Music, Music Countdowns, Radio

What is the Greatest Christmas Song of All Time?

Oh, all the lights are shining so brightly everywhere

And the sound of children’s laughter fills the air

And everyone is singing

I hear those sleigh bells ringing

Santa, won’t you bring me the one I really need?

Won’t you please bring my baby to me?

Oh, I don’t want a lot for Christmas

This is all I’m asking for

I just wanna see my baby

Standing right outside my door

Oh, I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true

Baby, all I want for Christmas is you

What is the greatest Christmas song of all time? Over the past 25 years, “All I Want For Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey has become one of the most popular Christmas songs ever recorded.

Just how popular is Carey’s song?   “All I Want For Christmas is You” has been recognized for setting 3 Guinness World Records and her accomplishments will be published in the 2020 edition of the Guinness book. Here are the 3 records that Carey has broken:

  • The highest charting Christmas song on the Billboard Hot 100 by a solo artist
  • The most streamed track on Spotify in a 24 hour period
  • The most weeks in the United Kingdom singles Top 10 chart for a Christmas song


“All I Want For Christmas is You” is also riding high with popularity here in 2019 as the song just reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, for the week ending December 21st.   Carey’s song is just the 2nd Christmas song ever to reach the top spot on the Billboard chart (The first song to do so was “The Chipmunk Song” by the Chipmunks in 1958-59).

Since Carey’s Christmas song was first released in 1994, it has sold over 16 million units. Every Christmas season for the past 25 years, I have regularly heard Carey’s song played on Roanoke, Virginia radio stations, Top 40 K92 and Adult Contemporary Q99. Those stations are still playing “All I Want For Christmas is You” again this holiday season.

Arguably, Carey’s song is the biggest Christmas hit during the past quarter century. However, I go back to my original question at the start of this message: Is “All I Want For Christmas is You” the greatest Christmas song of all time?

I personally maintain that proclamations concerning “the best or greatest” Christmas song ever made, are rather pompous and are an exercise in futility.

Rather than ranking Christmas songs as the “best or greatest” of all time, I prefer to give acclaim to individual songs about Christmas, which are still meaningful and have lasted through the test of time.

My hypothesis on music and song likability: Generally, the songs that a person listened to as a teen or as a young adult, tend to be the songs that are fondly remembered and considered to be their favorite music selections of all time.

The most memorable and favorite songs for older adults tend to be the songs they loved during middle school, high school and college days.

While baby boomers might think Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby have the best Christmas songs, those growing up in the 2010 decade may consider Lauren Daigle or Kacey Musgraves to have the greatest Christmas songs ever made.

For the remainder of this article, I will be highlighting Christmas songs that were first written prior to 1994. My ranking of songs will not be based on greatness or popularity. My criteria will focus on songs and artists, whom I feel are still relevant and have withstood the test of time.

When I attended the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra “Holiday Pops” Christmas concert with my wife Priscilla a couple weeks ago, I began to realize how many wonderful Christmas songs there are in western civilization.

Roanoke Symphony Orchestra “Holiday Pops” concert at Salem Civic Center. December 6th, 2019

The Christmas songs that I like the most, all seem to be tunes older than 25 years old.   The Hallmark Christmas music channel on SiriusXM radio has became a favorite for me this holiday season. This station plays everything from the sounds of Nat King Cole to the modern tunes of Jen Lilley.

I do have a wide range of artists that I listen to on a regular basis for Christmas music. I can go from tuning in standard Christmas classics from Gene Autry, Andy Williams and Perry Como, to enjoying contemporary artists like Pentatonix, Mannheim Steamroller and Sara Niemietz.

Before revealing my top selections of Christmas songs, I want to document some music that I fondly remember during my childhood and are still favorites to me.

My first memories of Christmas music happened around age 10 during my childhood. Both of my parents each had one favorite Christmas album and those records were regularly played on the Woodson family RCA stereo system.

“The Andy Williams Christmas Album” was Shirley Woodson’s absolute favorite Christmas record. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was my mom’s most treasured song on the album. She also loved Williams’ covers of “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night.”

For my dad Andy Woodson, “The Twelve Songs of Christmas” by Jim Reeves was his favorite Christmas album. “Mary’s Boy Child” was his most loved song on the album. He also cherished “An Old Christmas Card” and “The Merry Christmas Polka.”

Around the age of 13, I began listening to Top 40 radio and I started forming my own favorite list of Christmas songs. Here are some of songs I loved during my teen years:

Novelty Songs

  • Snoopy’s Christmas—The Royal Guardsmen
  • Little Saint Nick—The Beach Boys
  • The Chipmunk Song—The Chipmunks (David Seville)
  • Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer—Gene Autry

Top 40 Rock Songs

  • Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree—Brenda Lee
  • Jingle Bell Rock—Bobby Helms
  • Sleigh Ride—The Ronettes

Middle of the Road Songs

  • (There’s No Place Like) Home For the Holiday—Perry Como
  • A Holly Jolly Christmas—Burl Ives
  • Pretty Paper—Roy Orbison

Holiday Songs

  • This Christmas—Donnie Hathaway
  • It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way—Jim Croce
  • Aspenglow—John Denver

As an adult, I expanded my musical horizons and added a couple songs from the Contemporary Christian genre to my favorite playlist.

Star Song (There Is Born a Child)—Sheila Walsh

Come On Ring Those Bells—Evie

I now humbly submit to you, my top Christmas song listing of all time. I am not declaring they are the “best or greatest” holiday songs ever made. These selections are my favorite Christmas songs that I deem to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.

  1. Do You Hear What I Hear—Whitney Houston

Obviously hundreds of artists have covered “Do You Hear What I Hear” over the years, so it is hard to choose just one version. I have selected Whitney Houston’s performance of the song that was written in 1962.

  1. Silent Night—The Temptations

Written in Salzburg, Austria during 1818, “Silent Night” is one of the most widely acclaimed Christmas carols of all time. Hundreds of artists have recorded the song and I enjoy listening to the Temptations Motown version best of all.

  1. Mary Did You Know—Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd

Mark Lowry wrote “Mary Did You Know” in 1984 and Michael English was the first to record the tune. Mother Mary and her possible understanding with the virgin conception of Jesus, totally makes this an intriguing lyrical song. I prefer the Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd version of this tune.

  1. That’s What Christmas Means To me—Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder released a Christmas album in 1967 called “Someday at Christmas” and his song “That’s What Christmas Means To Me” is the crown jewel on this recording. Wonder’s top-tapping tune continues to be a winner in my book.

  1. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)—Darlene Love

The most underrated of my top 10 selections is “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love. Utilizing Phil Spector’s, “Wall of Sound” production, Love’s emotion and excellent vocals are powerful and still sound fresh to me.

  1. O Holy Night—Martina McBride

One of the best known Christmas carols of all time is “O Holy Night” which was written in France during 1847.   Many have recorded the song but my favorite rendition is by Martina McBride. The country music singer provides outstanding vocals with her recording on the song.

  1. Merry Christmas Darling—The Carpenters

Originally released in 1970, “Merry Christmas Darling” was a perennial Christmastime hit on Top 40 radio during the 70’s decade for the Carpenters. Karen Carpenter’s vocals are superb: Haunting, longing and inviting. She had one of the purest voices in pop music when this song was recorded.

  1. The Christmas Song—Nat King Cole

Known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” by many folks, “The Christmas Song” was written in 1945 by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé.   My favorite version of the song is by Nat King Cole and his rendition was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1974.

  1. Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)—Amy Grant

One of the most melodic Christmas tunes of the past 30 years is the song Amy Grant wrote with Chris Eaton, “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).”  The lyrics are written from Mary’s perspective of the nativity story with Jesus’ birth. Grant’s tender vocals are exceptional on this modern day Christmas classic song.  My second favorite Christmas song of all time.

  1. White Christmas—Bing Crosby

Irving Berlin wrote the lyrics to “White Christmas” in 1942 and Bing Crosby’s version is my number one all time favorite Christmas song. The song has sold over 50 million units worldwide and is the biggest selling single ever recorded.   “White Christmas” is ranked number 2 on NPR’s “Songs of the Century” listing and is in the Library of Congress, National Recording Registry.   Without a doubt, “White Christmas” is the most beloved holiday song ever made.

Now that you have viewed my selections of what I consider to be the top Christmas songs ever made, I want to pose the question again: Is Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” the greatest Christmas song of all time?

My answer is no. Although I do not want to disrespect those who place Mariah Carey’s song as the greatest Christmas song of all time, I respectfully submit that “All I Want For Christmas is You” is a wonderful holiday tune but hasn’t yet weathered the test of time.

“All I Want For Christmas” has achieved great accolades over the past 25 years since Carey’s song was released and most likely will be highly rated during upcoming Christmas seasons during the 2020 decade. However, comparing the current number 1 song in America with Christmas songs like Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is completely unfair to Mariah Carey.

Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” was recorded in 1942 and has sold over 50 million units worldwide. For the past 78 years, “White Christmas” has been the most beloved Christmas song around the world and without a doubt, is the greatest Christmas song of all time.

Those are my thoughts on Christmas songs. Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of Christmas music. Your top selections of Christmas songs could be totally different than my picks. There are no right or wrong answers on this topic.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

I close with the lyrics to the greatest Christmas song ever made:

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten

And children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

With every Christmas card I write

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten

And children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

With every Christmas card I write

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white

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12 thoughts on “What is the Greatest Christmas Song of All Time?

  1. Bill Nabers says:

    I divide the songs into carols and holiday songs. Both serve different purposes.
    So it is not a quality thing. Carols being written for worship. I won’t get into ranking carols, As far as holiday songs go, I think Bing’s version of White Christmas has to be up there. But i am surprised by two “glaring omissions”. One is “Do they know it’s Christmas?” by Band Aid circa 1985 and the other is “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth”, the Bing Crosby and David Bowie duet from the 70’s. In addition to music the lyrics are so profound in both of these that they stay relevant. It may be nostalgia, since his death, but I find myself humming along to “It’s Christmas all over again” by Tom Petty. My favorite to play on guitar is “Run Run Rudolf ” Thanks, Bill

  2. Wow! This is an incredible list, and some of my favorite Christmas classics as well. To be named among these legends is a Christmas gift itself! A very Merry Christmas to you and yours!
    Jen Lilley

  3. Verbum Caro Factum Est gets my votes as the all-time greatest Christmas song!

    Here’s a video of this a capella masterpiece. “The word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Hans Leo Hassler’s setting is a stunning example of Renaissance polyphony.

    When Irving Berlin’s “Easter Bonnet” made the charts, he bragged to his friends that he had “de-Christed” both of Christianity’s major holidays.

  4. Bruce says:

    David, just read this for the 2nd time. there are just so many to list as favs. however the Luther College Christmas Concert had a KING IS BORN. it has become a go to Favorite. you tube it. the guys in the choir are just so into it. a must for you to see

  5. David Randall Hardie says:

    Excellent list DJ Dave. You have scanned all sectors of music from country to classical to contemporary to pop etc. Very well thought out and researched as usual. Is Mariah’s the greatest? No, but it ain’t too bad ( I must confess that I have had a “thing” for her for years. She can sing a song like few others. I am a traditionalist who always holds onto the artist that my mom and dad enjoyed such as Nat, Frank, Bing, Deano, Johnny Mathis, and Andy. I also enjoyed the Christmas albums the rock groups made such as the Beach Boys and Chicago (of course) but have not enjoyed some groups butchering them badly with their own versions. The Drifters White Christmas, Whitney ‘s Do You Hear What I Hear, The Temptations Silent Night, and Springsteen’s Santa Claus Is Coming to Town are great renditions. As far as my list Amy Grant’s Breath of Heaven, Grown Up Christmas List ,Mathis Handel’s Messiah, Nat King Cole’s Christmas Song, O Holy Night, O Come O yea Faithful, Dean Martin’s Winter Wonderland, Carpenter’s Merry Christmas Darling, Band Aid’s 1984 Do You Know It’s Christmas, Pentotonix Hallelejah ,Trans Siberian Orchestra aA Christmas Canon, and songs by Mannheim Steamroller, and Winter Solstice I enjoy very much. The Chieftains also have some very unique songs. When it comes to the rubber meeting the road White Christmas by Bing Crosby is hard to beat. Still to me Mariah ain’t bad.

  6. Barbara says:

    I also separate Christmas hymns and Christmas songs. When you blend all the songs from the decades & different versions you get a wonderful mix of songs for the Christmas season. My “oldie” fav is the Christmas son by Nat King Cole. What a smooth voice he had. My newer fav is Mary did you know. Thanks David for your blog and insight on music!

  7. Terrie Martin says:

    I agree with the separation of carols and holiday songs….I would have to say that I’m pretty old school when it comes to these because I want to hear the classics.
    I listen to them to bring back special memories from Christmases past..they give me that warm, snuggly feeling…it just completes my Christmas season.
    Nat King Cole, Carpenters, Bing Crosby, (love the duet with David Bowie) are at the top of my list…
    I love Sleigh Ride …I actually listen to them all, but at home for Christmas you will only hear the classics and Mariah is not included.
    This was really good David…made me remember some songs I had not listened to for quite awhile…I tend to play or listen to the same ones because of the wonderful feelings they give me.

  8. Charmaine Sims says:

    Excellent blog, Dave, covering a wide range of Christmas songs/carols/hymns from a broad spectrum of time and genre. I would be very hard put to name my favorites, although “Silent Night” is always at the top of my list. I love many versions by many artists, and prefer to hear it sung with harmonies. Always my favorite at the end of Christmas Eve service where we turn out the lights and light the candles. I never leave with dry eyes.

    As far as Mariah Carey’s song, I find it catchy and enjoyable, and I haven’t counted up all my favorite songs – if I do, and comment on each, this comment would be even longer than your blog! but I don’t think hers would even break my top 100.

    Great post. Two of the more recent songs in the long history of Christmas songs that I especially enjoy are “There’s a New Kid in Town” (lots of great versions, George Strait’s is excellent) and “Light of the Stable” by Emmylou Harris.

  9. Bernard Johnson says:

    Dave’s list is great. My all time favorite Christmas song will always be “The Christmas Song”. I don’t start the Christmas Season until I’ve heard Nat King Cole sing that.
    2. This Christmas – Donny Hathaway
    3. It’s the Most Wonderful time of the Year – Andy Williams
    4. Rudolf the Red Nose Raindeer – Temptations
    5 All I want for Christmas is You- Mariah Carey

    Honorable mention for me!
    “Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto”
    James Brown

    Not to fond of the new renditions of songs

  10. Sandra Kelley says:

    Great blog as always Dave. I find Mariah’s “All I want for Christmas” fails epically in making my faves list although I love everything else she has done. If it wasn’t so overplayed I may have had a different opinion. Now, Alvin and The Chipmunks “ Christmas Don’t Be Late”(The Chipmunk Song) “Silver Bells” by Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole’s “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” are my top three Christmas “songs”. For Caroles, the acapella version of “Oh Holy Night” by the group Home Free, Duet “What Child is This” Mary J Blige and Andrea Bocelli and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” Celine Dion version all get me in the holiday spirit.

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