironically wrote “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” during a California heat wave in the 1940s. While the song doesn’t specifically talk about the holidays, the song is frequently played during the holidays. It hit the Billboard Charts and made the list at #7. Aside from Styne, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Carly Simon, and even pop star Jessica Simpson covered the hit.
The song was most recently covered by Kacey Musgraves, as well as Sarah McLachlan. The songs were also released on the soundtracks of action films Die Hard and Die Hard 2.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, recorded by Bing Crosby in the 1940s, was initially recorded to honor overseas soldiers. The lyrics are from the perspective of a solider, wanting to be home with his family at Christmas, but perhaps not being able to, because of the war.
Crosby loved the song the first time he heard it, with the tune reaching #3 on the Billboard charts, where it stayed for over two months. The song is now owned by The American Heart Association, left to the organization by lyricist Kim Gannon, who wrote the song. He bequeathed it to them in his will.
Little Saint Nick
“Little Saint Nick”, released by laidback, reggaeish band The Beach Boys, was a fun, upbeat holiday tune that’s still beloved by fans everywhere. The song, which takes a turn from the traditional slow, classic melodies of Christmas songs, and offers an alternative, with a zingy, laidback tune.
The song launched in the 1960s, and hit the Billboard charts, peaking at #3. That Christmas, it became the most popular holiday song nationwide, with versions on albums such as “A Very She & Him Christmas” by She & Him, Sugar Ray on the MTV: TRL Christmas, and teen pop boy band Hanson, on their Christmas album “Snowed In.”
Where Are You, Christmas?
“Where Are You Christmas”, the Christmas single that captivated audiences, was specifically written for the movie The Grinch, with Taylor Momsen, or Cindy Lou, singing the song. It was written in part by Mariah Carey and a team of writers, which included her ex-husband, Tommy Mottola. So rather than Carey singing the song, due to legal hangups with her ex, the song was also released by country artist Faith Hill.
The song has been seldomly covered, and the original version that was recorded by Mariah Carey, has never been released for public review.
My Only Wish (This Year)
Another poppy Christmas hit, and the last on this list, is “My Only Wish”, an original holiday song by Britney Spears. The song was released by Spears on her first Christmas album, and has been a favorite since. Spears wrote the song with a team of writers, and although it has become a holiday hit, it wasn’t received well by critics at first.
Despite popular feedback, the song also didn’t make it very far on the charts, never making it beyond the 30s and 40s. The song was released abroad, and had similar performance metrics and public opinion that the song, despite reviews, was festive and fun.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is one of the most parodied holiday songs, with a recent version being spoofed on YouTube. The song describes a spouse receiving unconventional, yet lavish gifts in the two weeks proceeding December 25th. The song lists the gifts from day one, making its way through twelve.
The origin of the song is unclear, but became popular in the 1800s in England. An English composer polished up the songs, adding in the five golden rings lyrics and melody. Though the song has variations internationally, the gifts, whatever they are in each verse, have a special meaning related to Christmas.