The most popular Christmas songs change from year to year, but the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers provides an annual list that is a good representation of what people are listening to during the holiday season. Popular works include carols, traditional music, and “behind-the-scenes” pieces that aren’t on the ASCAP list. What people consider to be popular for Christmas is influenced their location and culture.
Popular Music Frequency of Recording
The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers publishes an annual list of the most popular Christmas songs recorded and performed in the twenty-first century. Many of these works capture the holiday spirit but have little to do with the holiday’s origins. The following are the top ten ASCAP compositions for the 2012 season:
Riding in a Sleigh (Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish)
Wonderland in the Winter (Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith)
Allow it to snow! Allow it to snow! Allow it to shine! (Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn)
Have a merry little Christmas for yourself (Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin)
Santa Claus is on his way! (Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie)
Do You Hear What I Hear (Nol Regney, Gloria Shayne Baker)
Mel Tormé and Robert Wells’ Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
Jingle Bell Rock is a holiday classic (Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe)
The Christmas Tree Is Rockin’ (Johnny Marks)
It’s Starting to Feel a Little Bit Like Christmas (Meredith Wilson)
Multiple artists have recorded all of the pieces on the ASCAP list. There are vocal versions and instrumental versions. Over time, some recordings have become more popular than others, and have become Christmas music staples. Although many people have sung Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, the Bruce Springsteen version is the most well-known.
Traditional Music and Carols
Only compositions written or co-written ASCAP members are listed on the ASCAP list. As a result, it isn’t a complete list of the most popular Christmas songs. It’s also necessary to look at carols and traditional music to get a better idea of what people listen to.
Similar to the music listed ASCAP, music that falls into the carols and traditional category has frequently been recorded. The fact that this music is frequently performed live is a significant difference. It is frequently heard, for example, in churches. People like to sing these compositions on the street, while visiting friends or family, and while participating in holiday activities like tree decorating because almost everyone knows the melody and words. Many organizations use them in their Christmas pageants or shows, though some take great care to ensure that the texts of the pieces they choose are politically correct.
Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Deck the Halls, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Silent Night, and O Holy Night are examples of popular tunes in this category. These can be sung one person, but because they are so well-known, they are frequently performed groups. They’ve been arranged in a variety of ways, but they’re typically sung in unison or full four-part harmony. They can use accompaniment or not, with unaccompanied versions being better suited to “mobile” singing such as caroling.
Songs from Behind the Scenes
Some popular Christmas songs have become favorites as a result of their association with another medium, such as soundtracks. Other artists have not generally remade these “behind-the-scenes” Christmas songs, with the original recordings remaining the most popular. One example is the instrumental music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, which features the extremely talented Vince Guaraldi Trio. In 2006, the animated film’s original disc was remastered and sold in Starbucks® stores.
The music that people accept as the most popular Christmas songs is heavily influenced their location. Mele Kalikimaka, for example, is well-known in Hawaii and is frequently sung when people want to cheerfully replace the traditional white or snowy Christmas with a tropical, warm one. Since its release in 1970, Feliz Navidad has remained at the top of the charts and is frequently heard in Puerto Rico and other Spanish-speaking countries.
The songs that people put on their Christmas lists are also influenced their culture. Isaac Hayes’ Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You) is perhaps the most famous example. This song appears in an episode of Southpark, an American animated comedy. The song was the most popular Christmas single in both Ireland and the United Kingdom in 1999, demonstrating the influence of American pop culture.