A ranking of 100 — yes, 100 — Christmas songs
I bet you ANYTHING they are NOT singing “I Farted on Santa’s Lap (Now Christmas Is Gonna Stink For Me).” (Julie Jacobson/AP)
If you are on the Internet long enough, there comes a year when you will be forced to rank something. Now it is my time. So I am taking the liberty of going through the 100 holiday songs being foisted upon us everywhere and ranking them from Most Especially Heinous to Best. This is probably a good idea, and I feel fit and confident! I bet this will be an easy, pleasant process. I’m amazed I haven’t already compiled several lists just like this!
100.“Little Drummer Boy.” My hatred for this song is well-documented. I think it is because the song takes approximately 18 years to sing and does not rhyme. The concept of the song is bad. The execution of the song is bad. There is not even an actual drum in the dang song, there is just someone saying PA-RUM-PA-PUM-PUM, which, frankly, is not a good onomatopoeia and probably is an insult to those fluent in Drum. I cannot stand it. Nothing will fix it, even the application of David Bowie to it. Every year I say, “I hate this song,” and every year people say, “Have you heard David Bowie’s version?” Yes. Yes, I have. It is still an abomination.
[Alexandra Petri: 'Little Drummer Boy,' the worst holiday song of all]
99. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” A better name for this song would be “I Assume You Cannot Hear Anything I Am Saying and so I Am Going to Repeat All the Words Twice.” This contains things that in another, better song, would be welcome: A star! A star! A shepherd boy! Rhetorical questions! But the problem with this song is the problem that arises any time you are forced to repeat something you said because someone didn’t hear it properly: namely, that you didn’t phrase the thing very well in the first place and having to say it again just makes you more painfully aware of how awkward your wording was. “WITH A VOICE AS BIG AS THE SEA.” What? “WITH A VOICE AS BIG AS THE SEA,” you shout, regretting that you ever thought it was a good idea to introduce a simile here.
98. “Santa Baby.” The panicky Michael Bublé version that addresses Santa as “buddy” and “pally” and, even more confusingly, “poppy” has been richly and correctly mocked. But here is my bone to pick with the original, especially in 2018: Santa’s WHOLE CONCEPT, as far as I can understand it, is that he will give you amazing, wonderful gifts for NOTHING. Yet the singer in this song seems to be laboring under the delusion that to receive elegant presents, she has to sleep with him? Eartha, or whoever else is covering this, you don’t have to! This is Santa’s only job! If he told you this was part of the equation, he was lying!
97. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” One of my chatters correctly describes this as a song about how differently abled people are bullied until the system finds a way to exploit them for profit. The only good thing about this song is that Rudolph is a reindeer with a people name, and all the other reindeer have dog names. Prancer, Blitzen, Dancer!
96. “Silver Bells.” I don’t like songs with bells in them. I don’t like Christmas songs with onomatopoeia of any kind. Just play the dang instrument; don’t have a human being sitting there going RING-A-LING like a moron.
95. “Carol of the Bells.” Okay, here’s another thing I dislike: songs that would be fine if they didn’t have words but instead we put words in them. This carol reminds me of that time in the 1970s when they decided that all movie theme songs had to have lyrics, so the Godfather theme got the words “Speak softly, love, so no one hears us but the sky!” (Yeegh.) “Carol of the Bells” typifies the worst excesses of this approach: “Hark how the bells! Sweet silver bells! All seem to say! Throw cares away!” And that is before you even get to the DING-DONGs.
94. “Linus and Lucy.” This makes me feel like I am on hold.
93. “The Chipmunk Song.” This song is designed to be annoying, but, unlike other songs designed to be annoying (which you will see higher on the list), it succeeds in turning me against it. It is the voices, I think.
92. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Love adultery!
91. “Little Saint Nick.” You know, I should like this song. There’s something frustrating in not liking something that is entirely made up of components you like. “A Beach Boys song, about Christmas? Great!” “Will they do anything to make it sound like anything other than a normal Beach Boys song? Absolutely not!” My inability to enjoy this frustrates me more and more with each listen.
90. “Wonderful Christmastime.” This song makes me annoyed. It sounds like something that would be automatically generated if you said, “Alexa, sing me a Christmas song,” from the weird synths to the gratuitous mentions of children. Also, it includes DING-DONGs. Just use a dang bell! I am sticking to my principle that any song with DING-DONG in it belongs at or near the bottom of this list.
89. “Hallelujah.” How did this song get on the list? I listened to it wondering when it would start mentioning Jesus or altering the lyrics in any way to make it even vaguely Christmas-appropriate, but it just… didn’t? Fine song, Top 2 on the “Shrek" soundtrack but shouldn’t be included on Christmas lists.
88. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” I am confident that in the past 30 years of griping, someone must have described this as “If Toto’s ‘Africa’ were a Christmas song,” and I have nothing to add.
87. “Frosty the Snowman.” This snowman is trying to lure children into the street! This snowman has no regard for public safety! He’s going to melt; he doesn’t care whether the children stop for the traffic! Also, this song includes onomatopoeia where no onomatopoeia is necessary. THUMPITY-THUMP-THUMP? WHAT IS FROSTY’S MEANS OF LOCOMOTION THAT CAUSES THIS TO BE THE SOUND HE MAKES? NO SINGING THE NOISES THINGS MAKE. THIS IS FINAL.
86. “Where Are You, Christmas?” “Marco?” *jingle* “Marco?" *jingle* This sounds like the ill-advised 11 o’clock number from a stage adaptation of a Hallmark movie, and not in a good way.
85. “Christmas Bells Are Ringing.” NO BELLS!
84. That One Song From Trans-Siberian Orchestra. There are two songs from Trans-Siberian Orchestra. One is good; the other is vile. This is the vile one, which is some children sing nonsense Christmas lyrics to Pachelbel’s Canon in D for no discernible reason.
83. “Mary, Did You Know?” This song sounds as though we’re badgering the witness. “Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations? Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know? NOTHING FURTHER, YOUR HONOR!”
82. “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I have also recorded my aggressive distaste for this song. Its cumulative impact is nightmarish, and it shows wanton disregard for avian life.
[Alexandra Petri: Dear True Love — thank-you notes from the Twelve Days of Christmas]
81. “The Christmas Shoes.” Full disclosure, I have heard this in the wild on the radio maybe TWICE at most and had to seek it out explicitly because everyone said it was so bad. But it really is bad. Patton Oswalt has explained why.
80. “Christmas Time Is Here.” I feel strongly that the essence of Charlie Brown is premature existential despair and world weariness, and both this song and the holiday special give you an inaccurate idea of the Charlie Brown ratio of despair to maudlin moments of transcendence. Then again, there’s a sort of evocative melancholy in this song that’s making me regret placing it here, scores of slots below “Dominick the Donkey.” Eh, it’s probably fine.
79. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The narrator of this song is the person who dominates your MFA class. “I heard the bells on Christmas Day,” he tells us, “and then I was like, ‘It’s so wild that we sing peace on earth when, actually, there isn’t peace on earth?’” Not a big fan of this. Bah, humbug!
78. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day [But The Other Tune].” Not a fan either. Double humbug!
77. “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” Hang on, this is a good song. I’m not sure what this is doing so low on the list. I think the problem is that whenever it comes on the radio, it’s sung by children. But I love a good admonition to hark. I so seldom get told to hark, and it’s nice to remember to hark every now and again.
76. “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” I should, by rights, love a song that sounds as though it is sung by a fairy-tale villain yelling orders at children, but it’s just so repetitive.
[Alexandra Petri: You are in Melania Trump’s nightmare forest. Keep to the path.]
75. “One More Sleep 'Til Christmas.” This is objectively a good song! It belongs higher on the list. No, something is wrong here. I am going to move it.
74. “I Farted on Santa’s Lap (Now Christmas Is Gonna Stink For Me).” I’m going to be honest with you. When I started this list, I had the idea that there were easily 100 identifiable Christmas songs that would quickly jump to mind, but that has not turned out to be the case, and it is really becoming obvious toward the middle of the list right here. Wow, I hate this song. And I love songs about farting!
73. “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas.” Full disclosure, I have never actually heard this song, but I assume it can’t be better than the 73rd-best Christmas song ever written. How could it be?
72. “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” by George Harrison. This song somehow lasts about four minutes, has nothing to say and includes the word DING-DONG. Thank you, next!
71. “Monster’s Holiday.” This song is fine. It’s “Monster Mash,” but with periodic jingling! I’m tired.
70. “Pretty Paper.” I don’t accept the premise of this song. Blue wrapping paper is fine. It’s a thoughtful color to wrap Hanukkah gifts, even! Cheer up, guy.
69. “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” This, by John Denver, is a song that exists.
68. “There Is No Christmas Like A Home Christmas.” Be careful: If the War on Christmas gets its way, this song will be changed to "There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” and all references to it will disappear forever. I’m not happy about it either, but Sean Hannity says it’s the law.
67. “Up on the Housetop.” When did we arrive at the consensus that reindeer make the sound CLICK? Did some guy have a big cockroach on his roof and everyone in his life decided to tell him it was reindeer until it went away because he had a weak heart and they didn’t want to alarm him? Admittedly, I have not spent much time around reindeer, but from what I can glean, they seem hardy, weather-resistant beasts who make noises such as GUMPH and SNORT and at most go THUMPITY-THUMP when they land. Oh, no, here I am doing onomatopoeia. I have become the very monster I set out to defeat.
[Alexandra Petri: What I have learned from Christmas commercials]
66. “What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?” I like this song for people who schedule things in advance but not too far in advance.
65. “Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella.” This song is fine. I always thought Jeannette Isabella was someone’s full name. Ordering people with long names to bring light while urgently shouting compliments is an aesthetic I can get behind!
64. “Toyland.” I don’t know that this is the 64th-best Christmas song ever written, but it’s definitely not the 63rd-best.
63. “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming.” Props for saying “lo!” This simultaneously manages to have no real tune and to get immediately stuck in your head.
62. “Coventry Carol.” Which carol are witches most likely to sing to their festive pine? A COVEN TREE CAROL! All right! I forget which one this is.
61. “The Holly and the Ivy.” This is a fine song! Love to sing about the rising of the sun and the running of the deer.
60. “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." The Christmas party hop! What a bygone era!
59. “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.” This is the best Christmas song that is also a novel by James Baldwin.
58. “Hard Candy Christmas.” Dolly Parton sings this! This should be higher, but I’ve lived my life in such a way that I’ve formed no attachment to it. This is not like “Little Saint Nick." This is the musical equivalent of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”: I think I would probably like it if I engaged with it, I bet! Seems on brand!
57. “I Saw Three Ships.” This is fine! It’s not about Columbus, right? God, I hope it’s not about Columbus.
56. “Christmas Time (Is Here Again).” I love how few notes and words this song has! And it’s not ashamed. It should be ashamed, but it isn’t! It’s almost mesmerizing. It’s like, is there going to be more to this song? It can’t possibly just be… this, but for several whole minutes, can it? But no, there’s nothing! Like a festively decorated tree, this song has balls!
[Alexandra Petri: A Trump Christmas Carol]
55. “What Child Is This?” This song is a great example of how marvel and awe can also sound like someone misplaced a child. Also, props to Henry VIII for the tune.
54. “We Need a Little Christmas.” This should be higher, but can we admit, now, that this is just “It Takes A Woman” from “Hello, Dolly!” with Christmas lyrics? “It Takes A Woman” is a great song, though.
53. “Nuttin’ for Christmas.” I am honestly stunned I have placed this so high. Something is the matter with this list, and I am not sure how to fix it.
52. “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” I should hate this song, but I kind of love it? I apologize. My hard-line stance on bell sounds has proved incorrect.
51. “Holly Jolly Christmas.” This song is trying too hard. “Oh, by golly, have a holly, jolly Christmas”? Who are you, James B. Comey? Also, I am not sure I want to have a holly, jolly Christmas! It sounds like something you say to warn your coworkers at the office party not to go near Bob, who is a little holly-jolly tonight.
50. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I have decided to make this song the midpoint of the list because the backlash has been so thorough that no joke-stones have been left unturned where it is concerned. It’s a gross song, but at least it rhymes, and it does not include any onomatopoetic bells. But, look, 2014 was right, or whatever stunningly recent year it was that we recognized that this song was very much not romantic. Thank you for your service, 2014.
49. “(There’s No Place Like Home) For the Holidays.” I like that this is an entire song dedicated to selling you on the concept of going home for the holidays. This song both goes too hard and not hard enough. It suggests you will be “happy in a million ways” when you go home (this is just objectively incorrect, even if you do like your family) and then mentions the traffic. Pick one, song.
48. “In the Bleak Midwinter.” This song is extra, and I like that it is extra. “In the BLEAK MIDWINTER, FROSTY WIND MADE MOAN!” This is something I would have listened to in high school and felt seen.
47. “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.” This is a great song! I like this song. Not getting to hear this on a regular basis when the season arrives is probably the second or third worst thing about not still being affiliated with England, after the whole no-health-insurance-for-some/no-monarchy-for-others thing.
46. “Merry Xmas Everybody.” This is another Nice Song the British Get and I Wish We Heard More Of.
45. “One More Sleep 'Til Christmas.” I moved it here! I fixed it! Now I just need to go back to the top of the list and think of another song that I hate so this will not be listed twice. If it is still there, know that I failed. Tell my family I love them. I will leave my rival’s ax at the summit.
44. “Silent Night.” Any song that managed to bridge the gap between the armies during World War I deserves to be higher than 44th on this list, but in fairness, it only did it ONCE.
43. “Skating” (From Peanuts). Still on hold, but they’ve switched songs to give me hope.
42. “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” This is annoying! I don’t know why I put it above “Silent Night.” I think my methodology is broken.
41. “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” You can sing this as though it includes the word “lettuce,” and no one will notice or stop you.
40. “The Red Baron Song.” This places surprisingly high, given my feelings about the other Peanuts contributions. But I like it!
39. “O Tannenbaum!” Love a tannenbaum.
38. “I'll Be Home for Christmas.” This used to be a lot more poignant before air travel was so widespread and cheap.
[Alexandra Petri: Melania Trump would like to spend Christmas on a deserted island (with her family)]
37. “Someday at Christmas.” Sure!
36. “O Holy Night.” I am a little uneasy ranking sacred songs on a list such as this, but this is a lovely piece of music.
35. “Jingle Bell Rock.” The only objection to this song is that it does not remotely resemble rock, but I like its hustle!
34. “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (*NSYNC).” I wish this song were better, but I am still putting it here to support the addition of new songs to the canon. I am sure if I listened to it more times, I would grow fond of it!
33. “Joy to the World." This is the second-best song called “Joy to the World” that there is!
32. “Away in a Manger.” The two tunes of this song are the GIF/GIF of the pre-Internet era. Only one is correct.
32. "What Christmas Means to Me.” Only Stevie Wonder could turn a list of Christmas-related search terms into a bop.
31. “Run Rudolph Run.” I like this song! I don’t like “Little Saint Nick.” I can’t say why. I think I like songs that are admonitions.
30. “Last Christmas.” I am ranking this higher than it deserves simply because it is NOT FROM THE ’50s, and I find that a delicious relief. But the tune is bad, and the words are bad. Other than that, it is fine.
29. “White Christmas.” Not the best color for Christmas! (See No. 14.)
28. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” I like the contrast between the generic song title and its strangely urgent subtitle, which does persist throughout the song. It’s like if you had a song called “Hanukkah (Son, If You Can Hear This, I Forgive You)” or “Easter (WE ARE SURROUNDED).”
27. “Happy Holidays.” Inoffensive. Fine.
26. “Jingle Bells.” This is fine. You would think with a title such as this it would include a lot more DINGing and DONGing and RING-A-LINGing, but it doesn’t! It is this admirable restraint that has placed it so high on this list.
25. That Other Song From The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This is the one I really like! But I always get the titles confused. This one is good and kind of metal with guitars, and it gets used a lot when people build elaborate outdoor lighting displays to anger and impress their neighbors.
24. “Sleigh Ride.” Surprisingly wholesome for a song that includes whip noises and a horse neighing.
23. “The First Noel.” What English playwright and wit was terrified of Christmas? NOEL COWARD! Look, we’re just 22 songs from the end. Also, I like this song! It’s fine.
22. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” I like this song. I mean, I shouldn’t. It is needlessly repetitive. But it is also jolly, and the rhymes work. I also like that it is a third-person imperative. I once made a playlist entirely of songs in the third-person imperative, and this song was on it.
21. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” I actually like the tune of this song. It’s sort of folksy. And although the events the words describe are tragic, the tune is so bouncy that you feel that ultimately the bereaved grandfather and grandson are in a better place now.
20. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” This song is Too Much, but it is Too Much in a way I like. I like the part at the end that is just children going, “AAAAAAAA! WAR IS OVER! AAAAAAAA!”
[Alexandra Petri: Happy Christmas. War is over.]
19. “Mary’s Boy Child.” Calypso!
18. “This Christmas.” But only the Patti “Where My Background Singers?” LaBelle version.
17. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” This song is a banger! Hate to be dismayed, love to be rested and merry!
16. “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).” Like “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” or “Jingle Bells,” this song could also be called “Things That Are No Longer Typical Features of Christmas.”
15. “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You.” I wish we sang this song, by Billy Squier, more often! Recently, I was trying to remember the name of this song, and I learned that it is impossible to find a Christmas song on the Internet if all you can remember is that it contained the lyric “Santa [somethings] his reindeer through the night.” But it is here, and you should listen to it!
14. “Blue Christmas.” This is too high on the list. I am only putting it here because I like the woman in the background going “WOO-HOO-HOO-HOOoooo” whenever Elvis says “blue.”
13. “Mele Kalikimaka.” This song is great! And so useful for setting an ambiguous holiday mood in period films or TV shows.
12. “Feliz Navidad.” This song makes me feel as though I am learning and singing at the same time! It doesn’t have too many lyrics, yet unlike most Christmas songs that rely on repetition, you wish it went on longer rather than shorter.
11. “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” I like this song. It knows its place. I like that the snowman is only a passive participant in the elaborate commitment games of the singers.
10. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” You know what? This song is fine. It’s fine. I like this song because I can whistle it! Apart from that, I like how noncommittal it is. “What do you think of Christmas?" “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas," this person diplomatically replies. It also is appropriate starting in, like, October.
[Alexandra Petri: Waging a noble war against an early Christmas]
9. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” But only this version. This is the treatment the song needed. Forget it, Bruce.
8. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” This song should not be this high on the list, and I apologize. But I love holiday songs that list, as totally expected aspects of the holiday, things that are no longer included in most celebrations, so I am very pro the insistence that every Christmas includes “scary ghost stories.” For the record, the only Yuletide ghost story I can think of, “A Christmas Carol,” is not scary.
7. “Deck the Halls.” FA LA LA LA LA, LA LA LA LA! This is a good song. It includes the word “jolly” and the admonitions to “be jolly” and “don gay apparel.” More people should be admonished to don things and be jolly, and I like that approximately 90 percent of it is the word LA.
6. “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” It is what it is, Santa.
5. “Dominick the Donkey.” Jiggity-jig! Hee haw! Hee haw! Now I am beginning to see that there is a problem with this list, which is that my taste is very strong and very bad, but I really like this song about a donkey. I love, as a genre, songs that try very hard to make a new seasonal figure happen. This song was like, “I see you, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and I raise you *apparently pulling several names and modifiers from a hat* Dominick, the Italian Christmas Donkey!” These songs always create a problem for their character to solve, or some magic, and I love, too, how prosaic the problem is that Dominick resolves: The reindeer can’t do hills! All hills? No, just Italian hills! Great! More of this, please. Also love the overlap between this song and “Blade Runner.” Not a lot of Christmas songs can pull off what “Dominick the Donkey” does. I am all in on “Dominick the Donkey.” I am a lot of fun on car rides, as I bet you can tell.
4. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” This song has always read as passive-aggressive to me, and I find that enjoyable.
3. “Underneath the Tree.” I wish we lived in a world where one of our biggest complaints, as a society, was that no song since “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has been added to the Christmas canon. This should be a BIG complaint! (Also, what a world that would be! No Islamic State!) I think “Underneath the Tree” deserves to be added to the canon. Three reasons: Kelly Clarkson is great; it hits all the Christmas bases in a quick, efficient list (“You’re here, where you should be. / Snow is falling, and the carolers sing. … Presents, such a beautiful sight!”); and it slaps! Let it into the canon!
2. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” My spouse disagrees that the tune of this song is good. He says it is too whimsical. Well, I am 99 items into the list, and there is no turning back now. Unlike other holiday songs, which are saccharine at best and lachrymose at worst, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is just a man facing insult after insult from a deep bass voice with no reference to Christmas whatsoever. It is a welcome reprieve. I am correct to put it here.
1. “Good King Wenceslas.” This is a GREAT song. I never tire of hearing about the only semi-impressive good deeds of this medieval monarch. He made the sod slightly warm! Hooray! Good for you, King Wenceslas! All the rhymes work! Every word is satisfying to sing! WENCESLAS! ON THE FEAST OF STEPHEN! DEEP AND CRISP AND EVEN! What a rollicking, hearty song. WENCESLAS! All songs should be like this. I wish we sang this song year-round.
Read more from Alexandra Petri:
Dear True Love — thank-you notes from the Twelve Days of Christmas
‘Little Drummer Boy,’ the worst holiday song of all
What I have learned from Christmas commercials
A Trump Christmas Carol
You are in Melania Trump’s nightmare holiday forest. Keep to the path.
Melania Trump would like to spend Christmas on a deserted island (with her family)