As Christmas draws near, I spend this week with a combination of excitement and anxiety, my family does our yearly Christmas caroling, we all try to get in our Christmas shopping while we can (and 2 days before the holiday doesn’t even qualify as last-minute by our standards), and the outdoors continually increases its resemblance to the second half of Snow Barrel Blast from Donkey Kong Country (but with fewer bottomless pits), one question among many must be asked: What about the music? Christmas is unique among holidays in having a lot of music written for it (one could argue that Valentine’s Day beats it by virtue of the sheer number of songs written about love, but I don’t think that counts), and with such a quantity, one should expect a lot of variety. Indeed, there is quite a spectrum when it comes to Christmas music in terms of style, subject matter, and quality, and not everyone has quite the same opinion about it. Some people love all Christmas music, one of my roommates hates all of it, and anyone working retail during the winter holiday season may eventually be implicated in a plot to brainwash the collective minds of humanity into forgetting that it ever existed. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer my opinion on what the best and worst Christmas songs are. I know, that will make two list articles in a row…sorry. And this one is a special “double feature” list, where it’s actually two lists in one. I should also mention that there is not much modern stuff on here; while people like Bianca Ryan might do a decent job, I’m definitely a lot more familiar with the “classic” Christmas songs. And, of course, it goes without saying that anything I’m not familiar with can’t be placed on either list.
Without further ado, I present to you my 10 least favorite Christmas songs, ranging from the “eh” to the truly awful or outright insulting.
10) Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
Why I don’t like it: Okay, I was conflicted on this one. For a while, I seriously considered putting it on both lists, sense be darned. The thing about this song is that it’s not really the kind of thing you can sing together or play in the background, it’s not particularly noteworthy from a musical standpoint, and while the black comedy can be funny at first, the novelty wears off quickly. Besides, there are funnier “anti-Christmas songs” out there anyway.
Though it might be good for… Putting over a dramatic scene (original or otherwise) for bathos, or possibly as one song amidst a larger selection of comedic Christmas songs.
9) Jingle Bells
Why I don’t like it: This song isn’t terrible on its own, but it tends to have a habit of wearing out its welcome and being one of the most common examples of an overused Christmas song. It doesn’t help that it seems to give off more of a feeling of juvenileness than many Christmas songs, particularly if you leave out one or more verses.
Though it might be good for… Spicing up a bit. I don’t recall ever hearing any arrangements of this song, so perhaps the time is ripe for one. Or I guess you could always go the childish parody route, as with the old “Batman smells” version.
8) We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Why I don’t like it: It’s too repetitive and repetitive, and it’s also repetitive. This song could be improved substantially, I’d think, if most of the verses didn’t have the same line reiterated three times. Also, what’s the deal with verses 3 and 4 basically being “GIVE US FUD NAO”? That seems…not very much in the Christmas spirit. (And to quote Daffy Duck in the Looney Tunes Christmas album: “Just what the heck is a figgy pudding anyway?”)
Though it might be good for… I feel like this song works best either on Christmas or within a day or two of it, possibly even afterward since it does mention New Year’s Day as well. It isn’t great for playing on December 1. And as with Jingle Bells, I wouldn’t say no to some interesting new arrangements of it.
7) Silver and Gold
Why I don’t like it: This song is musically just fine, but the lyrics are frankly dumb. People like silver and gold? Well, no duh, Sherlock; where have you been for literally the entirety of human history since we started mining metals? Demanding the figgy pudding was bad enough, but this song just skips right past “it’s all about sweets” and “it’s all about toys” and goes right to “it’s all about freakin’ precious metals“. It didn’t make a good state motto, and it doesn’t make a good Christmas song.
Though it might be good for… I don’t know…some sort of Christmas-y alchemy lab? I could picture some mad scientist wizard type singing this as they’re trying to brew up some valuable concoction for their loved ones over the holidays.
6) The Sleigh
Why I don’t like it: Let’s get one thing out of the way: This is not the song that says it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together. That song (called “Sleigh Ride”) is decent enough. I’m talking about the much lesser-known one that goes “Lightly flying over the snow with a hey ha ha ha…”. This one…well, I’ll give it points for doing something different, at least, but it is heavily biased toward the melody. Singing “Zm…zm…zm…zm…” or “…ha…ha…ha…ha” over and over, punctuated with the occasional “Hey hey hey hey, ah ha ha” really isn’t that fun. I’d rather sing actual words, thank you. If you want a song with a similar feel that’s much more interesting, try Carol of the Bells.
Though it might be good for… Choir members with more patience than me, or ones who prefer simple parts. At least my sister likes it, though.
5) I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Why I don’t like it: This is one of those songs that I’ve been fortunate enough not to hear all that frequently, but the arrangements of it almost always seem to be sung by someone with an annoying voice, and even when it’s someone with a good voice, that’s not enough to save it because the lyrics are kind of annoying as well.
Though it might be good for… Maybe as a brief snippet in a show sung by an annoying kid who is acknowledged by the other characters in the show as being annoying (hopefully one who undergoes character development and matures). That seems fitting.
4) The Twelve Days of Christmas
Why I don’t like it: Hoo boy. If this song only made it to #4, you know we’ll be in for some real stinkers afterward. The lyrics are dumb and repetitive, and the music doesn’t lend it much aid. Who exactly was this alleged song even written for? Some bratty noble child from the 1500s? The repetitious format is akin to a lot of early children’s songs, yet the lyrics clearly aren’t intended to be interesting to children…and aside from the gold rings, what the heck kind of Christmas presents are these anyway? (“Mommy, can I have ten lords a-leaping for Christmas?” “No, we got you that last year, and they ran away because you forgot to feed them.”) Perhaps this was written during a simpler time, when all songs used such repetition in order to facilitate memorization through oral tradition?
Though it might be good for… About the only thing this song is any good for is parodies, and even those can become stale after a while, particularly if they follow the same format as the original song. In addition to varying up the music, perhaps the next aspiring parodist could shorten the song by combining multiple items into a single verse or something, a la the Sharon, Lois, and Bram version of “Ten in a Bed”. On an unrelated note, I should mention that the eponymous 12 days of Christmas are not the 12 days before or leading up to Christmas, as many may assume, but rather the 12 days beginning on Christmas and going through January 5. Hopefully, you’ve had an epiphany after this.
3) All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth
Why I don’t like it: Basically, take the childishness annoyance of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and make it even more childish and annoying, throw in the repetitiousness of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for good measure, and you get this aberration. Need I say more?
Though it might be good for… I’m not sure on this one. Use it for comedy by having a big tough guy sing it after mentioning getting his teeth knocked out in a bar fight or something, maybe. I don’t know.
2) Santa Baby
Why I don’t like it: This may be the most anti-Christmas song ever, and presumably unintentionally so. Following on from earlier entries that demonstrate how songs about telling people to give you stuff are not good, this song takes the concept to its logical conclusion by having the entire bleeping thing be about all the expensive gifts the singer thinks she deserves. (If Santa Claus really existed and read this person’s Christmas list, he’d go “Oh ho ho ho ho…NO” and have all eight reindeer crap on her carpet in lieu of any presents.) Of course, this song adds insult to injury for anyone who happens to be working during the Christmas season (at a job that is most likely not making them rich); if they’re already not feeling particularly jolly, hearing somebody sing about how they really need a platinum mine won’t help in the slightest. If there’s a holiday song out there that is a more pure, unmitigated antithesis of everything that Christmas should be about, I’d like to see it!
Though it might be good for… Either using ironically as an anti-consumerist message, or representing a character who is wealthy enough to have anything they want, but no matter how many luxuries they buy, they can never fill the emptiness they feel inside by not having any friends or companions.
1) Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Why I don’t like it: Ah, yes, Baby, It’s Cold Outside…also known as the date rape song. I never liked this song even back when all my innocence was still intact; something about it just didn’t seem quite right to me. I mean, smooth jazz already tends to set off my “uncomfortably awkward moment” sensors, but then you listen to the lyrics and realize that they are actually pretty darn creepy. Funny enough, when this song was written in the 1930s or so, it was apparently supposed to be the opposite of that, where women couldn’t decide to stay at such an event and have fun without a man’s permission (because people of the past are still misogynistic turdnuggets, in case you had any doubt), so the singer makes it seem like the guy is making her stay when it was her idea all along. Naturally, that’s definitely not the message we get from it in the 2010s, and lines like “Say, what’s in this drink” only add to the creepiness. I’m not a fan of this style of music in the first place, but the lyrics make it cringey enough for it to be my least favorite Christmas song.
Though it might be good for… Again, about the only good way to use this song is ironically. It could potentially be used as a sort of leitmotif for a villainous character in a romantic drama if you wanted to invoke the creepiness factor.
Now that we’ve covered the songs that might be likely to make you lose your Christmas spirit, if temporarily, let’s talk about some that might help you regain it.
10) Do You Hear What I Hear?
Why I like it: One thing about this list is that it’s significantly more weighted toward the religious Christmas songs than the secular ones. In general, while my family plays a variety of both, we definitely tend to sing more about Jesus and angels than Santa Claus and elves. They do tend to sound prettier and be better suited for multiple singers, and this one is no exception.
Though the problem is… I never get to sing it! I don’t think anyone in my family has ever actually sung this one, only listened to it. I’m not even sure if we have the music.
9) Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
Why I like it: On the secular side of things, I’d always thought this song was pretty decent. It’s reasonably catchy, and the lyrics don’t get old too fast.
Though the problem is… There’s no 4-part harmony for it, so it’s not great for singing a capella; it’s better with a guitar or something.
8) It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas
Why I like it: Among the Christmas songs of the “cheery little ditty” type, this one is probably one of the better ones. The lyrics aren’t repetitive, nor too focused on a particular topic, and the tune isn’t bad.
Though the problem is… This song always makes me think of the Brawl in the Family parody “It’s Beginning to Look Just Like an Ice World”. Every. Stinking. Time. And it doesn’t help that I know all the lyrics to that but hardly any of the real version.
7) Winter Wonderland
Why I like it: This might be my favorite non-comedic secular Christmas song. It’s upbeat, innocent, relatively timeless, and just…fun, I guess.
Though the problem is… In addition to being a bit on the short side, it’s not actually all that Christmas-y. Nothing in the song makes any specific references to Christmas, or any other winter holiday for that matter. For that reason, since there are plenty of actual Christmas songs, this one might be best to save for later in the winter when it’s still cold and miserable, Christmas is long past, and you have nothing to sing. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, sing it 6 months or so away from Christmas.
6) Silent Night
Why I like it: It has a nice air of solemnity to it while not being too boring. And if you get sick of the English lyrics, you can always sing it in German instead.
Though the problem is… This is probably the most overdone song on this list; for me, at least, I’ve sung it while caroling, as part of the high school choir, and even at church, and every year to boot. There are songs designed to be sung simultaneously with it (“Peace, Peace” and “Night of Silence”), which is one way to vary things up a bit.
5) The Night Santa Went Crazy
Why I like it: This is, so far, my favorite black comedy Christmas song. The lyrics are well-written by the standards of the genre, and the backing music is actually good.
Though the problem is… I’m not sure if this actually counts as a Christmas song beyond technicality. Also, it has the same issues that “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” does.
4) What Child Is This?
Why I like it: I suppose for the same reasons I like Silent Night, and there’s more musical variety to be had here.
Though the problem is… Hm. I guess I’m not sure on this one. It is pretty formulaic, but that’s true of quite a few of these.
3) We Three Kings
Why I like it: Perhaps it’s fitting that the song with “three” in the name would be at #3. In any case, here is another dramatic religious song that seems to slip under the radar enough to retain a bit of novelty, and the bass part isn’t too simple but also isn’t too weird, which is a plus.
Though the problem is… What’s up with that fourth verse? Why are we singing about gloom, bleeding, and dying in a Christmas song? (Well, okay, I guess What Child Is This did mention getting pierced with nails and a spear…) The other two kings were fine with giving praise…was Balthasar going through his emo phase or something?
2) The Coventry Carol
Why I like it: This song has some very nice harmonies and parts, as well as a pattern of switching between major and minor chords that lends interesting contrast to it while still flowing well and maintaining the feel of the song.
Though the problem is… It seems to be rather obscure as Christmas songs go. Most people outside my family to whom I’ve mentioned it have never even heard of it, and I don’t recall ever hearing it on the radio or anything either.
1) O Holy Night
Why I like it: Ah, this song…what can I say? It has a beautiful melody and lyrics that work together to tell a story, with the feelings varying as the song progresses from lighter to darker and back again. As a result, it also does a very good job of not being repetitious.
Though the problem is… It’s not in the books we use for caroling, so every year, while I enjoy the experience, I must resign myself to my favorite song remaining absent from our repertoire.
With that, these are my top 10 favorite and least favorite Christmas songs, or at least close enough to them. My favorites and least favorites vary a bit depending on the phases of the moon, the position of Saturn, and whether the number of times I’ve gotten up for a drink of water today is a prime number or not. Are there any songs that you think should have been on one of these lists that weren’t, or ones that you don’t think deserved their position? In any case, a Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it, a Happy Holidays to anyone who doesn’t, and may this holiday season be delightfully musical.