What are Some of the Most Popular Christmas Songs?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The most popular Christmas songs change from year to year, but the list provided annually from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is a good representation of what people are playing during the holiday season. Popular works also include those not on the ASCAP list, such as carols, traditional music and “behind-the-scenes” pieces. Location and culture influence what people consider to be popular for Christmas.

Carolers often sing "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," among other Christmas songs that don't require accompaniment.
Carolers often sing "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," among other Christmas songs that don't require accompaniment.

Most Popular Music by Recording Frequency

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers releases an annual list of popular Christmas songs that have been recorded and played most frequently in the 21st century. Many of these works capture the spirit of the holidays but do not have much to do with the origins of Christmas. For the 2012 season, the 10 compositions that made the ASCAP list were:

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is a popular Christmas song.
"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is a popular Christmas song.
  • Sleigh Ride (Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish)
  • Winter Wonderland (Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith)
  • Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Show! (Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne)
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin)
  • Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie)
  • Do You Hear What I Hear (Gloria Shayne Baker, Noël Regney)
  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) (Mel Tormé, Robert Wells)
  • Jingle Bell Rock (Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe)
  • Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (Johnny Marks)
  • It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Meredith Wilson)
"Let It Snow!" is a popular Christmas song.
"Let It Snow!" is a popular Christmas song.

All of the pieces on the ASCAP list have been recorded by multiple artists. Some versions are vocal, while others are instrumental. Some recordings have become more popular than others over time, turning into Christmas music staples. Although many people have sung Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, for instance, the version by Bruce Springsteen is the most popular.

Location has a large affect on what music people accept as the most popular Christmas songs.
Location has a large affect on what music people accept as the most popular Christmas songs.

Carols and Traditional Music

The ASCAP list notes only those compositions written or co-written by ASCAP members. It therefore isn’t a comprehensive view of the most popular Christmas tunes. To get a better idea of everything people listen to, it’s necessary to look at carols and traditional music, as well.

Music that falls into the carols and traditional category often has been recorded, similar to the music listed by ASCAP. A major difference is that this music is often performed live. It is heard frequently in churches, for example. Almost everyone knows the melody and words to these compositions, so people like to sing them on the street, while visiting friends or family and while participating in holiday activities such as tree decorating. Many organizations use them as part of Christmas pageants or shows, although some groups are very careful to be politically correct with the texts of the pieces they pick.

Examples of popular tunes in this category include Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Deck the Halls, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Silent Night and O Holy Night. These can be sung by one person, but because they are so well known, groups often sing them. They have been arranged in many ways, but they usually are sung in unison or in full four-part harmony. They may or may not use accompaniment, with unaccompanied versions being better suited to “mobile” singing like caroling.

Behind-the-Scenes Songs

Some popular Christmas tunes have become favorites because they were paired with another medium, such as those that have appeared as soundtracks. These “behind-the-scenes” Christmas songs generally have not been remade by other artists, with the original recordings remaining the most popular. The instrumental music for A Charlie Brown Christmas featuring the considerably talented Vince Guaraldi Trio is an example. The original disc for the animated feature was remastered and sold at Starbucks® stores in 2006.

Influence of Location

Location has a large affect on what music people accept as most the popular Christmas songs. In the United States, for instance, Mele Kalikimaka is well known in Hawaii and is often sung when people want to happily exchange the traditional white or snowy Christmas with a tropical, warm one. Feliz Navidad has been at the top of the charts since its release in 1970 and is played often in Puerto Rico and other Spanish-speaking countries.

Influence of Culture

Culture also determines the songs that people put on their Christmas lists. Perhaps the most notable example is Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You) performed by Isaac Hayes. This song is part of an episode of the American animated comedy, Southpark. In 1999, the composition was the most popular single played at Christmas in both Ireland and the United Kingdom, showing the influence of American pop culture.

"I'll Be Home For Christmas", is a popular Christmas song.
"I'll Be Home For Christmas", is a popular Christmas song.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I like a lot of Christmas songs, like "O Holy Night" and" The Holly and the Ivy", but I get so sick of hearing them over and over again during the holidays. One of my hobbies is collecting old Christmas albums, like the ones the local department stores used to give away when people bought home stereos. I like listening to different versions of those songs, especially with all the crackle and pop of an old vinyl record.


ASCAP only counted the songs for which royalties are paid. Traditional Christmas carols like Silent Night (1818) are out of copyright.


Sneakers41- I like hearing those songs. But I also like updated popular new Christmas songs like, "Jingle Bell Rock" by Daryl Hall and John Oates. It is a nice contemporay Christmas song that has a catchy beat.

I really enjoy listening to it. But one of my top Christmas songs is "All I want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey. It is fun and festive song and gets you in the Christmas spirit.


Latte31- That is too funny. I wanted to add that Spanish Christmas songs originated in the middle ages and are called Villancicos.

Many English Christmas songs were translated to Spanish with new names like, “Cascabel” which is Jingle Bells and “Noche Sagrada” or O’ Holy Night.

Probably the most common Spanish Christmas song is “El Burrito Sabanero” which is a traditional Cuban Christmas song that is played on the radio during the Christmas holidays.

But probably the most well known Spanish radio Christmas song is a bilingual song called, “Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano. Even if you don’t speak Spanish this bilingual song is easy to understand which is why it is always on the Christmas song list of every party. Everyone has that song listed as a popular Spanish Christmas song.


Mutsy-I love “A Christmas Song”. What I also like are the funny Christmas songs like, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”.

This song is so funny; you just have to laugh when you hear it. Also, “Santa Baby” is also a funny Christmas song that is also a popular piano song sung by Eartha Kitt and then Madonna.

My favorite part is when Madonna sings, Santa baby, I'm filling my stocking with a duplex, and checks. Sign your 'X' on the line. Santa Baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight".

The Chipmunks version of, “All I want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth” is also funny. My favorite part is when they sing, “It seems so long since I could say, “Sister Susie sitting on thistle.” The tongue twister gets me every time.


Desertdunes-You know I am not familiar with the Stevie Nicks version of “Silent Night”. I think that the best Christmas songs are the classic ones like, “A Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole.

There are a lot of great Xmas songs out there but this one is so beautiful that for me nothing else comes close to it. It is really a sentimental song that when I hear it I have to stop everything and listen.

Another Christmas song that I remember singing in a choir was “Carol of the Bells”. This song is a round and with the same repetitive part for the alto as the soprano it really sounds incredible when the song is performed.

You can hear part of the melody of this song in the current Garmin commercials.


My favorite is Silent Night. Stevie Nicks did a beautiful version of it a number of years ago. Of course you can't help "bopping" to Bruce Springsteen's Santa Claus is Coming To Town!

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