Christmas is often thought of as a holiday full of joy. It’s meant to be shared with family and friends, exchanging presents and spending time together during the coldest and darkest time of the year. But not every Christmas song is a happy one, including some old classics that get played every year during the holiday season. In this article, we’ll tackle the 27 saddest Christmas songs of all time.
1. Faith in Santa – Hermann Lammers Meyer
A child’s belief in Santa Claus is one of the most innocent and pure things in the world. But as we know as adults, not all kids get the same treatment from the jolly old man as others. Hermann Lammers Meyer recorded the absolute saddest Christmas song of all time in the single Faith In Santa.
The child protagonist of the track is homeless and wandering the streets. If that wasn’t sad enough for you, the child actually dies in the arms of a Santa Claus impersonator on the street during the song. The kid ran away from an abusive family, and his one wish to him was to ask if he could go live with Jesus in Heaven where people are much nicer. If this track doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you have to be a monster.
2. The Christmas Shoes – NewSong
The Christmas Shoes by Bob Carlisle is a heart-wrenching reminder of what the holiday season is truly about. The narrator is waiting in line in a store, and a little boy in front of him is hurrying along the line, trying to purchase shoes for his mother. The boy’s mother has been sick for a long time and doesn’t seem to have long to live.
The dirty little guy scrapers coins together to try to buy the shoes to make his mom smile but doesn’t have enough money. The narrator then pays for the shoes, reflecting to himself that the kid had to be sent from above to remind him of the real meaning of Christmas. Here’s NewSong’s version to check out.
3. Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley
We’ll take a break from poverty-stricken children for now to think of a more famous example of a sad Christmas song. Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas is one of the most famous Christmas tracks of all time, but it isn’t a cheerful one. Instead, the song focuses on being alone during the holiday and wanting the person you love to be there with you. It was actually first recorded in 1948 by Doye O’Dell, though Presley’s version of the track became a holiday classic.
4. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Bing Crosby
I’ll Be Home For Christmas is a cheerful tune that baits in listeners and then pulls the old switcheroo. Bing Crosby sings about being home for the holidays and getting to be around the people he loves, reminiscing on how things used to be and how happy a scene it will be once he gets home. But he switches up at the end of the track, delivering the line “If only in my dreams” pulls the rug out from under listeners, revealing that he won’t actually get to experience any of those things and it was only wishful thinking.
5. Christmas Eve Can Kill You – The Everly Brothers
Christmas is a cold time of year for the Northern Hemisphere, and the farther north you go, the colder it gets. Back in the days of hitchhiking, being stuck on the road on Christmas could be deadly. The Everly Brothers capture the threat of the cold and the lack of holiday spirit in people’s hearts in their song Christmas Eve Can Kill You.
It follows a man trying to hitch a ride home on Christmas Eve but having no luck. He eventually resigns himself to his fate, even admitting that he probably wouldn’t stop for a hitchhiker if he was driving along either.
6. Last Christmas – Wham!
For people who lose someone during the holiday season, each year can bring back memories of their loss and the person who will no longer be around. This can be a family member or a significant other who meant a lot to them. So, what’s sadder than reflecting on how great a relationship was last Christmas on the next year when it’s over? While Wham!’s Last Christmas is an upbeat song for many, it’s actually a terribly sad track about remembering a lost love.
7. I Want To Come Home For Christmas – Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye was no stranger to commentary on the Vietnam War, but his more famous protest songs were frankly not as sad as this holiday entry. I Want To Come Home For Christmas is told from the perspective of American prisoners of war, languishing in cells in foreign nations and wishing they could come home. It was meant as a tribute to the veterans who were suffering overseas, but it turned out to be one of the biggest downer Christmas songs in history.
8. The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot – Nat King Cole
We sort of discussed that not all children get the same amount of stuff from Santa Claus already, but for kids who believed he would bring some magic into their lives who don’t end up getting the things they want, it can be a tragic loss of innocence and belief. Nat King Cole takes on poverty and that story in his song The Little Boy That Santa Forgot, singing about a downtrodden youth who didn’t get anything from Santa Claus at Christmas and is envious of the other kids who did.
9. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) has been sung by many artists, but it was most famously recorded by both Darlene Love and Mariah Carey on separate occasions. It has an overall happy vibe to it and a cheerful chorus, but the rest of the lyrics are rather cynical. It mostly focuses on how much it sucks to be away from the person you love during the holidays, wishing they were with you while they’re away on their own.
10. Every Holiday – Mt. Joy
Every Holiday is a picture-perfect hellscape of the Christmas season. From fading love that’s only staying together thanks to the pressure of the holiday to careless conversations with family members about things you all pretend to care about. It says a lot that the word “depression” is in the first line of the song because it’s an apt description of what comes next.
11. For Those Who Can’t Be Here – Tom Walker
Christmas is a time for family and reminiscing on the good memories you have with the people closest to you. But as time goes on, the family gathering starts to look different as the older generations pass and younger ones sprout up. Tom Walker eloquently captures the sadness and nostalgia of those events in his song For Those Who Can’t Be Here. It’ll remind any listener of one of their lost loved ones.
12. Christmas Carol – Skip Ewing
Christmas Carol is another song that will destroy your heart and make you feel grateful for your lot in life. It focuses on lonely orphans wandering the cold streets during Christmas time, just wanting someone to take them home and make them a part of their family. The child speaking doesn’t know who their father is and was abandoned by their mother, leaving them wanting during the holidays despite being born on Christmas day.
13. Xmas Time (It Sure Doesn’t Feel Like It) – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones take everything the Christmas season is famous for and use it as examples of why the narrator doesn’t feel like it’s Christmas time. From not having anyone to be near to not being able to spend money on presents, the emptying streets and freezing cold weather are just reminders of how alone they are.
14. Cold December Nights – Boyz II Men
Try to imagine the loneliest and least Christmas-y Christmas you can. That’s essentially the picture painted by Boyz II Men in their song Cold December Nights. The tree has no decorations, there are no presents, and they’re singing Christmas carols alone in a room. All of this seems to be a metaphorical picture of the singer’s life without their lover, who is completely ignorant—intentionally—of their despair. They don’t even know why they’ve been abandoned, and that might just be the saddest part of the song.
15. Christmas Lights – Coldplay
Christmas is often a time when families and couples fight, whether it’s because of different priorities or just proximity we may never know. But Coldplay recorded one of the saddest Christmas songs of all time, Christmas Lights, which discusses a holiday breakup that has ruined the season for the singer. Alone and not in the holiday spirit, they wander the streets, looking for answers.
16. Someday at Christmas – Stevie Wonder
The world as a whole is a cold and bad place. Murder, theft, violence, and other crimes are everywhere. And not just in places you would expect, but it happens at home too. There’s more than enough injustice in the world to go around, And that injustice is highlighted by Stevie Wonder in his song Someday At Christmas. It’s actually a bit hopeful despite being so sad, but it’s the lines about the world eventually being a good place coming too late for the singer and listeners is the part that gets me.
17. Happy Xmas (War is Over) – John Lennon
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) was a protest song in vehement opposition to the Vietnam War by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and it served as a part of the pair’s peace activism efforts. It’s frequently cited as one of the most influential tracks of all time, but don’t let that take away from how sad a Christmas song it is. While it is cheerful overall, the many things brought up regarding war, race, and class disparity were signs of the social upheaval and unrest of the time.
18. Another Lonely Christmas – Prince
Prince’s single Another Lonely Christmas is a tremendously sad song about being lonely over the holidays and reminiscing on an old flame. He never got over the woman he loves in the track, even though she appears to have moved on long ago. It even has lines about how he can only trust the love of his mother now since she apparently left him in such a cold way.
19. What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas? – The Emotions
The holiday season is likely the reason for so many songs about loneliness appearing on this list. The warm embrace of Christmas makes it plain just how alone a person can be. The Emotions captured the feeling of being alone and not knowing what to do during this time of year in their track What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?
20. Christmas Ain’t Christmas, New Years Ain’t New Years Without The One You Love – The O’Jays
Losing someone, whether it be a family member or a romantic partner, can really put a damper on the holidays. This is especially true if they’ve been around for a few winters, blending your feelings of Christmas with your emotions for them in an inseparable way. Sometimes, Christmas just doesn’t have the right feeling without the person you love being around, which is the main subject of this song from The O’Jays.
21. Even Santa Claus Gets The Blues – Marty Stuart
Despite being described as “Jolly Old Saint Nick,” even Santa Claus isn’t immune to seasonal depression and the blues. Marty Stuart’s song Even Santa Claus Gets The Blues tells listeners all the reasons he might be a little bit down this holiday season. It’s a bit funny, including parts about losing a reindeer in a hurricane and slaving away in toy shops.
22. When Christmas Comes to Town – Matthew Hall and Meagan Moore
When Christmas Comes To Town was one of the best songs in the film The Polar Express. It talks about all the magical moments of Christmas like listening for Santa Claus’ sleigh bells chiming in the sky above. But it turns back on those cheery thoughts at the end of the track, stating that the singer never heard those sounds and that the children’s dreams aren’t going to come true.
23. If We Make It Through December – Phoebe Bridgers
If We Make It Through December is a sad song that clings to a lot of hope. It’s a tough time of year in general, but the singer has been laid off from the factory and is worried their children won’t understand the lack of presents this Christmas. It looks beyond the holiday season for its glimmer of hope, thinking that everything will be okay if they can just make it through December.
24. Lonely This Christmas – Mud
One final song about being lonely during Christmas should do it. Mud’s track uses every metaphor under the sun to describe how alone they feel during the holidays after being left by their lover.
25. Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid
Do They Know It’s Christmas is an ironic and sad Christmas single. It was recorded as a fundraising song to raise awareness about the hunger crisis in Africa, which is sad enough on its own. However, bringing up the fact that kids might not even know it’s Christmas because of where they live—and the fact that it was a big “white savior complex” track—rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. So, while it was done for a good cause, everything about the song is sad, from its message to the ignorance it displayed.
26. Christmas Makes Me Cry – Kacey Musgraves
Getting older and returning home for Christmas will make you come to terms with your parent’s mortality. When you’re a child, you don’t think about it, but as Christmases come and go, they slowly get older and more worn out. The sadness that comes along with those trips home is the subject of Kacey Musgraves’ song Christmas Makes Me Cry, as watching her family age is a tough thing for her to grapple with.
27. Christmas Time Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio
Yep, the song from the Charlie Brown Christmas special we all grew up with is really sad. Most of the lyrics depict a fun, happy winter wonderland that anyone would be happy to enjoy. It even goes as far as to talk about the cheeriness and generosity of people at this specific time of year. But it ruins all of those sentiments at the end of the song when it reminds us that the holiday spirit doesn’t last throughout the year and every part of the year other than Christmas is a bit of a downer.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.