A caroling we go
Have you ever wondered what the most popular Christmas carols are? Several years ago, TIME Magazine compiled lists of religious and secular songs by the number of known recordings of each.
Top of the list of religious songs is a popular one to end a Christmas carol church service, mass or sing along: Silent Night with 733 recordings since 1978. Next is Joy to the World, O Holy Night, What Child is This, Away in a Manger, O Come All Ye Faithful, Ave Maria, Jingle Bells (we’re not sure either why this is on the Religious list), and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
For secular songs, White Christmas tops the list with 283 recordings, followed by The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…) with 254. Jingle Bells does double duty on this list, followed by Little Drummer Boy, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Winter Wonderland, I’ll Be Home Christmas, Silver Bells, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
For the most performed songs, the 2010s have seen a shift to more secular songs, including Santa Claus is Coming to Town as number one, followed by Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Winter Wonderland, Let it Snow, The Christmas Song, Jingle Bell Rock, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Sleigh Ride, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, White Christmas, Holly Jolly Christmas, Carol of the Bells, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, All I Want for Christmas is You, Frosty the Snowman, Blue Christmas, Home for the Holidays, The Little Drummer Boy, Do You Hear What I Hear, Silver Bells, Baby, it’s Cold Outside (which has faced controversy this year as people try to parse the intent of lyrics written over 70 years ago) I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Feliz Navidad, Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24, Last Christmas, Here Comes Santa Claus, Santa Baby, Happy Holiday, and Wonderful Christmastime.
Forty-three percent of the top-performed songs were written in the 1930s or ’40s; hence they’ve been enjoyed by several generations. Forty percent were written in the 1950s and ’60s. Only 17 percent were written from the 1970s on.
Christmas songs take a while to become traditions. While hits like “Grown-up Christmas List” created by David Foster and Natalie Cole from 1990, and “Mary Did You Know “ from 1991, “Hey Santa” from Wilson Phillips in 1993, 1998’s “Christmas Canon” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and 2000s “Where are You Christmas,” are becoming familiar, fewer people could pick out Enya’s “White is in the Winter Night” (2008), “Christmas Lights” by Coldplay (2010), or Sia’s “Santa’s Coming for Us,” which debuted in 2017.
This year, everything old seems to be new again. Cam has dropped a new version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Ingrid Michaelson and Jason Mraz team up for “Christmas Valentine.” John Legend and Kelly Clarkson made the lyrics to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” feel a little less invasive and creepy to some. Maddy & Tae harmonize on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Lucy Dacus covers, “Last Christmas,” and time will tell if she really gave us her heart. D’Capella created an acoustic version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.
Time will tell if these become classics to our progeny the way so many others on the lists have to those of us born before, say, “Peace on Earth” by David Bowie and Bing Crosby.