The 50 Christmas songs you really will love (we promise)

Christmas songs don’t have to suck! From traditional favorites to obscure nuggets, we’ve got the proof right here (and it’s wearing festive antlers).



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Simon & Garfunkel

“7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” by Simon & Garfunkel

In this 1966 cover of the Christmas classic, the duo’s gentle harmonies are overlaid with a news broadcast that mentions, among other disturbing events, the trial of serial killer Richard Speck, violent Vietnam War protests and Lenny Bruce’s fatal drug overdose. The stark contrast between beauty and brutality creates a powerful, political plea for peace. And what’s more seasonally appropriate than that?—Tim Lowery

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Paul McCartney

“Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney

Christmas is one of the few times of year where unabashed cheesiness isn’t just embraced, it’s encouraged. And if there’s one person you can count on to deliver cheese, it’s Paul McCartney, whose mostly great catalog is nevertheless filled with really goofy songs. All of the corny hallmarks are here: Oh-so-’80s synthesizers? Check. Excessive use of the phrase ding, dong? Yup. A kind-of terrible video that employs low-budget graphics? Oh, yes. But all of those things are precisely why we love this song: It’s the perfect expression of the daffy, overly cheerful sensibility that’s in the air this time of year.—Amy Plitt

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“Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” by The Ramones

Holiday perennials like frantic gift-shopping, stretched bank accounts and forced family time can easily turn the most wonderful time of the year into the most stressful. Turn to the leather-clad punks for a reminder of the true meaning of the season: peace on earth, at least for one night.—Andrew Frisicano

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Beach Boys

“Little Saint Nick” by The Beach Boys

The California group applied its usual formula of upbeat melodies and precise vocal harmonizing to this easygoing Christmas tune. In true early Beach Boys fashion—when the band mostly sang about cars and girls—songwriters Brian Wilson and Mike Love even threw in a reference to Santa’s “candy-apple red” sleigh.—Amy Plitt

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She & Him

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by She and Him

Hugh Martin’s original lyrics, written for Judy Garland to sing in Meet Me in St. Louis (1942), had an ominous sense of looming gloom (“Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past”). At MGM’s insistence, that sentiment was inverted into hopefulness—but the melancholy melody remains, all the more touching for its subtle contradiction of the song’s ostensible optimism. The stripped-down quirk of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s 2011 recording gives it a retro-modern twist.—Adam Feldman

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Sufjan Stevens

“Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!” by Sufjan Stevens

It’s hard to narrow down our favorite yuletide tunes by the Brooklyn troubadour, simply because he’s made so damn many of them—more than five hours of festive cheer across two Christmas box sets. (And we wouldn’t be surprised if the ambitious songwriter has more up his sleeve.) Among his many original holiday compositions, we most like this jaunty song, which lists all the reasons to be excited for the season: evergreen trees, roasting chestnuts and the fact that Santa Claus is on his way.—Amy Plitt

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“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee

The singer was only 13 years old when she recorded this rockabilly ode to “the new old-fashioned way.” Try quizzing your distant relatives on its oft misheard lyrics involving “balls of holly” and what kind of pie exactly?—Andrew Frisicano

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Elvis Presley

“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley

Basically, everyone’s Elvis impression is molded on this archetypal Presley performance. Does that make it any less wonderful? Of course not! This country classic was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948, but from Presley’s doe-eyed sincerity to the flurry of falsetto ooohs backing him up, the King’s version of “Blue Christmas” is your indispensable holiday heartbreak anthem.—Sophie Harris

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Frank Sinatra

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Frank Sinatra

Like “White Christmas,” this poignant standard—first recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943—yearns for quiet family traditions amid the tumult of wartime. (The arrangement of Frank Sinatra’s moony 1957 version begins with a hint of “Silent Night.”) “I’ll be home for Christmas / You can count on me,” the singer begins, but this promise is soon retracted with the admission that the longed-for reunion may be “only in my dreams.” The special resonance of this lyric for soldiers, who knew too well that they might never be home again, echoes through the song to this day.—Adam Feldman

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Jose Feliciano

“Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano

Nothing quite says Christmas like José Feliciano’s 1970 classic, “Feliz Navidad.” Whether it’s because you have some serious Latino pride or only really know how to say “Merry Christmas” in Spanish because of this song, “Feliz Navidad” has one common message we can all belt out together: “I want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart!” No argument there, folks.—Rachel J. Sonis

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