During a brief period each winter, the realm of popular music undergoes a temporal shift. The contemporary takes a back seat to the vintage, as artists from the Greatest Generation reign over Millennial and Gen Z playlists. In this annual tradition, a 27-year-old song emerges as a “new” entry into the Christmas canon, dominating the pop charts. Some of those songs still talk about Jesus and celebrate his birth, but most don’t.
What Christmas Songs Do People Listen to?
Since the inception of Billboard’s Holiday 100 list in 2011, twenty songs have claimed the top spot and an astonishing two-thirds of them were penned before 1980. This nostalgic trend in holiday music is not a fleeting phenomenon; it persists year after year. A glance at the top 20 holiday songs reveals an unmistakable homage to the classics, with Mariah Carey’s 1994 hit All I Want for Christmas Is You standing out as a modern contender in this timeless landscape.
What Drives Christmas Music Success
The prevalence of pre-1980s tracks raises the question: what drives this affinity for the musical past during the holiday season? According to experts, the answer lies in nostalgia. Joe Bennett, a musicology professor at Berklee College of Music, explains that while popular music typically revolves around new beginnings and youthful experiences, Christmas music bucks this trend. It centers on themes of homecoming, nostalgia, and a return to a more innocent time in one’s life or cultural history.
An analysis of the lyrical content of holiday songs reinforces this sentiment, revealing common themes of home, love, snow, parties, and peace on Earth. [source]
Most Recorded Christmas Songs
So, that brings us to some data. What are the top 10 most-recorded Christmas songs according to Music Reports?
- Silent Night (137,315 recordings)
- White Christmas (128,276 recordings)
- Jingle Bells (89,681 recordings)
- The Christmas Song (80,064 recordings)
- Winter Wonderland (70,471 recordings)
- Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (68,669 recordings)
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (65,377 recordings)
- Joy to the World (59,767 recordings)
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas (56,552 recordings)
- Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (54,446 recordings)
These songs have been covered by countless artists of all genres, and they continue to be popular with audiences of all ages.
What Themes Can Be Found In The Top 10?
Themes related to Christmas festivities:
- Excitement and anticipation: The songs “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” all capture the excitement and anticipation that children feel leading up to Christmas.
- Joy and celebration: The songs “Joy to the World,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “White Christmas” all convey the sense of joy and celebration that is associated with Christmas.
- Family and togetherness: The songs “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Silent Night” both highlight the importance of family and togetherness during the holiday season.
Themes related to the Christian tradition of Christmas:
- The birth of Jesus Christ: The songs “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” both reference the birth of Jesus Christ, which is the central event of the Christian Christmas tradition. Finally, something about Jesus! Our culture would have us forget that Christmas is an actual holiday celebrating the birth of our savior.
- Peace and goodwill: The songs “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” also both convey messages of peace and goodwill, which are central themes of the Christian faith.
Themes related to the broader winter season:
- Snow and winter weather: The songs “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” both focus on the imagery of snow and winter weather, which is a common theme in Christmas songs.
- Homecoming and nostalgia: The song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” speaks to the desire to be home with family and friends during the holidays, while “White Christmas” evokes feelings of nostalgia for a simpler time.
Is There Money In Christmas Music
When trying to understand motivations, it’s usually best practice to follow the money. Why do so many artists have “a Christmas album?”
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which tracks sales of albums and singles in the United States, says sales of Christmas music have increased by an average of 5% per year over the past decade. In 2021, Christmas music accounted for over $2 billion in sales in the United States.
Another source of data is the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), which collects royalties for copyrighted music. ASCAP estimates that over 90,000 Christmas songs have been copyrighted in the United States. That’s 90,000 original Christmas songs. Wow.
So, for those who break through into the Christmas cannon, it can be lucrative.
What’s The Point Of This Article
Well, I don’t really have one. It’s just that time of year again, so it made me wonder a few things about Christmas music that I’ve now put down in this article. You’re welcome.
Well, there is one thing, I guess…be prepared to be overwhelmed by a flood of Christmas music about winter, hot drinks, nostalgia, family, and home and that also neglect the actual reason for the season.
I hope your holiday season is full of joy surrounding gratitude for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
What's Your Reaction?
Joshua Swanson is the Editor-in-Chief of Worship Leader. He's also the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Authentic Media, Worship Leader's parent company, and the former CEO and Co-founder of the creative agency GTMA. His proudest achievement is his marriage to Rachael Joy and partnering with her in founding New Hope Children. As a performer and speaker, he’s appeared on TV networks like ABC, NBC, Lifetime, and Hallmark. His companies have worked with major brands like Sprint, Pokemon Go (he was also in a Pokemon movie), Pepsi, The Latin Grammys, the Billboard Awards, Corona and over 75 national developers. He’s narrated over a hundred audiobooks and was awarded Best YA Voice twice. His companies have been Inc. 5000 three different times.