The Christmas season is a time for making memories and observing traditions—one of the most beloved is singing and listening to Christmas carols. Before the last of Thanksgiving’s turkey leftovers are packed away, we’re already hearing questionable cover-of-a-cover renditions of Christmas pop songs playing in every department store. But we’ve got a special place in our hearts for the truly classic songs that have stood the test of time.
Read on for our list of the 32 best Christmas carols to revisit this, and every, year!
1. White Christmas – Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” is sure to satisfy that Christmas nostalgia itch. The hit song was originally recorded for the 1942 film, Holiday Inn, and was written by Irving Berlin. It has become such a classic that it earned the title of the best-selling single of all time and continues to be one of the most played and most covered, holiday favorites.
2. The Little Drummer Boy – Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra’s silky voice and laid-back style made for a unique take on this classic Christmas carol. He recorded the song for his 1964 album, 12 Songs Of Christmas. Frequent collaborator, Katherine Bates, co-wrote the songs for the album and is a large part of creating that signature Sinatra sound.
3. Silver and Gold – Vanessa Williams
Vanessa Williams brings R&B and jazz flair to this version of the classic Christmas song, originally written and performed by Burl Ives in 1964 for the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special.
4. The First Noel – Andy Williams
“The First Noel” was first performed in 1833 and recorded on some of the first records ever printed. It is a traditional English Christmas carol with Cornish origins. This orchestra-backed Andy Williams version appeared on his 1964 record, The Andy Williams Christmas Album. Interestingly, this version that we know and love today features lyrics that have changed substantially from its original form.
5. Silent Night – The Temptations
The smooth vocals, strong bass, and uplifting harmonies of The Temptations are a perfect fit for this touching, gospel-tinged classic. The song “Silent Night” has been recorded in over 300 different languages, but this 1980 Motown hit version remains one of our favorites!
6. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Gene Autry
Before there were Rudolph Christmas shows, there was the popular song, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which was written in 1939. But it was cowboy singer Gene Autry’s 1957 recording that became a chart-topping hit, cementing its status as a Christmas sing-along classic.
7. Hark! the Herald Angels Sing – Nat King Cole
Of the more than 150 versions of this four-hundred-year-old song that are currently available for sale on digital music platforms, we’d put Nat King Cole’s 1960 version at the top of the list!
8. Jingle Bells – Ella Fitzgerald
According to the Smithsonian, this song enjoys the unique honor of being the first song to be played in outer space. Check out Ella Fitzgerald’s version with jazz-infused vocals that brought new life to this holiday staple.
9. O Come, All Ye Faithful – Pentatonix
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” was first conceived as a grand church hymn, typically sung by large choirs. But this scaled-down version sung by an acclaimed a cappella group, Pentatonix, proves that the song can be just as beautiful and uplifting with four voices as four hundred.
10. The Christmas Song – Doris Day
Doris Day’s nostalgic take on the Mel Tormé-penned Christmas song appeared on her 1964 album, The Doris Day Christmas Album. Tormé famously liked to share the story of writing the song during a blistering summer heat wave and joking about how he felt like he might know what it felt like to be a chestnut roasting in an open fire.
11. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – Bruce Springsteen
It may not be classic, but nobody can rock out a Christmas song quite like The Boss. Bruce Springsteen first recorded the traditional song as part of a live performance in 1975. It was later included as a bonus track on his album, Born In The U.S.A.
12. Frosty the Snowman – Jimmy Durante
Although the story of Frosty the Snowman has been around for some time, it’s the 1969 TV Christmas special of the same name that gave us the now-famous song of the same name as well. Although it has been recorded by numerous artists, the TV special’s Jimmy Durante version has remained one of the most beloved versions.
13. Deck the Halls – Nat King Cole
The traditional Christmas carol “Deck The Halls” dates back to the 16th century when it was sung as a tribute to the coming winter season. Nat King Cole’s version appeared on his number one hit album, The Magic Of Christmas, four hundred years later!
14. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland
No one’s voice can pull at the heartstrings quite like Judy Garland’s. She is truly an American original whose popularity has never waned. She first sang this song for the 1944 hit musical, Meet Me In St. Louis. The original songwriters later said that their favorite versions of the song were Garland’s and Frank Sinatra’s cover.
15. The Twelve Days of Christmas – Perry Como
What was once an 18th-century children’s “memory and forfeits” game has since become one of America’s best Christmas carols, “The Twelve Days Of Christmas.” While the song has been recorded by dozens of artists, it’s Perry Como’s traditionalist rendition that most people associate with the song.
16. Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll shows his softer side in this rockabilly-tinged Christmas love song. Elvis Presley was a fan of the original country version and was famously excited when his rendition of it shot to number 1 on the Christmas song charts and number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
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17. I Saw Three Ships – Lindsey Stirling
“I Saw Three Ships” is a classical folk song that has gone through many incarnations since its inception in the 1700s. The modern lyrics that we are familiar with were added in the mid-1800s and, since that time, it has been recorded as both an instrumental and vocal Christmas song. Lindsey Stirling’s instrumental version features a stunning violin-led arrangement.
18. Winter Wonderland – Tony Bennett
We love crooners, and Tony Bennett is one of the best! This recording of “Winter Wonderland” appeared on the 1968 release, Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album. Because the song is all about snow, it is most popular in countries in the Northern Hemisphere.
19. Feliz Navidad – José Feliciano
José Feliciano’s 1970 recording of “Feliz Navidad” is one of the 25 most played Christmas songs worldwide and with good reason. There is nothing quite like this sweeping, horn-backed musical arrangement and joyful singing style.
20. Silver Bells – Stevie Wonder
Leave it to Stevie Wonder to bring his original Motown flavor to a classic Christmas carol and make it all his own. “Silver Bells” appears on his 1970 holiday album of the same name.
21. Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! – Dean Martin
Most people have never heard the original version of “Let It Snow!” which was sung by Vaughn Monroe in 1945. Dean Martin’s 1966 version has become the rendition that survived the test of time, becoming a Christmas favorite despite having no mention of the holiday in its lyrics.
22. Mele Kalikimaka – Bing Crosby
“Mele Kalikimaka” is a sounded-out “Hawaiian-ized” version of the words “Merry Christmas.” The song was composed in 1949 by Robert Alex Anderson and made famous by Bing Crosby. Interestingly, Anderson was a graduate of a Hawaiian college and composed several other Polynesian-influenced songs, though none would enjoy “Mele Kalikimaka’s” popularity.
23. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Johnny Mathis
While it was originally recorded by Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis’s 1986 version performed well on the charts and has become a favorite version of this classic, sweeping Christmas melody.
24. I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Michael Bublé
We dare you to keep a dry eye when you hear Mr. Michael Bublé’s rendition of this Bing Crosby classic. Originally written as a tribute to soldiers who were away fighting in World War II, it’s a nostalgic reminder of family traditions of yore. It’s to Bublé’s credit that his song stands up as a classic right alongside versions by hit crooners of the 1950s and 1960s.
25. A Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives
Several generations of kids are sure to recognize the voice of Burl Ives, who may be best known as the Snowman from the late 1960s’ Frosty and Rudolph TV specials. He is also known for his multiple Christmas albums and for his version of the song “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” which appeared on the album of the same name.
26. Here Comes Santa Claus – Willie Nelson
It seems fitting that a song originally written and performed by King of the Cowboys Gene Autry would later become one of Willie Nelson’s most beloved Christmas songs. His joyful 1979 cover of “Here Comes Santa Claus” stands out for its uniquely-Nelson organ-backed musical arrangement.
27. Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt
There is nothing like an Eartha Kitt song! Her smooth yet playful voice makes this version of “Santa Baby” our very favorite. Her original recording of this was the highest-selling Christmas song of 1953. This is no small feat, considering the popularity of Christmas songs at the time.
28. Sleigh Ride – Johnny Mathis
“Sleigh Ride” is one of our favorite joyful carols. The song was originally written as an instrumental and was first recorded by The Andrews Sisters in 1950. Johnny Mathis performed this song on the Ed Sullivan show in 1967, and it appeared on two of his six Christmas albums.
29. Christmastime is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio
This slightly melancholy Christmas tune has become a nostalgic favorite, largely due to its appearance in the Charlie Brown Christmas special in 1965. Vince Guaraldi Trio’s soundtrack for the special has remained one of the all-time best-selling jazz albums.
30. Merry Christmas Baby – Otis Redding
This is what you get when you combine a Motown legend with a Christmas love song. Otis Redding recorded his version of the R&B Christmas standard as a 1967 single.
31. We Three Kings – The Irish Rovers
We love this unique, Irish version of the classic Christmas song “We Three Kings.” Written in 1857, the song has been recorded by dozens of artists, but rarely as uniquely as in The Irish Rover’s stripped-down harmony-heavy rendition.
32. Do You Hear What I Hear – Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston’s smooth R&B voice and sweeping vocal range are a perfect fit for this classic Christmas carol about the night of Jesus’s birth. She recorded the song for the 1987 benefit album, A Very Special Christmas, which raised money for the Special Olympics.
33. We Wish You A Merry Christmas – Many Artists
Last but not least is this iconic track that we’re sure you know the lyrics to. Probably the most poppy Christmas tune out there, this one can’t be left off the list!
Whatever your family traditions, there’s a Christmas carol for you! We hope that you’ve found a few new gems among this list, or a reminder to go back and listen to some of your favorite classics.
If we missed some of your favorite Christmas Carols, be sure to contact us today!
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.