What constitutes a Christmas song?

It annoys me whenever I hear “Last Christmas” by Wham! played on the radio during the yuletide season. No offense to anyone, but I would like to respectfully submit that it is NOT a Christmas song.

Why? Because except for the opening line (“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart…”) there is no mention of Christmas whatsoever. Nor is there any mention of the usual Christmas-related trappings such as caroling, gift-giving (the aforementioned heart notwithstanding), reindeer, or the birth of Jesus. There isn’t even the slightest mention of winter or snow, for that matter. The same song could have just as easily been written about Valentine’s Day, except that the lyrics wouldn’t have fit the meter.

I’d like to propose that in order to qualify as a Christmas tune, a song should meet at least one of the following criteria:

[li]It should make some sort of reference to the birth of Jesus (e.g. “Silent Night,” “God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Joy to the World”)[/li][li]It should mention some of the usual Christmas trappings such as Santa, Christmas trees, or sleigh bells (e.g. “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Baby,” “O Tannenbaum”)[/li][li]It should mention Christmas in more than just a passing manner (e.g. “Christmastime is Here,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas”). This is especially true if it alludes to the Christmas spirit (e.g. “Do They Know It’s Christmastime?”).[/li][li]For instrumental tunes, they should be closely associated with a well-known Christmas show (e.g. “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch,” Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy”)[/li][/ul]

Objections? Addenda?

I don’t have an answer fo ryou, but this is as good a place to shove this related question.

How come only christmas songs are carols? Where are the thanksgiving carols, the easter carols?

“Jingle Bells” was supposedly written for a Thanksgiving service.


The Thanksgiving season also includes the favorites “Over the River” and “We Gather Together.”

I agree with this premise; there’s certain songs which have gotten added into the Christmas-music rotation, but which really don’t belong there.

In addition to “Last Christmas”, I’d also kick these off the island:

  • “Another Auld Lang Syne”, Dan Fogelberg (about a bittersweet reunion with an ex-lover, which just happens to be on New Year’s Eve)
  • “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, various artists (about trying to convince a girl to stay overnight because the weather sucks…more about vague sexual innuendo than anything holiday-related)

If it doesn’t come from or sound like the 50s, it’s not real Christmas music.

Note that I hate Christmas music.

Winter Wonderland.
Let It Snow.

Neither makes the slightest mention of Christmas.

A Christmas song is what I’m pointing at when I say, “That is a Christmas Song.” Same for Christmas movies.

Some Christmas songs make no mention of Christmas (we had a thread on it last year), but are considered such because they’re traditionally played around Christmas.

I see where the OP is coming from, but too many long-beloved carols wouldn’t make the cut (add Sleigh Ride to the list…which even pointedly refers to a “birthday party”, which could just as easily have been a “christmas party”. lyricist must’ve been some kinda commie atheist. :wink: )

But I’m all in favor of banishing sappy love songs masquerading as Christmas carols. “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” would be the first to go.

Linus Van Pelt sings pumpkin carols while awaiting the Great Pumpkin on Halloween.

I object. There is absolutely nothing specifically Christmassy about sleigh bells or the song “Jingle Bells.”

“Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Let It Snow” are not Christmas songs; they’re winter songs. There’s no reason they couldn’t be appropriately played/sung during January or February except that everyone’s sick of them by the end of December.

This is true. I categorize popular Christmas songs into three categories:

-Religious Christmas songs. Songs whose lyrics involve Jesus or the birth of Jesus. Examples: The First Noel, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Do You Hear What I Hear?, Joy to the World.

-Secular Christmas songs. Songs with lyrics involving Santa Claus, celebrating Christmas, or other non-religious aspects of the Christmas season. Examples: Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Christmas Song.

-Winter songs. Songs about snow or wintertime that have no reference to Christmas in the lyrics, but are generally linked to the Christmas season. Examples: Frosty the Snowman, Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride, Jingle Bells.

The 702-page The New Oxford Book of Carols (Keyte/Parrott), now in my lap, has 17 New Year’s carols (don’t forget Deck the Halls is a New Year’s song, not a Christmas song), four for Twelfth night, 11 for Epiphany, one for the Octave of the Epiphany, one for Candelmas Eve and two for Candlemas. Its predecessor, The Oxford Book of Carols (Dearmer, Vaughn Williams, Shaw), contains carols for Innocents Day, Palm Sunday, Eastertide, Ascensiontide, Whitsuntide, Trinity Sunday, Saints’ Day, Spring, May, Summer, Autumn (including Thanksgiving – not American Thanksgiving, but a song in thanksgiving), and Winter.

My objection to Last Christmas is simply that it sucks, whether or not anyone considers it a Christmas song. I don’t want to hear it in December or July.

But I have no problem with what might be considered “winter songs” being lumped in with Christmas carols. Jingle Bells, Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland, Frosty the Snowman, et al., feel Christmas-y enough to me to make the cut.

Good King Wenceslas is anomalous…a religious song that makes no mention of Christmas, just the Feast of Stephen (Dec 26).

I’ve been listening to my local lite-rock-less-talk 24 hour christmas songs lately…and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one reason so many people say they hate Christmas carols. There are so many good Christmas carols, but the radio tilts heavily towards utter crap.

Oh good, that means that one of my favorites, “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’”, qualifies as an official Christmas song.

Actually, I meant to include a fifth category – songs that mention the beauty or magic of snow and winter. Apart from the songs that you mentioned, they would also include “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (which kenobi 65 cited earlier) and “Frosty the Snowman.”

Why? For the sake of tradition, and also because they’re at least associated with this general time of the year. If people can decorate their houses with fake snowflakes to celebrate Christmas, then I’m willing to grant these as Christmas songs, even though they’re not strictly about the holiday.

That’s a valid objection; however, as I said, I’m inclined to make allowances for winter songs. I see that other posters have also made the same point.

Well, it does include the line “Tis the season to be jolly,” which sounds more Christmassy to me. Of course, YMMV.

BTW, I do agree that “Last Christmas” simply sucks, whether or not it’s a yuletide song.

Even these rules are too lenient, as Joni Mitchell’s “River,” a heartbreak song from 38 years ago that somewhere along the line became a Christmas staple due solely to the scene-setting first verse, would qualify under Rule 2.

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace