Cari Jean resides in North Dakota where she works as a freelance writer and blogs at Faith's Mom's Blog.
With Christmas quickly approaching, you've probably heard a Christmas song or two somewhere along your merry way. On the radio, in the supermarket, the hotel elevator—most everywhere you go, you hear the sounds of the season.
What's amazing to me is that most of the traditional Christmas carols that we still sing and hear today have been around since the 1800s. There are not many genres of still-popular music that can claim to be over 200 years old! I also find it interesting that in a world that seems to be less and less interested in Jesus (and Christianity in general), people and businesses still gladly play songs about His birth.
There are so many great carols to choose from, but in trying to come up with a top-10 list, I selected the following as my absolute favorite Christmas songs of all time. I hope you enjoy them (and the stories behind them) as much as I do. Merry Christmas!
1. "O Holy Night"
I'm starting off with my favorite Christmas song of all time—"O Holy Night." This song brings tears to my eyes and takes my breath away every time I hear it. The words are so beautiful and powerful.
This beautiful hymn was written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roqermaure, a wine merchant and poet. He was asked to write a Christmas poem for the parish priest, and his friend (and brilliant composer) Adolphe Charles Adams is credited for adding music to the words. My favorite performance of this song is by Celine Dion, whose 1998 version (see video above) was voted the third favorite Christmas song of all time in a 2004 poll.
2. "White Christmas"
Every year in North Dakota, we all hope for a white Christmas. It just adds something special to an already magical time of the year. With snow on the ground, the lights look brighter, the Christmas trees look prettier, and the hot chocolate is even tastier. I cannot imagine living somewhere without snow. We have, on occasion, had Christmases without the white stuff, and it just isn't the same.
The song "White Christmas" has been dubbed the most famous Christmas song of all time. Some say Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1940. It was not very popular when it first came out, but the heartfelt lyrics were cherished by soldiers and their families during WWII. It's even been reported that the Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests for the song during wartime.
The movie White Christmas (starring Bing Crosby) was inspired by the song. Even though Crosby's version is the best-selling single of all time, one of my favorite versions of this song is by country singer Martina McBride (see video above).
3. "Jingle Bells"
Who doesn't love "Jingle Bells?" When I was growing up, there were many different versions of this song popular among the youth, one of which discussed the superhero Batman and claimed that Robin, his sidekick, laid an egg. I don't recall all of the lyrics to that version, which is probably a good thing.
Although not technically a Christmas song, "Jingle Bells" is one of the most popular winter-themed songs of all time. It was written by James Lord Pierpont, an American songwriter born in Massachusetts, and copyrighted under the title "One Horse Open Sleigh" in 1857. Three verses in the song focus on the adventures of going on a sleigh ride. My favorite rendition is a swing version performed by the Denver and the Mile High Orchestra (see video above).
4. "Feliz Navidad"
"Feliz Navidad" is another one of those fun Christmas songs that always puts you in a cheery mood. The song was written by Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Jose Feliciano in 1970. Both Spanish and English versions exist, and the song is reportedly one of the top 25 most-played Christmas songs in the world. My favorite version is sung by Jaci Valesquez, a contemporary Christian Latin singer (see video above).
5. "Silent Night"
It just wouldn't be Christmas without the song "Silent Night." I think it's probably sung at just about every Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church service around the world.
This song was originally written in 1816 by an Austrian priest named Josef Mohr who wrote the lyrics to "Stille Nicht" (the tune's original title) in German. The carol was first performed at the Church of St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve in 1818 after it had been set to music.
"Stille Nicht" was translated into English in 1859 by an Episcopal Bishop in 1859, and this adaptation, known as "Silent Night," is the most frequently sung version today. One of my favorite versions of the sung is sung by Stevie Nicks (see video above) and was released on her album A Very Special Christmas in 1989.
6. "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
This is another amazing Christmas song that gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it. I was surprised to learn that "Do You Hear What I Hear?" was written more recently than most of the other carols on this list. It was written at a time when there was a threat of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
The song was penned by a once-married couple—Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker—but it was Bing Crosby who made the song known worldwide when he recorded a popular rendition in 1963. On the day of that recording, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
I love gospel singer Yolanda Adam's soulful version of the song as well as Whitney Houston's version, which she sang live on Jay Leno. I'm not sure what year it was, but I did find the video (see above).
7. "Joy to the World"
This is another song that you can't have Christmas without. Although "Joy to the World" is sung most often around Christmastime, the original intent of the song was to celebrate the return of Jesus—not His birth.
The song is based on Psalm 98 and was written by Isaac Watts, an English hymn writer. He published the song in 1719 along with a collection of other psalms by King David. The musical arrangement did not come about until 1839.
As of 1979, "Joy to the World" was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. Hillsong, a Christian band from Australia, does a very cool, very rockin' version of this song (see video above).
8. "The First Noel"
I remember singing this song nearly every Christmas season in elementary school. Nowadays, most public school kids do not sing about Jesus due to the separation of church and state. It is amazing what has happened in this country in the last 20 years or so—who would have thought that the words "Merry Christmas" would become so controversial?
It is not clear who wrote the lyrics to "The First Noel." In fact, very little is known about its origins. The words "Nowell" (a masculine name) and "Noelle" (a feminine name) are derived from the French "noël," meaning Christmas, which comes from the Latin word "natalis," meaning birth.
"The First Noel" is thought to have been first published in 1823 and then published again in 1833 with added lyrics. My favorite version is sung by Josh Groben and Faith Hill (see video above). Their duet is absolutely amazing!
9. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
The music to this song is somewhat solemn and haunting yet beautiful at the same time. I think that the lyrics are perfect for Christmas, as the word "Emmanuel" means "God is with us." Those of us who practice Christianity believe that God came to us in the flesh when the baby Jesus was born—a truly remarkable and world-changing event.
Just as with "The First Noel," the origins of this song are not clear, but it is believed to have eighth-century Gregorian origins. It could also have come from a 15th-century processional for French nuns.
The lyrics are based on the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, which reads, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." Selah has a beautiful version of this song, and the video (see above) contains scenes from the movie The Nativity Story.
10. "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)"
I realize that most of my favorite Christmas songs are more traditional, religious ones, but those are the ones that—at least to me—exemplify what Christmas is really all about: the birth of our Savior. And the song "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)," a beautiful Christmas tune written by Amy Grant, is no exception (see video above).
This song was originally written by an English songwriter by the name of Chris Eaton. Upon hearing it for the first time, Grant wanted to include it on her Christmas album, Home for Christmas, but she felt she needed to change the lyrics to tell the story from a woman's perspective. Her pregnancy at the time gave her the extra inspiration to write about Mary being pregnant with Jesus.
Grant's version was written in 1992, and in 2001, she wrote a book called Breath of Heaven based on it. The song appears on the soundtrack for the film The Nativity Story produced in 2006. Mike Rich, who wrote the screenplay for the film, said he began each day of writing by listening to this song.
Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on November 28, 2017:
Baseball Bob - I'm very glad to hear that my research is helping you out with your sermons for your Christmas services!
Baseball Bob on November 28, 2017:
Your list is very good & EVERYONE has their favorites. I will use some of your research during the 3 Nursing Homes I preach at for Christmas Services, with of course other Christian based themes.
Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on December 10, 2015:
Dan Bartels - Twit? Really? I'm not sure why you even left a comment - hasn't anyone told you if you can't think say anything nice, don't say anything at all?
Dan Bartels on December 03, 2015:
This article is so short sighted and inaccurate. I'm glad you express your joy at hearing these carols and songs. However, your freelance "writing" is self absorbed and meaningless, containing no real educational value whatsoever. Twit.
Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on December 17, 2011:
Princess Pitt - I know how you feel! I remember singing these songs in elementary school for our Christmas programs and also trying to play them on the piano! Thanks for your comment and Merry Christmas!
Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on December 17, 2011:
Hoosierlujah - thanks so much for stopping by! I'll be sure to check out your site.
Princess Pitt on December 17, 2011:
(SIgh). I miss my childhood., !!! Thanks for sharing!
Hoosierlujah on December 10, 2011:
Enjoyed your list. See me faves at http://wp.me/21cGH
Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on November 09, 2011:
Alpee - thanks so much for your comment. Can't wait to start listening to Christmas music - I try to hold off until after Thanksgiving though!
Alpee Tabieros on November 08, 2011:
The songs are so beuatiful and nice.
Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on December 24, 2009:
Pamela99 - thank you for reading.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 24, 2009:
Wonderful songs. I love them also.
Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on December 15, 2009:
Vladimir Uhri - Thank you so much!
Vladimir Uhri from HubPages, FB on December 15, 2009:
I love it.