Friday, December 3, 2010

Why Are Christmas Songs So Repetitive?

Aaargh!  Why does it seem that Christmas music is so repetitive?

Because it is!  A few Christmas vacations ago this same question hit me. It was probably after hearing the 10th rendition of White Christmas off of iTunes!  Different artists but the same songs.  Spotify has not helped things.  Why so repetitive?

It turns out that there are only about 84 Christmas songs that get any regular air play. 

I went through the iTunes store and compiled a list of what, by any stretch, were common or highly popular Christmas songs and carols. Nothing that hadn't proven itself for at least two decades was included. Songs had to be widely sung and recorded by a variety of artists and show continuing popularity. So while there are scores of obscure Christmas hymns, carols and songs that are rarely sung or scarcely recorded, they are not included here because odds are you'll go through the entire holiday season and never hear them even once.  I should qualify that, I mean more "mall play" than your Spotify list or Pandora which lean toward newer material, which is, however far less popular.

I've updated this list each season. Thanks for suggestions. 

I tallied about 84 common Christmas songs as follows (suggest more please):

26 Classic Christmas carols/hymns
8 Classic Yuletide songs
4 Contemporary Carols
5 Classical songs associated mostly assoc. with
(besides Handel's Messiah).
4 Highly popular Christmas spirituals
32 Contemporary Yuletide/Holiday Classics
3 Up and Coming Yuletide/Holiday Pop

Christmas Carols/Hymns
Angels We Have Heard On High
Away in a Manger
Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella
Come and Worship
Coventry Carol
Ding Dong Merrily On High
The First Noel
Gloria In Excelsis
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Good Christian Men Rejoice (In Dulci Jubilo)
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
How Great Our Joy
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
How Great Our Joy (While by Our Flocks)
I Saw Three Ships
I Wonder As I Wander
I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day
Joy to the World
Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
O Holy Night
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O Come All Ye Faithful
Silent Night
What Child Is This (Greensleves)
We Three Kings

Classic Yuletide
12 Days of Christmas
Caroling, Caroling
Deck the Halls
Good King Wenceslas
Here We Come A Caroling
The Holly and the Ivy
Jingle Bells
We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Contemporary Carols
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Little Drummer Boy
Star Carol
Mary Did You Know

Popular Classical Works Assoc. with Christmas
Ave Maria
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Hallelujah Chorus
Carol of the Bells
Nutcracker Suite (overture, etc)

Christmas Spirituals
A Cradle in Bethlehem (Sing Sweet and Low)
Go Tell It On the Mountain
Some Children See Him
Sweet Little Jesus Boy

Contemporary Yuletide/Holiday Classics
A Holly Jolly Christmas
Blue Christmas
Christmas Time Is Here
Christmas Waltz
The Christmas Song
Feliz Navidad
Frosty the Snowman
Happy Christmas (War is Over)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Here Comes Santa Claus
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Jingle Bell Rock
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
Last Christmas
Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Little Saint Nick
Merry Christmas Darling
O Christmas Tree
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer
Run, Run Rudolph
Santa Baby
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Silver Bells
Sleigh Ride
There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays
White Christmas
Winter Wonderland
Wonderful Christmastime

Up and Coming Yuletide/Holiday Pop
You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch (resurgent, widely recorded now, will it stick?)
Grandma Got run Over by a Reindeer
My Grown Up Christmas List

Criteria for inclusion:
  1. Widely sung and recorded by a variety of artists of two decades or more, with continuing popularity (thus no Chipmunk song as, thankfully, not widely recorded)
  2. Either explicitly a Christmas or Yuletide season song, or long associated with it, beyond living memory.  Thus “My Favorite Things” is not included because it is still more closely associated with The Sound of Music in living memory, and only occasionally included on a Holiday program.
  3. If you can make it through the entire holiday season and never hear a particular song, it probably isn’t a common classic.


  1. Hi! I'm a reporter/photographer for a small newspaper in Alberta, Canada, and in my column this week, I decided to write about Christmas music being played waaay to early. I also thought about the number of Christmas/holiday songs there were, and came across your blog. Thanks for doing this research - definitely something I've wondered for years, but haven't really thought of how I could calculate it! Just thought I'd say hi and thanks!

  2. I'm a writer for a high school newspaper in Michigan and I needed stats on the number of popular Christmas songs. This site helped a lot!!

  3. Also, add: Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon

  4. What about Chuck Berry's "Run, Run Rudolph," and "Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty?

  5. And, there's "Last Christmas," by Wham and covered by various other artists.

  6. Good suggestion, especially with Whitney Wolanin's recent #2 Billboard cover. I'll definitely add it as it has become more popular now than it was at it's previous peak back in 1963 (in the UK) at 36. And it has been widely recorded and more recently put in several movies and TV shows.

  7. "Last Christmas" - Aaarrrrgggghhhh! I wish I could unsee the video and thanks for mentioning this one again. Now it's stuck in my head! But that's what this list is all about. It now meets the two decade rule, having been released in 1984 among big hair and a sea of synthesizer music.

  8. Here's a playlist of some lesser-known Christmas music: Obscure Christmas Songs