Bundles of presents under a glistening Christmas tree. Keeping up with decades–old traditions. Quality time with loved ones. For many people, these are the hallmarks of the holiday season. For others, like myself, the staple of post–Thanksgiving holiday cheer is listening to hours upon hours (upon hours!) of Christmas music. 

So in the holiday spirit, I decided to select the definitive best renditions of five classic Christmas carols. I have chosen not to include songs of which I think there is really only one version recognized by the cultural lexicon. Sure, other artists have recorded “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” but can you name anyone who has done it besides Mariah Carey? The same is true for “This Christmas,” “Last Christmas,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and “Santa Baby.” I also have made the executive decision to not include songs that suck, like “Jingle Bells.”

Before we begin, this list is supposed to be a positive celebration of beautiful Christmas music, but I must give a special shoutout to Camila Cabello’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which is an abomination and deserves to be mercilessly lambasted on the Internet.

With all that said, here are my picks:

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

BEST: Judy Garland

Among Judy Garland’s catalog of all–time classics, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” may be her best. Garland debuted the song in her 1944 classic film Meet Me in St. Louis, and her performance on the windowsill stands the test of time. We should all consider ourselves lucky to have her unmeasurable talent captured on film forever. 


Like Idina Menzel, I am also a Jewish girl who loves Christmas music, and you can feel her holiday spirit in all of her Christmas tunes (she has two albums worth of them). On her version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Menzel’s vocals are as good as they were on opening night of Wicked, with Menzel not holding back her famous belt. Some may argue that the rendition is odd, with Menzel almost half–whispering, half–belting the song, and those people may be right, but I love every second of it.

2. Jingle Bell Rock

BEST: The Plastics (Cady Heron, Regina George, Gretchen Wieners, and Karen Smith) as performed in Mean Girls

Mean Girls birthed many of the Internet’s cultural touchstones: “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom,” “On Wednesdays we wear pink,” “Get in loser, we’re going shopping.” However, perhaps the highest artistic point of the 2004 film is The Plastics’ performance of “Jingle Bell Rock” at the winter talent show. The performance has it all: barely–there outfits, Janis Ian’s 8th grade choreography, the backstage pre–performance drama (“But I’m always on your right!” “And right now, you’re getting on my last nerve”), Amy Poehler holding a camcorder, and of course, Lindsay Lohan’s stunning heroism when the CD player busts and she begins singing acapella, inspiring the entire auditorium to join in. It is a performance for the ages, and is the most “fetch” rendition of this Christmas classic. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Daryl Hall and John Oates

I grew up in a household in which I was taught three things matter more than anything else in the world: The New York Yankees, Adam Sandler movies, and the musical collaboration of Daryl Hall and John Oates (my dad even insisted on making “You Make My Dreams” the opening song of my bat mitzvah montage). Try as I might to resist them, I cannot deny that Hall and Oates produced some bangers in their prime, and “Jingle Bell Rock” is the perfect mix of corniness and rock–and–roll for the duo to get just right.

3. Silent Night

BEST: Mariah Carey

Despite being anointed the “Queen of Christmas,” most people are only familiar with “All I Want For Christmas Is You” in terms of Mariah’s Christmas catalog. That is unfortunate, as Mariah’s first Christmas album, Merry Christmas, is fantastic from top to bottom, with “Silent Night” being one of the highlights. It is the album’s opener, and one listen can make anyone understand why. Mariah’s vocals surpass her usual threshold of angelic quality to make “Silent Night” a spiritual listening experience. From this track forward, Mariah claims Christmas as her holiday. 


Before there was Michael Bublé Christmas music, there was (superior) Frank Sinatra Christmas music. The iconic crooner has many Christmas hits, but his deep and cigarette–dipped vocals stand out on “Silent Night.” It is a song that requires more emotional and vocal vulnerability than most of Sinatra’s classics, and should be an essential addition for any Christmas playlist.

4. Winter Wonderland 

BEST: Aretha Franklin

“Winter Wonderland” is the best Christmas song. It’s fun, catchy, secular, includes alliteration, and Aretha Franklin’s version encapsulates everything that makes it so wonderful. Aretha’s vocals are breezy and effortless, and the song is infused with holiday magic. The imagery of building a snowman and cozying up by the fire is sure to put anyone in the Christmas mood, and the song’s uninhibited cheeriness will leave a smile on anyone’s face. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Anna Kendrick and Snoop Dogg (from the Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack) 

Perhaps the only pairing more random than Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart is Snoop Dogg and Anna Kendrick; however, on the Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack, this mash–up of “Winter Wonderland” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” is hilarious and surprisingly good. The rendition has a solid beat, playful lyrics, and all the charm and self–awareness necessary to make a modern Christmas banger. 

5. White Christmas 

BEST: Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas” was the original version of the Irving Berlin–penned classic, and proves that sometimes the original can’t be beat. The song, which Crosby performed in the 1942 film Holiday Inn and the 1954 White Christmas, is calm and affecting. The song evokes childhood memories of the holidays, and Crosby’s sentimental contemplations about Christmas and joy are surprisingly moving. 


Peggy Lee’s voice is irresistible on nearly any song, but “White Christmas” is perfectly suited to her sultry sound. Lee extends each syllable as far as it will go, allowing the listener to hold on to her every word and slip into a Christmas–coated hypnosis. The lyrics of memory combined with Peggy Lee’s aura of nostalgia and being “very 1950s,” to put it plainly, make her “White Christmas” a beautiful holiday season oldie.