Christmas love songs

The church bells in town, all ringing in song …

2000 Miles,” The Pretenders
All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey

All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Vince Vance & The Valiants
Blue Christmas,” Bright Eyes
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love
Christmas Wrapping,” The Waitresses
I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Aimee Mann
It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas,” Sam Phillips
Merry Christmas Baby,” Charles Brown
Please Come Home for Christmas,” Bon Jovi

On the one hand, the liturgical calendar says its only advent and we’re still a couple weeks away from the proper time for Christmas carols. On the other hand, they’ve been playing Christmas music in the stores for almost two months already.

So as a compromise, here’s a fairly secular list of Christmas love songs.

The Mariah Carey link is to her singing backstage at Jimmy Fallon, accompanied by The Roots on schoolkids’ classroom instruments. Because everything is better with ?uestlove.

That song was written in 1994, so it’s been nearly 20 years since somebody wrote a new bona fide Christmas classic. That seems like it should be easy — a bit of sentiment, liberal use of the word “home,” sprinkle in some snow and add some bells (jingle, church, or both) and there you go. But most of them don’t stick, melting away as one-season novelty songs. We’re about due for a new one, I think.

The newest song in the list above is Sam Phillips’ tune, which is lovely and hits all the right emotional cues of dark nights and longing for a new year, but isn’t likely to catch on as an annual standard. One Toad the Wet Sprocket reunion record does not a standard make. (But I still think Stars Hollow would be a nice place to spend Christmas.)

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  • aunursa

    Chanukah Songs

    Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages)
    Oh Chanukah! Oh Chanukah!
    I Have a Little Dreydel
    Sivivon, Sov Sov Sov Sov

  • Song For A Winter’s Night”  – Sarah McLachlan
    A Gordon Lightfoot original, I think I can get away with it despite it not mentioning Christmas, because it was recorded for the 1994 remake of A Miracle on 34th Street.
    Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Mariah Carey
    Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – u2
    When It’s Christmas Time in Texas” – George Strait

  • Launcifer

    Surprised that Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl isn’t on here, but then I might be slightly skewed in thinking it’s actually a bleak sort of love song in the first place.

  • Carstonio

     I appreciate you posting this, because I knew of no other Chanukah songs, other than the Dreidel song and the Adam Sandler hit. (While I like the latter, I’m no fan of Adam Sandler – his man-child routine is like Will Farrell’s except with more anger.)

    True story – one December years ago, I was looking for a ladle in the kitchen drawer. To amuse myself I sang, “Ladle ladle ladle.” Hearing this, my 4-year-old sang the entire Dreidel song. She had learned it in Montessori preschool and I didn’t know she knew it. More recently, my kids have played dreidel at a friend’s holiday party with M&Ms.

  • Carstonio

    If I owned Pro Tools, I would try an experiment with a beaten-to-death Christmas song – take about 20 versions with similar arrangements, make them all the same tempo and pitch, and combine them into a glorious mess like the Spector Wall of Sound recovering from a hangover.

  •  I love that song. Did you know that it was not originally written as a duet? Here’s Christy Moore singing the solo version of Farytale of New York. And yes, it is a very very bleak love song.


  • Carstonio

    If I remember correctly from previous years, there’s a consensus at Slacktivist that “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is lyrically repulsive, almost a script for date rape. I heard the Zooey Deschanel/Leon Redbone version and it sounded even creepier than ever because of the age difference, like a high-school teacher harassing a student.

  • Sort of a love song…”Same_Old_Lang_Syne” by Dan Fogelberg.  Showing my age again…

  • Launcifer

    Thanks for that – never heard it sung solo before. Also, completely random, but  one of the guys in the Pogues is the brother of someone who works with my mum. That always makes me grin a little.

  • I want to add, though it’s not a love song per se, that the single most arresting line in any Christmas song, solely in my opinion, is in Little Town of Bethlehem:  “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  A little reminder.

  •  I went to an awesome K-12 school that understood what it meant to have a sizable Jewish student population alongside the Catholics and Protestants. Every season in lower school (what we called kindergarten through sixth, though I think these days they consider sixth part of middle school) all the students took part in a holiday concert which included a sizable portion of Hanukkah songs along with the Christmas and Winter But Everyone Knows We Mean Christmas.

    The music varied  in complexity according to the age group singing each song. The kindergartners sang Dreidl and Rudolph, the fifth and sixth graders sang three-part harmony versions of O Holy Night and Light One Candle that would bring you to tears. There were big anthems that every single grade had a countermelody in, and the parents standing in the atrium space sang along, and that was WOW.

    (There’s a great picture of one of these annual concerts. The kids are all up on the stairs/elevated passages; the parents are below standing or sitting in the ground-level space. The piano and conductor are in the central landing. That’s the orff ensemble in the foreground – xylophones and metallophones and glockenspiels. Those aren’t real stained glass windows; they’re construction- and tissue-paper projects the kids make every year. The list of titles for that year’s concert does disappoint me a little; I’d have thought by now there’d be at least one Kwanzaa song.)

    My school was awesome. I was really disappointed to grow up, join a Sweet Adelines chorus, and learn the director thought “holiday music” meant “Some is Christian Christmas music and some is secular Christmas music, isn’t that enough for you? Can’t you just set aside the lyrics and enjoy the music an music? Hanukkah songs? There are Hanukkah songs? I thought only Christians sang. What, you want us to sing Dreidl Dreidl Dreidl?”

    Anyway, I don’t know how well-known this one is – probably fairly well, considering the amount of youtube hits I get, in addition to this moving essay about music and schools and exclusion and inclusion – but it was one of our counter-melody favorites at Metairie Park Country Day when I was attending between 1980 and 1994. Apparently (see link above) it still is.

    verse 1 (usually the younger kids)
    Here in my house, there are candles burning bright
    One for every night of the holiday
    We gather with friends, sharing gifts and happy times
    Happy Hanukkah

    verse 2 (usually the older kids)
    And in my neighbor’s house, the lights are shining too
    Red and green and blue from the door
    The sound of jingle bells and laughter everywhere
    Merry Christmas and many more

    chorus (everyonne)
    Season of light
    Season of cheer
    Season of peace – may it last throughout the year

    [verses 1 and 2 are then sung simultaneously]

    coda (everyone)
    Many happy, happy, ho…. li…. days!

  • Jessica_R

    Popping in for a Team Slacktivist Heifer Intl reminder, 145 dollars so far, you guys are amazing,

  • thrownaway

    On the Colbert Report this week Stephen sang it with opera singer Audra McDonald, and for the first time in years it was more a playful back and forth. The visuals helped, with the two dancing happily together.

  • James Simmons

    Regarding how long it’s been since we’ve had a new Christmas classic I suggest you check this out:

    I recorded this when it came out and watched it a couple of nights ago.  The songs are surprisingly good and not all of them are funny.   They make a well known Elvis Costello song work as a Christmas song (sung by most of the cast) and the final duet between Costello and Colbert is quite passable as a Christmas carol.

  • Lori

    I remember talking about it here, but I don’t recall all the details of the discussion. The song has definitely gotten a good bit of discussion in a lot of places in recent years and I’m not sure if there’s really a consensus about the lyrics or if the people who hate the song just feel way more strongly about it than those who don’t. Even if there is a consensus that the lyrics are a problem there certainly isn’t one about what to do about it (stop playing it, change the lyrics, flip the genders, camp it up).

    Even The Atlantic weighed in this year.

  • MikeJ

    Clean up for Christmas – Aimee Mann
    Merry Christmas Emily – Cracker
    Christmas Dreaming – Frank Sinatra
    Xmas Twist – The Twistin’ Kings (Only vaguely a love song)
    Chroistmas Everyday – Smokey Robinson
    All I want for Christmas is You – Carla Thomas

    A downer song:
    It Just Wouldn’t be Christmas – the Loud Family

    Snow/cold, but not really xmas:
    I’ve got my Love to Keep Me Warm
    Baby It’s Cold Outside
    Let it Snow,Let it Snow,Let it Snow
    Purple Snowflakes – Marvin Gaye

  • Adrienne Sanders

    You might be interested in this attempt at a new xmas song:
    It’s pretty catchy, really.

  • Have to pass, since the one Christmas song on my player is not a love song per se, but I can’t wait to share it if the category fits next week.

  • Lori

    Does Christmas With The Family count as a love song? It’s about having a tacky family and loving them as much because of their oddity as in spite of it. I think that at least sort of counts.

    I ask because it was just on the radio. This is the first place I’ve ever lived where that song got played on the radio, even during All Christmas All The Dang Time  24/7 Christmas songs.

  • The problem with “Oh Chanukah!” is that everyone sings a different combination of Yiddish/Hebrew/English words for the “treats” on the table (“Svivonim to play with, levivot to eat;” “Svivonim to play with, latkes to eat;” “Shiny tops to play with, latkes to eat,” etc.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of people where everyone sang that line the same way. And to be honest, I can’t get “Dreydels to play with” (as posted) to fit the meter. The song was, of course, originally writen in Yiddish, where it begins “Oy Khanukeh, oy Khanukeh, a yontev a sheyneh,” but I’ve never managed to learn the whole thing.

    I’ve grown partial to Maoz Tzur in recent years, as my (very non-religious) grandmother once demanded that I sing it, after I brought my menorah and lit it at her place. She said they always sang it for Hanukkah when she was a girl. I had never really learned the song before then, but now I sing the first verse every night of Hanukkah.

    As far as Sephardic Hanukkah songs go, I really like “Una Candelica.”

    And then of course there are the modern “Light One Candle” (by Peter Paul and Mary) which Ms. LeBoeuf-Little has already mentioned, and “Candlelight” (by the Maccabeats.)

  • Does “White Wine in the Sun” count as a love-song-to-family? Or are we counting only romantic love songs here?


  • From the idea “What if Leia had convinced Han to not go look for Luke” comes a filk of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” to be set on Hoth during The Empire Strikes Back.  

  • Also from fundraisers for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital:
    Christmas in the Northwest by Brenda White
    Here Is Christmas by Ann & Nancy Wilson aka Lovemongers aka Heart

  • I’m not sure that Paul Simon’s GETTING READY FOR CHRISTMAS DAY counts as a love song… Probably not, but it’s the only song I’ve got on my iPod that mentions the 25th.

    On the other hand I do have Tom Lehrer’s I’M SPENDING HANNUKAH IN SANTA MONICA… 

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m rather fond of “Christmas in Killarney”. Which isn’t about Christmas so much as it’s about Irishness and family and it happens to be set at Christmas.

  • AEve

    Winter Song – Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles. Definitely a love song, but not particularly Christmassy. It is Decembery though, so… that counts, right?

  • reynard61

    It’s not very long, but A Circle of Friends from Season 2 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic would seem to be a good fit.

  • Michael

    Charles Brown, ‘Merrry Christmas, Baby’
    Dar Williams, ‘The Christian and the Pagan’

  • Best version of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was sung by Olivia Olson in Love Actually.  Why, oh why, was the song not included on the soundtrack album? :(

    You can watch it here:

  • Speaking of different versions of Oh Chanukah, I just heard this on the radio:

    That combines the English and Hebrew versions (among other things), and is by Erran Baron Cohen, brother of the notorious Sasha.

  • firelion

    Tori Amos,  “A Silent Night With You”

    The bittersweet song has a happy ending.

  • firelion

    Oh, but the jazzy “Pink and Glitter” is the winner off the Midwinter Graces album, you should try it out.

  • Amaryllis

    I’ve got a TON of Christmas music. But it’s almost all religious, and if it isn’t religious it’s a lullaby or a wassail.

    Secular love songs, not so much. And they all seem to be unhappy:

    Anna Ingram’s Sister – The Kipper Family (“Gloria, who’s Anna Ingram’s sister…”)
    Blue Christmas – Larry Sparks
    Fairytale of New York – The Pogues (already mentioned, I know)
    Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus (Mama Ain’t No Christmas Tree) – Butterbeans and Susie
    River – Joni Mitchell
    St. Stephen’s Day Murders – The Chieftains and Elvis Costello (well, family holidays can be fraught)
    Winter, Fire and Snow – Anuna (not really a Christmas song, but a wintry song about parental love, so I say it counts)

  • And I’d never even heard of “Christmas in Killarney” before, despite living in this country all my life. Am now listening to it. Rather good fun.


  •  Bing Crosby’s version of Christmas in Killarney is pretty much my favorite christmas song. Though the Irish Rovers do a cover with better lyrics.

  • Aaronjdick

    This is the best Christmas sing EVER

  • Andreabolner

    Dashboard Confessional did “The Only Gift That I Need” in 2007, but I guess that as no one else has mentioned it it’s not a new classic.