The 30 Best Christmas Albums of All-Time

Already tired of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You?” Don’t worry, there’s much more to set the soundtrack to the holiday season – and this list of the top Christmas albums of all-time is not merely a start, but a complete repertoire. The 30 greatest records for the “most wonderful time of the year” bring together 20th century show tunes, television soundtracks, and my personal punk and metal favorites (just go in with an open mind, will you?). Turn off the repetitive radio stations, and throw these albums on in the background while you finish your last-minute Christmas shopping.

30. Bad Religion – Christmas Songs (2013)

They may have gotten some flack for going against the punk’s anti-establishment ethos, but Bad Religion releasing a Christmas album actually works – and Christmas Songs is one of the best Christmas records to come from the punk genre. That’s because the punk legends keep things straightforward, keeping their playing fast and tight. As a result, “Hark! The Herald Angel Sing” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” sound excellent with power chords and layered vocals.

29. Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas (1987)

Released as a benefit compilation to raise money for the Special Olympics, the first edition of A Very Special Christmas is still the best of the trio. It had an impressive cultural impact as well, selling millions of copies – and it’s not easy to guess why. With Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Madonna, Bon Jovi, Stevie Nicks, and Sting all playing together on the same disc, there’s something for everybody on this defining landmark of Christmas music in the ‘80s.

28. Various Artists – Gift Wrapped (2009)

The Warner Records compilation Gift Wrapped is a peculiar meshing of numerous musical styles popular throughout the 2000s. While it lacks consistent focus, it does bring the diversity of the label together in a single collection. My Chemical Romance and The Used serve up their post-hardcore/emo energy, Jack’s Mannequin and Foxy Shazam deliver pop-rock with horns and piano, and Regina Spektor and Michael Bublé bring their prominent pop-vocal performances.

27. Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas (2006)

If Sufjan Stevens’ vision for 50 state-themed full-lengths wasn’t enough, he compiled five EPs’ worth of Christmas songs, boxing them together as the 42-track Songs for Christmas. Mostly covers of holiday favorites with a few originals thrown in among the mix, Stevens brings out his indie folk style with religious overtones – including originals like “The Incarnation” and “Star of Wonder.” He may not have finished his state project, but this Christmas collection is a worthy milestone.

26. Various Artists – No Sleep ‘Till Christmas Vol. 3 (2010)

No Sleep Records has offered fans of punk and emo three editions of No Sleep ‘Till Christmas. But it’s the third, from 2010, that gives us the most interesting glimpse at the label’s musical scope. Whether it’s La Dispute’s slow-building instrumental “First Snow in Grand Rapids,” Mansions’ downbeat indie rock version of “White Christmas,” or Balance and Composure’s lo-fi “Away in a Manger,” this collection spotlights No Sleep artists at their most artistically sound.

25. Kelly Clarkson – Wrapped in Red (2013)

For the most part, Kelly Clarkson’s Christmas album is what you’d expect from one of pop’s premier voices of the 21st century: a booming vocal performance that soars to an emotional croon on “Wrapped in Red” and glides along to a groovy beat on “Underneath the Tree.” The latter is Wrapped in Red’s standout and Clarkson’s original contribution to modern holiday radio. In addition, her “Silent Night” with Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood is a noble finale.

24. Switchfoot – This Is Our Christmas Album (2022)

It was just a matter of time that Switchfoot put out a Christmas album. Their regular tourmates in Relient K beat them to the count, as have other Christian rock outfits like Family Force 5 and Third Day. But the wait for This Is Our Christmas Album was worth it as fans get a first glimpse of an era post-Drew Shirley. With one side featuring originals and the other featuring covers, Switchfoot offers a wintry mix of acoustic rock – even if San Diego is sunny this time of year.

23. Various Artists – A Santa Cause: It’s a Punk Rock Christmas (2003)

A Santa Cause: It’s a Punk Rock Christmas is a rare, hard-to-find collection. It’s not streaming, narrowing listening options down to random YouTube uploads and used CDs on eBay. This two-disc album is a who’s who of pop-punk and post-hardcore in the early 2000s, from Blink-182 to Fall Out Boy. But die-hards will be pleased to hear rare tracks from Something Corporate, Acceptance, Matchbook Romance, The Beautiful Mistake, and Saosin – good stuff.

22. Various Artists – Punk Goes Christmas (2015)

Imagine the biggest artists on the Vans Warped Tour got together and made a Christmas album. That would be Punk Goes Christmas, the next in a long line of punk cover albums – including Punk Goes Pop and Punk Goes Crunk. Staples of the summer festival from Man Overboard to Yellowcard to Crown the Empire turn down their amps for more tender holiday cuts. Be sure to get the deluxe edition, featuring -core stalwarts Being As an Ocean and August Burns Red.

21. Carpenters – Christmas Portrait (1978)

The Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait became an instant holiday classic upon its release in 1978. The record features the duo’s most famous Christmas original, “Merry Christmas Darling,” as well as a handful of covers and medleys (track two on the CD edition merges a whopping 10 holiday hits). Christmas Portrait is an absolute relic of a time when siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter combined their beautiful voices, and it’s one of the highlights of their career.

20. Various Artists – Happy Christmas Volume 4 (2004)

Christian label BEC Recordings started its Happy Christmas compilations in the late ‘90s, and it peaked in 2004 with Volume 4 in its catalog. This edition was the first released by Tooth & Nail Records, but it featured much more than just Anberlin and Emery – two of the most promising acts on its roster. With Switchfoot, Relient K, and Hawk Nelson filling out the compilation, Happy Christmas Volume 4 is good – so good that it was nominated for a 2006 Dove Award.

19. Family Force 5 – Family Force 5’s Christmas Pageant (2009)

Imagine my dismay when I found out Family Force 5’s Christmas album wasn’t on streaming services. It’s unclear what the issue is (possibly contractual issues?), but it’s not Christmas without crunkcore versions of “Carol of the Bells” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Family Force 5’s Christmas Pageant is an untraditional, yet wholly intriguing holiday record. Good luck snagging a CD copy, as they’re selling online for upwards of $50. But this disc is worth the price.

18. Johnny Cash – The Christmas Spirit (1963)

Johnny Cash released 68 albums during his tenure as America’s country hero, and it wasn’t until his 17th in 1963 that he put out his first Christmas LP. The Christmas Spirit merges the musician’s storytelling and charisma with a sense of homely spirit that embodies the holiday season. His renditions of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and “Silent Night” are as timeless as turkey dinner – but you can’t miss his later “Silent Night” featuring the entire Cash family.

17. Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Lost Christmas Eve (2004)

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra started out in the late ‘90s with a vision in mind: a rock opera trilogy of Christmas albums. The third and final installment, 2004’s The Lost Christmas Eve, may stand in the shadow of its two predecessors, but it’s the heavy metal-infused “Wizards in Winter” that has stood the test of time the past 18 years. It helps that the track became an internet sensation when synchronized to a home’s Christmas lights – leading to imitations galore.

16. Various Artists – Happy Christmas Vol. 5 (2010)

Happy Christmas returned for the follow-up to Volume 4 in 2010, bringing more edge at a time when Tooth & Nail Records was enjoying its roster’s creative peak. Emery, Copeland, and Thousand Foot Krutch all were coming off the best full-lengths of their careers, while Family Force 5 had just joined forces for 2008’s Dance or Die. With Trevor McNevan playing the role of “Heat Miser” and Snow Miser” and Demon Hunter repping the Solid State side, Vol. 5 has a spirited bite.

15. Tony Bennett – Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album (1968)

It’s hard to imagine a Christmas without the voice of Tony Bennett. His name isn’t as synonymous with the holiday season as Frank Sinatra, but he deserves to be in the same category. Bennett’s “The Christmas Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” rival Sinatra in every way – after all, the two are among the best show tunes singers of all-time. Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album is a warm delight during the cold months.

14. Bing Crosby – White Christmas (1945)

I can only imagine families putting White Christmas on their record players in 1945. At this time, Bing Crosby’s Christmas album was the Christmas album – as synonymous with the holidays as tinsel and cocoa. Only during the holidays can you see Crosby on the charts alongside Drake and Nicki Minaj. “Silent Night” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” are perfect background music while opening presents on Christmas. Then there’s “White Christmas,” literally the best-selling single of all-time.

13. Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Christmas Attic (1998)

The Christmas Attic followed Christmas Eve and Other Stories as another immaculate rock opera from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. But, unlike the momentous rock epic “Christmas in Sarajevo,” this disc’s standout song was a piano ballad. “Christmas Canon” is Pachelbel’s Canon with added lyrics and a children’s choir. It’s one of the most chilling Christmas songs of all-time and a reminder that the classics never go out of style – not even classical compositions.

12. Various Artists – Midnight Clear (2014)

A compilation of Christmas songs by metal bands doesn’t seem like it would work on paper. But that was before August Burns Red dazzled fans with its instrumental performances of holiday hits. Eventually, the act’s label, Solid State Records, would put out a collection of its own. With the help of heavy Christian groups from For Today to Fit for a King to Wolves at the Gate, Midnight Clear is a metalhead’s dream (yes, dreams on Christmas aren’t limited to sugarplums).

11. Various Artists – X Christmas (2008)

Are you noticing a trend here? Christian rock Christmas records abound in the 2000s, and X Christmas was the perfect fusion of the poppier rock of Hawk Nelson and Jars of Clay with the more rugged playing of Thousand Foot Krutch and Project 86. It also fills the void neatly between BEC’s Happy Christmas albums, with more to choose from as well: artists David Crowder Band and Sanctus Real hop on board to round out the best Christian Christmas album of the era.

10. Kacey Musgraves – A Very Kacey Christmas (2016)

Before Kacey Musgraves won over critics with Golden Hour in 2018, she released her own pop-country Christmas record, A Very Kacey Christmas. Musgraves’ strength has always been her smooth pop voice – appealing to more than just country fans. But it’s the more unique instruments, from the ukulele to the requinto, that grab your attention on this album. Plus, Willie Nelson shows up on “A Willie Nice Christmas,” assuring you will have a “willie” nice Christmas.

9. Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Christmas Eve and Other Stories (1996)

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas Eve and Other Stories introduced the world to its rocking approach to holiday music, and the rest is history. The album’s biggest hit – amid its classic rock renditions and overarching opera narrative – was based on history, too. “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” merges “Carol of the Bells” with layers of instrumentation, sonically narrating a cello player’s anti-war protest: performing Christmas carols in war-torn Sarajevo.

8. August Burns Red – August Burns Red Presents Sleddin’ Hill: A Holiday Album (2012)

In 2008, a metalcore band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania dropped their own version of “Carol of the Bells,” and the heavy music world was never the same. Full of palm mutes, tremolo picking and other metal guitar mastery, August Burns Red shredded their way to an entire LP of Christmas songs. Sleddin’ Hill: A Holiday Album follows suit with technical holiday tracks, from the religious romps (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”) to the wickedly wintry (“Flurries”).

7. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Original TV Soundtrack (1966)

If you watch the 1966 animated version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas every Christmas season like I do, you probably are overwhelmed with the nostalgia of the MGM Studio Orchestra and Boris Karloff’s narration. The Original TV Soundtrack is, quite literally, the audiobook of the TV special, and it’s just as special in audio format. If you don’t have time for the full story, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is exactly the wacky hit single it deserves to be.

6. The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964)

Surf rock isn’t exactly brimming with Christmas spirit, but The Beach Boys proved otherwise when they made their imprint on the holiday season with their 1964 Christmas album. It helps that they contributed two originals that still dominate airwaves nearly 60 years later (“Little Saint Nick” and “The Man with All the Toys”). The record clocks in at under 30 minutes, drifting by like an ocean breeze and almost making you want to spend Christmas Day on a sandy beach.

5. Elvis Presley – Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957)

What better way to spend Christmas than with The King himself, Elvis Presley? He may have come back into the public eye with Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic, but the truth is he has never left our sides. That’s because Elvis’ Christmas Album is a holiday constant, as immaculate a collection of Christmas songs as anyone has ever produced, rock and roll or not. It’s much more than just “Blue Christmas,” too – “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” is a gorgeous gospel cut.

4. Relient K – Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer (2007)

Relient K’s Christmas album endures for purely nostalgia reasons for me, but there’s something to be said about what the band delivers on Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer. An expansion of their previous compilation, this 2007 disc is 48 minutes of everything you could ask for as a fan of pop-punk and Christmas carols: up-tempo romps (“Deck the Halls”), slower piano balladry (“In Like a Lion”), and a band that doesn’t take themselves too seriously (“12 Days of Christmas”).

3. Frank Sinatra – A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra (1957)

During his time with Capitol Records, Frank Sinatra made a name for himself as one of the top singers worldwide. He also released one of the great Christmas albums not only of the ‘50s, but of all time. A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra mixes religious and secular tunes, perhaps most known for the vocalist’s performance of “The Christmas Song.” With the Ralph Brewster Singers and a full orchestra by his side, no Christmas is complete without this collection.

2. Various Artists – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (1963)

Phil Spector’s Christmas production truly is a gift. A Christmas Gift for You brings together The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans using Spector’s classic “Wall of Sound” treatment. “Sleigh Ride” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come)” have become cross-generational staples that never overstay their welcome. Not only is this album a masterpiece of holiday music, but it’s also one of the standout records of any genre from the era.

1. Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

The best Christmas album of all-time? Try the soundtrack to a children’s holiday special. Vince Guaraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas is a jazz tour de force that’s grown into a timeless classic just like the Peanuts special. It never leaves my record player during the holiday season, and that’s because it’s everything. “Christmastime Is Here,” “O Tannenbaum,” and “Skating” set the ambiance leading up to Christmas Day, building the core of this untouchable opus.

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