When it comes to music, everyone has their own guilty pleasures. But at this holly jolly time of year, don’t feel like you’re betraying the tribe — we all love Christmas music.
Maybe it’s the eggnog talking, but there’s something about Christmas music that makes us feel all merry inside and out during the most wonderful time of the year. And let’s be real — loving the genre is actually a way of celebrating cultural Jewishness thanks to the imprimatur of Jewish musical icons since its inception, from the ne plus ultra of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to Barbra Streisand’s A Christmas Album to Josh Groban’s new standards.
As two Jews who love these yuletide tunes, we didn’t realize that this list would be so daunting. There are more Christmas songs than the amount of fried potatoes we consumed at Chanukah (which is a lot). Every time you think of one, two more pop into your head, just like with all the Chanukah songs! Just kidding.
Here is a (very) condensed ranking of some of the best Christmas songs. And, no, we did not count Frozen.
Best Christmas Song You’re Embarrassed About:
“Under the Mistletoe” by Justin Bieber. OK, OK, just hear me out. Before you grab your pitchforks, have you even listened to this song? Give it a try, and I promise you’ll be walking around humming “Shawty with you, with yoOou” before you know it. In fact, his whole Christmas album — as ashamed as I am to say it — is a pretty great time and a highlight for the season if you’re looking for something other than the classics.
Runner-up: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — Gene Autry style, of course. If this song comes on the radio while I’m driving by myself, you better believe that I’m belting it at the top of my lungs. I even create a duet with myself, adding in the “reindeer (reindeer)” refrain after every line (line).
Best Christmas Song by a ~Diva~
“All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey. Is there really a contest?
Runner-up: “Last Christmas” by George Michael. If anyone has to compete with Mariah, however, on the other side of the spectrum, a feathery-coiffed George Michael can give her a run for her money. Honorable mention to Whitney Houston’s version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” because Whitney.
Best Christmas Song Written by a Jew:
“White Christmas” by Irving Berlin. With the high temperatures we’ve seen this month, dreaming of a white Christmas seems more optimistic than realistic. But this song is beautiful nonetheless and is a go-to for an Instagram caption of a snowy day around Christmas-time.
Runner-up: “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” by Sammy Cahn, music by Jule Styne. Again, optimistic this year. But show me someone who doesn’t know all the words to this fun, upbeat song and I’ll show you a liar. See Frank Sinatra’s rendition for a smooth, feel-good Christmas.
Best Christmas Song that Makes you Want to Curl up by the Fire:
Pretty much any song by Michael Bublé. He has become the groundhog of Christmas music. It seems like he reappears each year with a new holiday single, album or TV special, and then he goes back into hiding. Regardless, Bublé has a remarkable voice that was basically made for this time of year.
Runner up: “The Christmas Song,” music and lyrics by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells, performed by the one and only Nat King Cole. This song takes curling up by the fire in a literal sense. (Shoutout to Tormé and Wells who are also part of the tribe.)
Best Christmas Song by a Boy Band:
“Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” by *NSYNC. Nothing gets you in the holiday spirit more than Justin Timberlake’s bleached-blonde hair resembling the texture of Santa’s beard. If you had a daughter growing up in the ’90s, you know exactly what this song is because she made you listen to it every time it came on the radio (sorry, Mom and Dad). Ask anyone to name a Christmas song by a boy band and this will probably be their first answer, and for good reason.
Runner-up: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by One Direction. The group appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to do a rendition with classroom instruments, a staple of the host’s program. After all, the only thing better than One Direction is One Direction in holiday sweaters singing a Christmas song with hometown heroes the Roots and Jimmy Fallon on classroom instruments. Enjoy.
Worst Christmas Song That You Turn Off When it Comes on the Radio:
“Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano. This song doesn’t really put me in the Christmas spirit at all (though I guess I’m not the target audience). However, it does make me feel like I should be wearing a Hawaiian shirt at a Jimmy Buffett concert rather than sipping egg nog by the fire.
Runner-up: “All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” written by Donald Yetter Gardner. This little girl can ask Santa for anything and she asks for teeth? Spoiler alert: Teeth are (generally) a given. Dream bigger, girl.
“Wonderful Christmastime” by The Shins. As much as we all love Mariah’s high-pitched top pop hit, The Shins took her place as the top Christmas track this year, according to Billboard. But as great and technically new as this song is, it has really been playing on the radio since 1979 when Paul McCartney released the original version.
Runner-up: “12 Days of Christmas” Excluding the version of this song by the Muppets and John Denver because that one is delightful, this song is one you can listen to until maybe the third day (why even are there 12?) before changing the station — where you’ll probably hear it again on a different one.
The Most Jewish Christmas Songs:
“Baby It’s Cold Outside” by literally anyone. In one way or another, this song is kind of like a typical Jewish goodbye. One person says they’re going to leave but they keep schmoozing for a few more minutes. And just like how everyone’s bubbe has their own versions of brisket, there’s a “Baby It’s Cold Outside” rendition for everyone’s tastes, ranging from Ray Charles and Betty Carter to Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.
Runner-up: “Please Come Home For Christmas” by the Eagles. If you read the lyrics aloud, this song loosely resembles phone calls with your mother using Jewish guilt to persuade you to come home for the holidays.
“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by Bruce Springsteen. You guys know what time it is? Christmastime! This cover by none other than The Boss is a staple this time of year and I dare you to challenge me on this. It’s hard to describe why it’s so good, but it might have to do Clarence Clemons’s saxophone solo halfway through that even Santa himself would be rockin’ out to, or maybe Bruce’s inability to keep from laughing in response to The Big Man’s hilarious “Ho-ho-ho’s.” You won’t even notice, but you start bopping your head along as they sing because they sound like they’re having so much fun. When Bruce tells you better not pout or cry, you better not pout or cry.
Runner-up: “Mary, Did You Know?” by Pentatonix. All of the Christmas covers by a capella group Pentatonix are hauntingly beautiful, but this one blows them all out of the water. And with more than 50 million views on YouTube, we’re not the only ones who think so.
Wackiest Christmas Songs:
“I Wish It Was Christmas Today” by Saturday Night Live’s 2000 cast. Lyrically, this song really doesn’t make sense — “I don’t care what your momma says, Christmas time is near” — but it’s still funny and entertaining to see Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan bop around to their Christmas ditty. Plus I’m pretty sure Drake’s “Hotline Bling” dance moves were inspired by Morgan in this sketch.
Runner-up: “The Everlasting Fruitcake.” When you have non-Jewish friends and ask them their opinions about wacky Christmas songs, ones you’ve never heard of are bound to pop up. Like this one. If you’ve never heard it, you’re not alone. But one listen and you will understand why it’s in this category. Having a fruitcake you can’t get rid of sounds like a nightmare — especially because no one actually eats or makes them anymore, right?
Best Christmas Songs From Television:
“A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Charlie Brown needs no explanation as to why it’s a classic favorite.
Runner-up: “A Very Murray Christmas.” Bill Murray’s new Netflix special brought our favorite celebs together — Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman and, of course, George Clooney — for an epic night of jokes and jingles. Shoutout to Miley Cyrus for giving the best performance of the special by singing “Silent Night” on top of a piano while Paul Shaffer played.
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