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Want to Skip the Mariah Carey? Here are 12 Classic Christmas Songs to Add to Your Playlist

By Lizz Panchyk

A 1955 album cover for the song made famous by Gene Autry in 1949.

With the bustling holiday season fast approaching, we often turn off the pop songs and blast the Christmas music. Of course, everyone knows “All I want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey, but what about some old favorites? The kinds of songs you listen to on Christmas morning with the fireplace crackling and the faint smell of cinnamon and balsam in the air? Here are 12 homey holiday songs to ensure a wonderful Christmas-time

  1. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Bing Crosby Although a sweet sounding melody, this song, originally recorded by Crosby in 1943, was meant to be sung from the point of view of an overseas soldier. The soldier writes a letter to his family with hopes that he will be home for Christmas - and the song itself was to honor overseas soldiers fighting at that time.

  2. “Winter Wonderland” by Richard Himber This was originally a poem written by Richard Smith in 1934 while being treated for tuberculosis, according to Although not intended to be a Christmas song, it ties into some of the classics of the season. The poem was made into a song and recorded by Himber.

  3. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry and the Pinafores The original lyrics of this song were written by Robert L. May, who, having skipped several school grades, felt out of place because he was younger than everyone else. In this song, he wrote himself as Rudolph who first appeared in a booklet in 1939 written by May. The song became infamous through Gene Autry’s 1949 recording.

  4. “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono Lennon is well known from The Beatles but in 1971, he and his wife came out with this song, being that they were both huge peace activists and heavily against war. Considered an “anti-war” song, the tune also wishes a happy Christmas to all who are listening.

  5. “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley This song is strongly associated with Elvis, the king of rock and roll, though it was originally written by Jay W. Johnson and Billy Hayes, and first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948. Elvis came out with his rendition in 1957 and the song has become a staple of the Christmas season ever since.

  6. “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole This favorite was written by Robert Wells and Mel Torme in 1945 and recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946. It’s said it was written during a hot summer day in July and the artists decided to “think cool to stay cool.” Their work definitely paid off and Cole became the first Black American to record a holiday standard.

  7. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams Written in 1963, by Edward Pola and George Wyle, it was recorded and sung by Williams for “The Andy Williams Christmas Album” released the same year. It’s meant to bring comfort in its mention of Christmas activities and spending time with family and friends.

  8. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” by Perry Como This is a song that had to be included. It was originally written by composer Meredith Wilson in 1951 and became a hit when Como and the Fontane Sisters with Mitchell Ayres & His Orchestra recorded it that same year.

  9. “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry Here’s a song with a funny backstory. During the Christmas Parade in 1946, Autry was riding his horse and heard children exclaim, “Here comes Santa Claus!” This inspired him to write his next Christmas hit for the following year.

  10. “Sleigh Ride” by The Ronettes It started out with no lyrics. The music was also written during a heat wave, much like that of “The Christmas Song.” It was originally an orchestrated song in 1948, and in 1950 lyrics were written by Mitchell Parish. While it was first recorded by The Andrews Sisters, The Ronettes famously covered it in 1963.

  11. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby Don’t we all dream of a white Christmas? While it’s slow and dreamy, the background of this song is actually quite sad. Irving Berlin, who wrote the song, would spend Christmases at the cemetery visiting his newborn son who died on Christmas day in 1928, according to It is thought that his writing had to do with his mourning. In 1941, on Christmas day, Crosby performed it on air, 18 days after the Pearl Harbor attack.

  12. “Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives A preferred traditional Christmas tune, this song was written by Johnny Marks in 1962. It was famously used in the stop-motion of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1964. Ives’ cheery voice can warm up any holiday setting.

Bonus Track: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Frank Loesser Although classic and infamous, this song has been getting backlash for its contents for years. Loesser wrote it in 1944 and originally intended for it to be performed by him and his wife at parties to indicate that the party was over. The song has since been deemed as inappropriate because of its questionable lyrics and implications of rape and harassment. While it’s still around and performed, you may notice a change in lyrics or even comical twists.

If some of these titles sound familiar to you, it could be that you’ve heard covers and remixes from artists like Michael Buble or Pentatonix. But when you hear these classics, you are automatically drawn back into a time of hope, simplicity, comfort and family, which is exactly what we need this Christmas. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

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