A lot can be gleaned about a person by her favorite Christmas song. “Grown-up Christmas List”? She’s a sap. “Last Christmas”? She has a soft spot for George Michael. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”? She’s a child at heart.
In recent years, WAJI-FM Majic 95.1 has polled listeners, bracket-style, to find Fort Wayne’s favorite Christmas song; “White Christmas,” performed by Bing Crosby, won last year. (The song appears on my list, too – but not Crosby’s version.)
This list is by no means definitive. It’s simply the 25 favorite Christmas* songs, and the artists who perform them best, of a 20-something woman who starts wearing Christmas socks the day after Halloween. *And one Hanukkah song
1. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings,” Barenaked Ladies featuring Sarah McLachlan. Their voices blend seamlessly together, they rock a round and they take a song that can be a bit of a drag and make it anything but.
2. “White Christmas,” The Drifters. By some accounts, this is the most recorded song of all time (Perry Como, Elvis Presley, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Bob Marley, Barbara Streisand, Garth Brooks, Boy George, Cee Lo Green and oh-so-many more), and, yes, the Bing Crosby original is perhaps the best auditory example of Christmas there is. (Listen to it in July and you would probably want to dig out the wreath and garland.) But The Drifters’ version? Simply superior.
3. “Linus and Lucy,” Vince Guaraldi Trio. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is probably my favorite Christmas album of all time, and this song – it’s the one where Schroeder is playing piano on stage and all the characters rock out – is the best of the bunch.
4. “ Frosty the Snowman,” Jimmy Durante. The holiday cartoons are my favorite every year, and I think this is the best tune from the old school crop of songs. No subsequent version can beat Durante’s.
5. “ Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Glee” cast. This is one of those rare songs where just about every version is killer. The concept is so cute, and the back and forths range from sweet to sultry – Dean Martin and Martina McBride, Barry Manilow and K.T. Oslin, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, She & Him (who swap it around, turning the woman into the wolf). I’d have to say my favorite version features “Glee” characters Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss) flirting so adorably through the song.
6. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” Gayla Peevey. This song just makes me happy. In a magic world where I am a professional singer, this is the first release off my Christmas album.
7. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Mariah Carey. Though the original version was released in 1963, it seems like this song has been Carey’s from the start.
8. “Silent Night,” Boyz II Men. The group members’ harmonies and a capella style are a perfect match for this beautiful Christmas hymn.
9. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Judy Garland. This is quite the melancholy song, and Garland gives it just the right tone to go with the words that are depressing enough to warrant the occasional rewrite. In the original tune, it’s “Someday soon we all will be together if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” Some newer versions change it to, “Through the years we all will be together if the fates allow. Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
10. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” Thurl Ravenscroft. Full of insults enough to please Mr. Shakespeare, this is a song that should never be remade. Fun fact: Ravenscroft is also the voice of Tony the Tiger.
11. “Dominick the Donkey,” Lou Monte. I’m a cruddy Italian: I heard this for the first time only a few years ago. Molto buono!
12. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Gene Autry. It’s just not Christmas without Rudolph.
13. “Last Christmas,” George Michael. Yes, I have a giant soft spot for George Michael. And this is a great song. There’s really no point in any artist remaking it. (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift. Just stop it.)
14. “The Christmas Song,” Nat King Cole. Also known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” this song is such a pretty Christmas picture painted by Cole. And his voice is pure butter
15. “I Wish It Was Christmas Today,” “Saturday Night Live” cast. I look forward to watching some version of the little ditty performed by Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan each year. Even though he doesn’t sing a word, Morgan makes this.
16. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Cindi Lauper and Frank Sinatra. The song was a childhood favorite, and I like how true this version is to the simple ditty you sang as a kid. Less similar, but nearly as great, is the Jackson 5’s version. (Oddly, my least favorite Christmas song – the one that makes me start pounding on the radio dial to get something else, anything else, coming through the speakers – is a version of this by Bruce Springsteen. Yuck.)
17. “12 Days of Christmas,” Straight No Chaser. This song has so much potential to be too long and too boring, but Straight No Chaser condenses it and turns it into a hilarious mash-up. Who knew Toto’s “Africa” worked so well as a Christmas song?
18. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Michael Bublé. A beautiful song by a beautiful voice. This version is pure, simple and sweet.
19. “Do You Hear What I Hear,” Whitney Houston. A gorgeous take on a holiday standard.
20. “All I Want for Christmas is You,” Mariah Carey. It’s impressive when a pop song can become so popular, it’s no longer a pop song but a holiday one. And then to have other artists cover it? There’s only one other Christmas pop song that can boast this on this list.
21. “Carol of the Bells,” The Piano Guys. Is it ironic for a version of this song to have no bells? Probably. That doesn’t detract from it at all. This is perhaps a little-known version of the song, but the cellist makes it haunting.
22. “Winter Wonderland” Jason Mraz. This has always been one of my favorite Christmas tunes. Mraz’s version is stripped down and fun.
23. “Little Drummer Boy,” Bob Seger. I appreciate the modern rock take on a song, originally called “Carol of the Drums,” that was written in 1941.
24. “The Chanukah Song,” Adam Sandler. This song came out in 1994, and it’s still funny 18 years later.
25. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Brenda Lee. Any song that can so evoke the image of a life-sized, cardboard Michael Jordan attached to a toy train (“Home Alone”) must make a top 25 list.