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The Most-Covered Christmas Songs Ever

Christmas music: It’s unavoidable now, infiltrating our radio stations, dominating our streaming services, and pumped into department stores like a narcotic, gingerbread-tinged gas. It’s almost two weeks out from Christmas, so we’re quickly coming up on its annual apex. And although we know a bunch about the yearly demand for holiday tracks, it’s also worth looking into the supply. The modern Christmas canon is mainly from the middle of the 20th century, but every year artists drop new Christmas tracks, and some of these new stabs at holiday tunes do catch on, to a degree: 2011’s “Mistletoe” by Justin Bieber is still in substantial streaming demand, as is 2013’s “Santa Tell Me” by Ariana Grande and 2014’s “I’ll Be Home” by Meghan Trainor.

Still, not all artists are so creative. If you’re going to cut a Christmas album, you’re gonna have to toss a few covers of the classics in there. I wanted to know what the most-covered holiday songs are, and Eliot Van Buskirk at Spotify — which has identified more than 1.3 million tracks of holiday music — was kind enough to send over the data they had. So, for instance, Spotify could tell us that the song “Deck the Halls” is associated with 9,146 individual tracks — appearances on different albums by different artists — in the Spotify database.1

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Here are the 25 most-covered Christmas songs in Spotify’s corpus,2 plus the year of their release:

The most-covered Christmas songs on Spotify
1 Silent Night 1818 26,496 🎄
2 White Christmas 1940 20,721
3 Jingle Bells 1857 19,080 🎄
4 The Christmas Song 1944 13,208
5 The First Noel 1833 12,476 🎄
6 Winter Wonderland 1934 12,196
7 Santa Claus Is Coming To Town 1934 12,085
8 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 1943 11,714
9 Joy to the World 1836 11,395 🎄
10 Away In a Manger 1887 10,074 🎄
11 God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen 1827 9,988 🎄
12 Hark, the Herald Angels Sing 1840 9,864 🎄
13 O Holy Night 1847 9,730 🎄
14 I’ll Be Home for Christmas 1943 9,318
15 Deck the Halls 1800 9,146 🎄
16 O Little Town of Bethlehem 1868 9,001 🎄
17 Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer 1939 8,947
18 Silver Bells 1950 8,451
19 It Came Upon the Midnight Clear 1850 8,291 🎄
20 Ave Maria 1825 8,195 🎄
21 O Come All Ye Faithful 1751 8,159 🎄
22 Sleigh Ride 1948 7,684
23 We Wish You a Merry Christmas 1500 7,491 🎄
24 What Child Is This? 1865 7,443 🎄
25 Blue Christmas 1964 6,964

“Silent Night,” “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” are the most-covered songs in the holiday canon. In the right-hand column, I’ve identified (with a Christmas tree!) those songs that have lapsed into the public domain. Unsurprisingly, the free use of some of these songs seems to be a motivation for people to cover them.

Is the ambient noise of Christmas defined entirely by boomer nostalgia and the vagaries of U.S. copyright law? I mean, the newest song on that list, “Blue Christmas,” came out during the LBJ administration, and 60 percent of them came out before 1923, so yes, yes it is.

This phenomenon — that many of the songs that artists cover the most are free and in the public domain — can also be seen in movies. In 2014, I pulled several IMDb data sets for an article about movies nominated for an Oscar. One of these sets was the soundtracks for movies listed on the site, and several of the most common songs that appeared on those soundtracks turned out to be holiday songs.

“Jingle Bells,” for instance, was the most common song in the entire batch of movie soundtracks. I imagine this is mostly because if you need to set the mood and tell the audience it’s the holiday season, playing “Jingle Bells” as diegetic sound is a pretty good way to get the point across.

Here are the top holiday songs that appear on IMDb soundtracks:3

The most common Christmas songs on movie soundtracks
1 Jingle Bells 1857 373 🎄
2 Auld Lang Syne 1711 295 🎄
3 Silent Night 1818 254 🎄
4 Ave Maria 1825 154 🎄
5 Deck the Halls 1800 131 🎄
6 Joy to the World 1836 99 🎄
7 We Wish You a Merry Christmas 1500 84 🎄
8 Hark, the Herald Angels Sing 1840 68 🎄
9 Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy/”The Nutcracker Suite” 1892 57 🎄
10 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 1943 56
11 God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen 1827 49 🎄
12 Good King Wenceslas 1853 49 🎄
13 Santa Claus Is Coming to Town 1934 48
14 The First Noel 1833 47 🎄
15 White Christmas 1940 46
16 Winter Wonderland 1934 43
17 The Christmas Song 1944 39
18 Greensleeves 1580 38 🎄
19 Adeste Fideles 1751 34 🎄
19 Sleigh Ride 1948 34
21 O Tannenbaum 1800 33 🎄
22 I’ll Be Home for Christmas 1943 32
23 Jingle Bell Rock 1957 30
24 Carol of the Bells 1904 29 🎄
25 O Christmas Tree 1800 24 🎄
25 O Come All Ye Faithful 1751 24 🎄

The preference for the public domain is even more striking here: Nine of the top 10 songs are copyright-free. I’ll guess the reason for this is that unless it’s essential to the plot, picking a free holiday song to set the mood over one where you’d owe royalties makes financial sense and doesn’t throw the movie off.

Going back to the Spotify data, though, given what we know about what people actually listen to, it’s pretty clear that the supply for many of these songs wildly outpaces the demand. Only 13 of the top 50 covered songs appeared in the top 50 most-streamed holiday songs during the first week of December. The most recent song to both inspire many copies and see substantial streaming volume is 1985’s “Last Christmas” by Wham!.

The moral of the story? If you’re going to lay down the hottest holiday album of 2016, society probably doesn’t need another recording of “Silent Night.” We do, on the other hand, need thousands more recordings of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” because that song is great4 despite being the only song ever recorded with a worse understanding of the continent of Africa than the Toto song “Africa.”

Finally, here are the most-streamed Christmas songs on Spotify in the week ending Dec. 10. Topping the list are the queen and king of Christmas music, Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé.

Most popular Christmas song on Spotify, week ending Dec. 10
1 All I Want for Christmas Is You Mariah Carey
2 It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Michael Bublé
3 Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree Brenda Lee
4 Mistletoe Justin Bieber
5 Fairytale Of New York (feat. Kirsty MacColl) The Pogues
6 White Christmas Bing Crosby
7 Last Christmas – Single Version Wham!
8 Santa Tell Me Ariana Grande
9 It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Andy Williams
10 Mary, Did You Know? Pentatonix
11 Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Frank Sinatra
12 The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You) Nat King Cole
13 Blue Christmas Elvis Presley
14 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Sam Smith
15 A Holly Jolly Christmas – Single Version Burl Ives
16 Jingle Bell Rock Bobby Helms
17 Merry Christmas Everyone Shakin’ Stevens
18 Mer jul Adolphson & Falk
19 This Christmas Chris Brown
20 Do They Know It’s Christmas? Band Aid
21 Tänd ett ljus Triad
22 Baby, It’s Cold Outside Seth MacFarlane
23 Feliz Navidad José Feliciano
24 I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday Roy Wood
25 Run Rudolph Run Chuck Berry
26 Christmas Lights Coldplay
27 Driving Home for Christmas Chris Rea
28 Santa Baby Eartha Kitt
29 I’ll Be Home Meghan Trainor
30 Santa Claus Is Coming to Town The Jackson 5
31 My Only Wish (This Year) Britney Spears
32 Home for Christmas Maria Mena
33 Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town – Single Version Bruce Springsteen
34 Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Christina Aguilera
35 Himmel På Jord Kurt Nilsen
36 Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays *NSYNC
37 Sleigh Ride The Ronettes
38 Last Christmas Carly Rae Jepsen
39 Baby, It’s Cold Outside Glee Cast
40 Christmas Time Is Here – Vocal / Album Version Vince Guaraldi Trio
41 Little Saint Nick The Beach Boys
42 Baby It’s Cold Outside (duet with Michael Bublé) Idina Menzel
43 Jingle Bells Diana Krall
44 Happy Xmas (War Is Over) John Lennon
45 Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Dean Martin
46 Step Into Christmas Elton John
47 Wonderful Christmastime Paul McCartney
48 It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Perry Como
49 One More Sleep Leona Lewis
50 Merry Xmas Everybody Slade
51 Mary’s Boy Child / Oh My Lord Boney M.
52 Man With The Bag Jessie J
53 Text Me Merry Christmas (feat. Kristen Bell) Straight No Chaser
54 Christmas Eve / Sarajevo Trans-Siberian Orchestra
55 The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) Alvin & The Chipmunks
56 Merry Christmas Darling – Album Version/Remix The Carpenters
57 White Christmas (feat. Clyde McPhatter & Bill Pinckney) The Drifters
58 Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) Darlene Love
59 Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer Gene Autry
60 Happy Christmas (War Is Over) Maroon 5
61 My Favorite Things Kelly Clarkson
62 Jingle Bell Rock from Daryl Daryl Hall & John Oates
63 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Judy Garland
64 Stop the Cavalry Jona Lewie
65 Frosty The Snowman Ella Fitzgerald
66 Angels We Have Heard On High – Duet with Brian McKnight Josh Groban
67 Merry Christmas Darling Christina Perri
68 Carol of the Bells – Voice Peter J. Wilhousky
69 Winter Wonderland Tony Bennett
70 I Believe In Father Christmas Emerson, Lake & Palmer
71 Santa Baby Kylie Minogue
72 Lonely This Christmas Mud
73 White Christmas Nashville Cast
74 Do You Hear What I Hear? Mary J. Blige
75 Cuddle Up Catey Shaw
76 White Christmas Katy Perry
77 2000 Miles – 2007 Remastered Version Pretenders
78 Christmas In Harlem Kanye West
79 What Christmas Means To Me Stevie Wonder
80 All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) Nat King Cole Trio
81 Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming) – Radio Version Melanie Thornton
82 I En Stjerneregn Af Sne Mads Langer
83 Juligen Just D
84 Jesus & Josefine Julie & Martin Brygmann
85 God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen BYU Vocal Point
86 Jag kommer hem igen till jul Peter Jöback
87 When a Child Is Born Johnny Mathis
88 The Christmas Waltz She & Him
89 Last Christmas – Studio Version Jimmy Eat World
90 All My Christmases Jillian Edwards
91 Dear Santa Mr Little Jeans
92 It’s Christmas Time Again Backstreet Boys
93 Jul Det’ Cool MC Einar
94 Mistletoe Colbie Caillat
95 Jul i Angora Drengene fra Angora
96 Stay Another Day East 17
97 Another Christmas Amanda Jenssen
98 Where Are You, Christmas? Faith Hill
99 Baby, It’s Cold Outside Jessica Simpson
100 Hoping for Snow The Vamps


  1. They sent over data of about 900,000 songs with at least 10 tracks associated with them. I pulled those songs with at least 300 tracks, cleaned the data — combining “O Christmas Tree” and “Oh Christmas Tree” into a single entry, for example — and ranked them by number of associated tracks.
  2. Fun fact: Christmas music is one of only a few types of music, kids’ music too, that Spotify has to laboriously identify with algorithms and flag. People don’t want to hear it outside of a specific time of the year, so identifying holiday tracks is of particular importance to the streaming service.
  3. This is a little out of date — early 2014 — but cleaning is a massive pain, so throw me a bone here.
  4. #ProblematicFave.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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