Top Five Christmas Songs of All Time
The top selling single of all time of any musical genre is White Christmas by Bing Crosby. His cover of the song has sold over 50 million copies and counting. Despite these staggering numbers, this all-time list will not have White Christmas on it because we’re only looking at sacred Christmas songs — both contemporary and classic. In other words, not only will modern folk like Michael W. Smith be considered, but Pastor Joseph Mohr and Franz Xavier Grüber — the Victorian Era writers of Silent Night — can throw their top hats into the ring too. This list took into account a combination of things — sales numbers, chart performance, and polling that we conducted — to come up with the top tunes. While my other article, Top Ten Contemporary Christian Christmas Songs, was perhaps more opinion than hard proof, this article is more ambitious and attempts to present an authoritative list. This, of course, does not make it infallible. These types of lists are always open to debate. Without delay, here are the top five Christmas songs of all time with detailed reasons for their selection:
1. Silent Night: Not only has this song sold millions upon millions of copies because it was featured along with White Christmas on Bing Crosby’s record-breaking Christmas album, but it has been translated into 300 languages, scores of artists have covered it, and the opposing sides of World War I stopped their fighting on Christmas to sing it together because it was the one song they all knew. These facts alone might make it the greatest song of all time. Probably only Amazing Grace could compete with it. Like Amazing Grace, Silent Night is one of those rare overtly Christian songs that secular society embraces simply because of its beauty and rich tradition.
2. O Holy Night: Written in 1847, this song has been performed by a very long list of significant recording artists ranging from opera legend Enrico Caruso to progressive metal band Dream Theater. It is consistently highly ranked in all-time Christmas song polls and is yet another overtly Christian classic that the secular public has embraced.
3. O Come O Come Emmanuel: The Christian History Institute traces the musical origins of the “season’s most somber hymn,” as they call it, as far back as 1100 A.D to the “O Antiphons” metrical poem sung in Latin. The melody was used exclusively in Roman Catholic liturgy until 1851 when Anglican priest John Mason Neal did a “versification” and arrangement of the material, christened the new version “O Come O Come Emmanuel” — with proper credit given to the origin of the music — and published it to the Protestant world. Although not as commercially popular as Silent Night or O Holy Night, it has had a deep and lasting influence for generations, even in recent pop culture. For example, the song White As Snow from U2’s 2009 album No Line On The Horizon is musically based on O Come O Come Emmanuel. U2’s words are the thoughts of a soldier in Afghanistan as he lies dying, as Bono noted in a 2009 interview; but most of the melody is borrowed from the hymn.
4. Mary Did You Know: Other than classic carols and hymns, possibly the Christmas song most often heard in Christendom is Mark Lowry’s Mary Did You Know, which appears on just about every contemporary top Christmas song list there is. Mark’s site has the following facts about it: “This captivating song, which he co-wrote with Buddy Greene, has been recorded more than 400 times by artists from every genre including: Reba McEntire, Cee Lo Green, Clay Aiken, Michael English, Kenny Rogers, Wynonna Judd, The Gaither Vocal Band, and a long list of others.”
5. Little Town: This famous Amy Grant Christmas song is her popular version of O Little Town of Bethlehem. Not only was Amy Grant one of the forerunners of CCM as we know it today, but she is the best-selling Christian artist of all time with 16 number one albums in her career, which makes it almost impossible not to include one of her Christmas classics on this list.
Although this list certainly made room for modern artists, the classic carols could have easily dominated it. This is a very tough list to make, especially when deciding between old and new. But from my point of view, that is a wonderful problem to have. It is a testimony to the incredibly vast riches of music that has inhabited Christianity for generations past.