The Top 18 Christmas Carols, Ranked | The New York Public Library (2022)


Nicholas Parker

December 23, 2016

"A Merry Christmas." 1900 - 1909

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With the holidays upon us, Christmas carols are everywhere, from Saks Fifth Avenue to Duane Reade. And while I’m as big a fan of the holidays as anyone, I must admit: not all Christmas carols are created equal. Some are just as likely to remind me why I love the holidays as they are to turn me into a total Scrooge. So I put together a list of the 18 most popular carols and ranked them, judging based on catchiness, Christmas cheer, and my willingness to hear them blared on repeat over the loudspeakers in the mall.

Note: Christmas songs in the pop or jazz music canon, such as “Let It Snow,” “Last Christmas,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “White Christmas,” etc., don’t count as Christmas carols! A carol has to be traditional or biblical in nature. If less traditional holiday music is more your style, check outCome On And Jingle Bell Rock to These Holiday Albums.

18. “The Little Drummer Boy”

Sorry drummer fans, but this popular carol ranks absolute last on my list. More cloying than cute, more maddening than catchy, "The Little Drummer Boy" is the uncanny valley of Christmas carols. I’ve thought this song was a little weird ever since that episode of The Office where Angela sings it at karaoke.

17. “Silent Night”

I know this one is popular, but for some reason I find "Silent Night" a bit… sedate. I guess that’s because it’s supposed to be a lullaby, but it just doesn’t fill me with excitement for the holidays. A good carol should raise your Christmas spirits, not put them to sleep.

16. “We Three Kings Of Orient Are"

This carol, which tells the story of the Three Magi who gave Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh at his birth, is a little too dark and mournful-sounding for my taste. The three kings who are singing honestly don’t sound too jazzed about the prospect of the Nativity. I know that Christmas is a serious occasion, but "We Three Kings" just isn’t inspiring enough to rank higher.

15. “O Come All Ye Faithful”

"O Come All Ye Faithful" is nice, and it strikes the right tone, but it’s just way more forgettable than the rest of the carols on this list. Maybe the lyrics aren’t as memorable, or the melody just isn’t as catchy, but there’s something about it that doesn’t stick with you. However, a great arrangement does pop up by surprise in everyone’s favorite Christmas movie, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York!

14. “12 Days of Christmas”

The “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” of Christmas carols. This one gets points for being catchy and upbeat, but there’s only so much of it one can take before getting out the holiday spirit entirely.

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13. “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

I go back and forth between thinking this song is genuinely exciting or just a little bit annoying, but it’s hard to argue with a straightforward call for peace on Earth. This contemporary carol also avoids the corniness of more recently written songs (see “Little Drummer Boy”) while escaping the stiff tone of older carols. It’s not a standout, but Carrie Underwood's version is enough to keep it out of the bottom tier.

12. “I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In)”

This lesser-known carol is actually pretty upbeat and tuneful, and once you hear it, it’s hard to get that springy little melody out of your head. The only reason this one isn’t ranked any higher is because I truly have no idea what these lyrics are talking about. Ships sailing in to Bethlehem, which is landlocked? I don’t know about the factual accuracy of this carol, but Sting definitely turns it into a jam in this version:

11. “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”

I like this traditional carol, which has the right mix of reverence, serenity, and warmth to celebrate the Nativity. It’s not the most exciting song, but darn it, it warms my heart every time I hear the choral arrangement from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

10. “O Holy Night”

This carol, which was written in France to celebrate the renovation of a local church organ, is stealthily super inspiring. Weirdly enough, it’s been used in Christmas episodes on both Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock, both sitcoms about sketch comedy shows that debuted in the fall of 2006.

9. “Go Tell It On The Mountain”

No, not the excellent James Baldwin novel of the same name – I’m talking about the African-American spiritual about the Nativity, which has been recorded by Mahalia Jackson and James Taylor. This carol is just begging to be belted at a Madison Square Garden holiday concert, and it’s absolutely irresistible.

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8. "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen"

Like “We Three Kings,” “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” is in a minor key, but in this case, the sadness somehow works: to me, it conjures images of icicles glistening in the winter sun, or dark streets covered in fresh snow. This carol can even get a little jazzy, almost like a tragic ballad sung in a smoky nightclub – if you don’t believe me, check out this video of Hozier singing a cover of it in the BBC1 Live Lounge.

7. “Joy to the World”

Of course, I had to include this traditional classic; with a rousing melody that echoes the music of Georg Friedrich Handel, it’s one of the most singable and popular carols of all time. On repeat listening, it does sound a bit square, but the pep and positivity of “Joy to the World” is downright infectious.

6. “O Christmas Tree” (“O Tannenbaum”)

This song is so transportative: it always makes me feel like I’m by a roaring fire, sipping eggnog, and surrounded by loved ones (conveniently, the typical family holiday stress is edited out). Those first few notes – “O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree” – are so uplifting, so simple, and so celebratory that this song can get me in the Christmas spirit even if I’ve been waiting on line at Macy’s for an hour and a half. Especially when it's given the Aretha Franklin treatment:

5. “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”

There’s no other way to put this: “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” is my jam. This gospel number is, like “12 Days of Christmas,” a cumulative song, which means each time you sing it, you add another verse. But unlike “12 Days of Christmas,” this is totally welcome, because “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” is awesome.

4. “Angels We Have Heard On High”

I have a soft spot for “Angels We Have Heard On High;” the icy melody is gorgeous, like a clear night sky full of brilliant stars. And don’t get me started on that descending melisma in “Gloria in exelsis deo,” which falls as gracefully as light snow. “Angels We Have Heard On High” isn’t just a great Christmas carol – it's an incredible song that evokes all the beauty of winter weather.

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3. “Jingle Bells”

Did you know that “Jingle Bells” was originally written as a song for Thanksgiving? Somewhere down the way, it became a Christmas carol, and we’re all the better for it: “Jingle Bells” is upbeat, fun, and instantly recognizable. It’s one of the most popular songs ever, and it was even the first song broadcast from space. And if it’s good enough for space, it’s good enough for me.

2. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

There’s something about “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” that perfectly captures the dizzy excitement and abundant goodwill of the holidays, and I think it has the most triumphant and energetic melody of any carol on this list. That’s a roundabout way of saying that this song just makes me happy, and if carolers showed up to my door crooning this, I would definitely bring them some figgy pudding.

1. “Deck the Halls”

There can only be one: “Deck the Halls,” a Christmas staple made iconic by that singular refrain: “Fa la la la la, la la la la.” What’s more Yuletide than that? Gracious and exuberant in its celebration of Christmas, “Deck the Halls” takes the top spot on this list because it describes the best part of the holidays: decorating, dressing up, singing, and getting a bunch of stuff you don’t need. This traditional Welsh tune is the very spirit of Christmas: lively, festive, and full of light.

Thanks for reading, everyone! If you haven't gotten enough Christmas music yet, remember that there's a great collection of Christmas and holiday music available to borrow at the Library. And now, my bonus gift to you: Mariah Carey singing “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” but each time she says “Christmas,” it gets faster:

Happy holidays to you and yours!

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What is the #1 Christmas carol of all time? ›

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What is the least popular Christmas song? ›

The Most Hated Christmas Songs of All Time
  • "Wonderful Christmastime," Paul McCartney. ...
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What is the most popular Christmas song 2022? ›

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What is the hardest Christmas song to sing? ›

My hands-down vote goes to O Little Town of Bethlehem, specifically the Redner tune. Because of the shape of the musical line (taking into consideration the slower tempo and some large jumps in melody), the carol should ideally be sung with only 4 breath marks / points in each verse.

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Scrooge brings a little of the Christmas spirit into every day, respecting the lessons of Christmas more than any man alive. The narrator concludes the story by saying that Scrooge's words and thoughts should be shared by of all of us ... "and so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every one!"

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Easiest Christmas Songs To Sing For Beginners
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  • Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree.
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
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What is the most upbeat Christmas song? ›

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What's the weirdest Christmas song? ›

  • Song: "Disco Christmas" Artist: Universal Robot Band.
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What is the oldest most popular Christmas song? ›

What was the first Christmas carol? It's generally accepted that one of the first Christmas carols ever to be recorded was the 129 AD 'Angels Hymn', according to The New Daily. Around this time, Christianity-themed hymns started taking over the previous pagan songs celebrating Winter Solstice.

What are the Top 5 selling Christmas songs of all time? ›

The list that rounds out the top 10 is as follows: Crosby's “Silent Night,” 1933, $30 million; Mariah Carey's “All I Want for Christmas is You,” 1994, $16 million; Gene Autrey singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ” brought in $12 million in 1949; the Band Aid song “Do They Know It's Christmas” (for famine relief ), ...

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There's not many chart records the Beatles haven't broken and, yes, they have the most Christmas Number 1s of everyone – four in total.

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Colours for the coming Christmas 2022 will include metallic silver and metallic gold, different shades of green, associated with grass and leaves as natural elements. Space will also be given to pink and soft blue, romantic and rather unusual colours for Christmas décor, but which will be on trend this year.

What is the most popular song in 2022 right now? ›

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What is the most technically difficult song to sing? ›

  • #1 I Believe In A Thing Called Love by The Darkness.
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  • #3 Run by Leona Lewis.
  • #4 Cry Me a River by Michael Bublé
  • #5 Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.
  • #6 My All by Mariah Carey.
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A Christmas Carol (1984)

Scott's performance is the most substantial reason to watch this version, but for the horror fan, it's also one of the darkest and spookiest versions of the story. That includes Frank Finley's (Lifeforce) take on Marley.

What is the famous phrase that ends the story A Christmas Carol? ›

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

What words have man at the end? ›

  • spokesman.
  • gentleman.
  • policeman.
  • fisherman.
  • craftsman.
  • statesman.
  • ombudsman.
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What is the last Ghost in A Christmas Carol called? ›

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come or the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come (or simply the Ghost of Christmas Future or the Spirit of Christmas Future) is a fictional character in English novelist Charles Dickens's 1843 novella A Christmas Carol.

Who is the most famous character in A Christmas Carol? ›

Ebenezer Scrooge (/ˌɛbɪˈniːzər ˈskruːdʒ/) is the protagonist of Charles Dickens' 1843 novella A Christmas Carol.

What is the most popular children's Christmas song? ›

1. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. This classic Christmas carol is loved by everyone, young and old.

Why is it called a carol? ›

History. The word carol is derived from the Old French word carole, a circle dance accompanied by singers (in turn derived from the Latin choraula).

What is the Coca Cola Christmas song? ›

The song was also featured in a Coca-Cola Christmas promotional campaign.
Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming)
"Wonderful Dream (Holidays are Coming)"
GenreR&B Christmas
9 more rows

What is the most famous Christmas musical? ›

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Based on Tim Burton's children's book of the same name, The Nightmare Before Christmas is by far one of the all-time favorite holiday musicals.

What is the easiest Christmas carol to play on the piano? ›


What makes it an easy piano piece is the fact that the chorus part is very repetitive, so you play the same note time and time again in a rhythm before even changing notes.

What was Santa's first Christmas song? ›

The first Christmas song to mention Santa Claus was Benjamin Hanby's “Up on The Housetop.” Written in 1864, Hanby was inspired by Clement Moore's 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” 3. Irving Berlin originally wrote “White Christmas” for a Broadway musical that was never produced.

What was the first Xmas number 1? ›

The history of the Christmas number one - now one of the great festive traditions - begins with Al Martino and his ballad Here In My Heart. This topped the charts in 1952 and was not only the first Christmas number one, but also the first ever UK number one.

What is the best-selling Christmas Number 1 single of all time? ›

1. White Christmas - Bing Crosby. Not only is White Christmas the best-selling festive tune ever, it's the biggest-selling single of all time with an estimated 50 million sales.

Who was No 1 last Christmas? ›

Last Christmas was previously the UK's best-selling single to not reach Number 1. Wham's Last Christmas finally claims Number 1 on the Official Singles Chart 36 years after its release and breaks a new Official Chart record in the process, the Official Charts Company can confirm.

Who has had 2 Christmas number ones? ›

Harry Belafonte topped the charts with it in 1957 and Boney M took a one-horse open sleigh all the way to Number 1 with it (mashed up with Oh my Lord) in 1978. The only song to get the Christmas Number 1 twice by the same artist is Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

Who has 8 Xmas number Ones? ›

Amazingly, Paul McCartney has had eight Christmas Number Ones as a member of The Beatles, Wings and three Band Aid incarnations. The only act to have four Christmas number ones are The Beatles - with three consecutive number ones starting in 1963.

What was the first ever number 1? ›

American crooner Al Martino took the inaugural Official Singles Chart Number 1 with his track Here In My Heart.

What is the most recorded song of all time? ›

No, the most recorded song of all time is, in fact, 'Summertime' by George Gershwin. Forget the 4,000 versions of 'Yesterday' and 6,600 recordings of 'Amazing Grace' — 'Summertime' has been recorded no less than 67,591 times by the likes of Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday, and Sam Cooke.

What is the most sold Christmas album of all time? ›

And the best-selling Christmas album of all time? Well, it turns out that the King of Rock 'n' Roll is also the King of Christmas. None other than Elvis Presley tops the charts with his 1957 release Elvis' Christmas Album.

Which Christmas Carol has been voted the most popular one of all? ›

Jingle bells is undoubtedly the most popular Christmas carol. It is also the easiest one to get the little ones all cheered up. It's traditionally sung at Christmas in most parts of the world.

Has Ed Sheeran ever had a Christmas number 1? ›

The most recent Christmas number-one single is "Sausage Rolls for Everyone" by LadBaby, Ed Sheeran and Elton John, making LadBaby the first act to achieve four consecutive Christmas number ones.

What kept last Christmas off the number one spot? ›

Single by Wham! Upon its initial release in 1984, "Last Christmas" spent five consecutive weeks at number two in the UK Singles Chart—it was held off the top spot at Christmas by Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (on which Michael also performed).


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