The festive season kicks off each year with a cacophony of carols designed to get everyone in the spirit of Christmas. Love them or hate them, the most popular Christmas carols of all time certainly deserve plenty of airtime this winter.
The question is: Which Christmas carols are at the top of the list of favorites year after year?
While everyone has their own idea of the ideal festive playlist, some songs command more attention than others. We’ve examined the latest data from radio and streaming companies worldwide to get an insight into the most popular Christmas carols of all time.
The most popular Christmas carols on US radio
Perhaps not surprisingly, lists of the most popular Christmas carols can vary by location.
Although there is some overlap between many Western countries, you may find some tunes more common than others depending on your location.
Though streaming and airtime data from US radio stations is somewhat limited, there are reports that offer useful insight into American Christmas favorites.
For example, FiveThirtyEight collected information about the last played song on 70 iHeartMedia radio stations to create a list of the most played songs during the 2014 holiday season.
In 2022, P1 Media Group released their annual Christmas music study, testing the desirability of 40 of the most streamed songs on the Christmas charts.
Participants in the study rated their enjoyment of the song on a scale of 1 to 10. Here are the ten best Christmas carols in the United States, according to this data.
“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (Score: 87.22)
A holiday classic in almost every American household, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” was first published in 1964 by Brenda Lee.
The song has a fun and playful vibe with various jazz and pop elements. Study participants gave the song a popularity rating of 87.22 out of 100. Today there are almost 400 recorded versions of this song in circulation!
“Jingle Bell Rock” (Score: 87.20)
“Jingle Bell Rock,” another rock-heavy song on America’s Favorite Christmas Carols list, was produced by Bobby Helms in 1957 and came in just behind Brenda Lee’s title in the P1 media group’s survey, scoring 87.20.
If you’re unfamiliar with the classic version of this tune, you’ve probably heard a handful of new variations produced by the likes of Aly and AJ.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Score: 85.43)
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is easily one of the most family-friendly songs on this list and was one of two Burl Ives songs to make the top ten list of favorite Christmas songs.
The enchanting, light-hearted tune tells the story of Santa’s unique reindeer with his glowing nose.
“Holly Jolly Christmas” (Score: 85.35)
Most fans of this festive tune will probably be familiar with Michael Buble’s version, which has garnered critical acclaim around the world in recent years.
However, the song was originally produced by Burl Ives in 1965, making it one of the older Christmas carols on our list.
“It’s the best time of the year” (Score: 85.13)
In fact, Andy Williams’ celebratory song is one of the biggest catchy tunes on this list and is a delightful seasonal tune with a warming message. Written and produced in 1963, the song has received numerous covers over the years and even appeared on the show Joy.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” (Score 84.95)
An unsurprising addition to our list of the most popular Christmas songs on American radio is Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” first released in 1994.
The song has set three world records over the years, including the highest-charting song on the Billboard US Hot 100 and the most-streamed song on Spotify in a 24-hour period.
“Feliz Navidad” (Score: 83.75)
Recorded by Jose Feliciano in 1970, “Feliz Navidad” tops this popularity list, being ranked by ASCAP as one of the world’s most streamed holiday songs of all time. The song is bold and upbeat, with plenty of sing-along lyrics, perfect for family gatherings.
“It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas” (Score: 85.53)
Originally titled It’s Beginning to Look Like a Lot Like Christmas, this festive classic was first recorded by Bing Crosby in 1951.
It’s one of the most enduring Christmas carols of all time, enjoying a wide following not just in the US but around the world thanks to its catchy lyrics and gentle tones.
“Last Christmas” (Score: 83.02)
Produced by Wham! 1986’s “Last Christmas” is an icon in the holiday music landscape. According to George Michael, the song doesn’t actually have much to do with Christmas at all. It’s supposed to be a ballad about unrequited love and a failed relationship.
“Jingle Bells” (Score: 82.85)
“Jingle Bells” is considered one of the best known and most sung American tunes worldwide and was first written in 1850 by James Lord Pierpoint.
However, the popular song included in this list is the version of the song produced by Frank Sinatra in 1957.
The most popular Christmas carols in the UK
As you can imagine, many of the popular Christmas carols from the US also appear in the UK charts. However, there are some differences in the frequency with which each tune appears on radio stations across the UK.
For example, according to the official charts in 2021, Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ was the most played Christmas carol of all time in the UK with around 248 million streams at the time of writing.
Two other well-known songs on the British landscape sit just below Mariah’s top hit with an equally high score: Wham’s “Last Christmas” with 220 million streams and the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” with 170 million plays.
The Pogues’ song, despite its American name, is one you might not come across much in the United States. The song has even drawn controversy over the years due to its somewhat problematic lyrics.
Other popular songs listed in the chart include:
- “Merry Christmas, Everyone” by The Shaking Stevens, with 136 million streams, a fun and light-hearted song recorded in 1984 and covered by countless artists over the years.
- Band-Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ has 130 million streams: the legendary 1984 charity single has become one of the best-selling singles of all time in the UK.
- It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas by Michael Buble, with 128 million streams: The newer version of Bing Crosby’s popular chart-topping song
- “Santa Tell Me” by Arianne Grande with 113 million streams: One of the most modern Christmas carols to have reached the top of the charts in recent years.
- “One More Sleep” by Leona Lewis with 92 million streams: A modern song created by one of the most famous X factor Winner from Great Britain.
The most streamed Christmas carols on Spotify
Like radio stations, most music streaming platforms don’t provide much data to the public about their most streamed songs.
However, Spotify is a small exception to this rule. The streaming platform with over 489 million active users and 205 million premium subscribers regularly publishes reports of all kinds.
Spotify fans can not only get a behind-the-scenes look at their own listening habits with annual roundups, but also learn about some of the most popular songs on the platform.
In late 2020, Spotify joined forces with various analysis and research groups to compile a list of the most streamed Christmas songs of all time.
Here are the songs that made the top 10 spots:
- All I Want For Christmas Is You (43.2%): Unsurprisingly, Mariah Carey once again took the top spot on the Spotify streaming platform with her world-famous Christmas carol.
- “It’s the best time of year” (27.8%): The Andy Williams classic was well behind Carey and took second place on Spotify’s popularity list.
- “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (26.1%): Michael Buble’s updated version of the classic holiday hit again topped its predecessor in this chart.
- “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (23.9%): “Happy Xmas” is one of the few songs on the Spotify chart not to top the radio stations above. It’s a fantastic John Lennon song celebrating the end of the war. It was recorded in 1971.
- “Santa Tell Me” (23.2%) Ariana Grande is as popular on streaming platforms as it is on radio, and is the fifth most-streamed Christmas song of all time.
- “Underneath the Tree” (20.7%): Another relatively modern song to hit the Spotify charts, “Underneath the Tree” was recorded by Kelly Clarkson for her 2013 Christmas album Wrapped in red.
- “Blue Christmas” (20.1%): Icon Elvis Presley ranked seventh on this list with his 1957 romantic ballad “Blue Christmas.”
- “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (17.4%): Mariah Carey’s second entry on the Spotify charts, “Baby Please Come Home” may be a lesser known song, but it’s still one of the most popular songs ever, with various covers by artists like Michael Buble.
- “Little Saint Nick” (17.2%): A fun and pop-oriented Beach Boys song, “Little Saint Nick” was released as a single in 1983 and featured many of the band’s stylistic vocals and memorable musical styles.
- “Holly Jolly Christmas” (16.7%): Finally, 10th on the list was Michael Buble’s version of “Holly Jolly Christmas,” which was released in 2011 as part of the artist’s extensive Christmas album, which includes a number of other well-known tracks.
Popular Christmas carols from all decades
Looking at all the data available today, it’s safe to say that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “What’s the most popular Christmas song of all time?”
That said, there are certainly many well-known tunes that have carved out strong positions on both radio stations and streaming channels.
We hope this behind-the-scenes guide has given you a glimpse into some of history’s most famous and enduring Christmas classics, as well as the modern tunes that are gradually gaining traction in the audio landscape.