50 Merry Country Christmas Songs to Get You in the Spirit
Christmas songs are like side dishes at a holiday dinner. Most country fans like the standards, while a few prefer other specialty treats. Others we simply put up with to be polite, and a select few are absolutely intolerable. You'll may find one or two of those cuts on this list of the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs of all time. Remember, even if you can't stand it, there is someone nearby whose Christmas won't be complete until they hear their favorite on radio.
This list of the top country Christmas songs was compiled by blending staff opinion, reader feedback and airplay and sales data (when available). As with all Taste of Country countdowns, there is a strict 'one song per artist' rule at play here, meaning you'll only find George Strait, Dolly Parton and Alan Jackson one time.
Songs that have become as dependable as Grandma's gravy find their way to the top of this list. Other hits by new artists like Taylor Swift can be found too, but an ability to transcend generations is necessary for a song to be called the best.
Tim McGraw‘s jazzy addition to the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs list could have ranked higher, but the song was never really on an album. It’s unclear how the song found its way to country fans, actually. Some say it was meant to be on the ‘A Very Special Acoustic Christmas’ album in the early 2000s. In this tune, McGraw tells the sweet story of a man hoping to still get a special gift for Christmas after treating a woman poorly. ‘Tis the season to be generous, and this guy hopes Santa leaves his baby a full heart to replace the one he’s broken.
Reba McEntire has recorded fine versions of songs like ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Christmas Guest,’ but we chose this song from her 1999 ‘Secret of Giving’ album because she manages to recreate a Christmas classic without getting too far away from the arrangement we all know and love. McEntire’s spirited version of song No. 49 on the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs list is thick with guitar and Nashville twang. You won’t find this song on a pop station, and that’s fine with us. Many country stations still spin this song come Christmastime, even over a decade after its release.
‘The Christmas Shoes’ is like the ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ of Christmas songs. Fans can’t wait to hear it on the radio, while critics call it the worst Christmas song ever. In fact, Gawker named it just that in 2011. It is one of the few on this list of the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs to have success on the country radio charts (No. 31 in 2000), and it was a major crossover hit for the Christian vocal group. This is at least a three-tissue song the first time you hear it. Sure, the story was a little overdone with a book and movie in the early 2000s, but we still find the lyrics to be a reminder of the true meaning of giving.
Toby Keith‘s 1995 Christmas album produced one song that charted, and it lands at No. 47 on the list of the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs. You’ll find ‘Santa I’m Right Here’ on the ‘Christmas to Christmas’ album. A music video was even created for this guitar-driven single — a splurge not often done for holiday tunes. Keith’s story (written by Ron Reynolds) tells the tale of a family who is homeless at Christmas time. It’s a young boy’s plea to make sure Santa still visits his mom and dad. Over 15 years since its release, this song sounds just right once again.
Just a few years before he died, Keith Whitley lent his perfect voice to ‘A Christmas Letter.’ It’s a beautiful version of the song, and it became especially poignant after his 1989 death. This song on the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs list was originally found on ‘A Country Christmas Volume 4′ alongside hits by Dolly Parton, Eddy Raven and Charley Pride. The series was popular in the ’80s.
Montgomery Gentry‘s cover of this classic Robert Earl Keen Christmas song was released by the duo early in their career. In fact, No. 45 on our Top 50 Country Christmas Songs list might be more popular than the original, having reached the Top 40 on the Billboard country chart in 2001. No matter who is playing it, the irreverent standard tells a story that country fans can relate to… or at least laugh at. Yes, it’s the season to celebrate Jesus, but it’s also time to embrace and maybe forgive family — no matter how many wives or husbands they’ve had in the past year.
There won’t be a more controversial Christmas song on this list of the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs than Elmo and Patsy’s ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.’ Every year, some wait for it, while others look for a gun to shoot their radios when the familiar chords open the classic tune. This song makes the list for its popularity over the last 30-plus years. In addition to being played wildly on radio and country music video channels, it’s inspired numerous cover versions. For better or worse, Christmas wouldn’t sound the same without Elmo and Patsy.
Sugarland‘s 2009 Christmas album featured five originals — something most country artists aren’t bold enough to try. Typically, one will find recreations of holiday classics, but the duo knew with this album that their fan base would embrace the chances and risks they took. One that paid off handsomely was the ‘Gold and Green’ title track, Song No. 43 on the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs list. Jennifer Nettles sings about the visual joys of Christmas, and Kristian Bush plucks a delicate accompaniment. ‘City of Silver Dreams’ is another strong song from ‘Gold and Green.’
While the Eagles were never a country band, they’ve found success on country radio, like with their Christmas song ‘Please Come Home for Christmas.’ Song No. 42 on this list of the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs was originally released in 1978, but came back as a single in 1990. Two versions of this song can be found on this list. There are too many great versions of Christmas classics to limit the best to one song per artist and one version per list.
This Christmas song promises to only move higher on the list of the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs as time passes. Father Ted Berndt’s recitation of a poem attributed to U.S. Marine Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt is one of the most powerful Christmas expressions of all time. It’s still somewhat new to country music fans, but in another decade, it’d be surprising if the stirring song was not on every playlist prior to the holidays.
Canadian songbird Anne Murray has celebrated the spirit of Christmas with no less than seven holiday albums over the course of her decades-long career. But her rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ from the 2008 release ‘Anne Murray’s Christmas Album’ is particularly poignant.
The rich voice that drove a string of hits is a perfect complement to the lush string arrangement and gentle piano accompaniment. Murray’s effortless vocal makes No. 40 on the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs list sound like it was written specifically for her.
Darius Rucker is certainly a gifted vocalist having proven his singing chops in both rock and, more recently, country. But with ‘Candy Cane Christmas,’ Rucker channeled his inner Sinatra for a vocal performance that is so different from anything else he’s done, it’s almost unrecognizable. Recorded in 2009 for a compilation titled ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas,’ the track actually hit No. 16 in the AC charts. But what makes it one of the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs is its special hybrid of vocal jazz and modern country pop, using traditional string arrangements and Rucker’s understated performance.
Country superstar Carrie Underwood is no stranger to Christmas material. Over the course of her relatively short (but explosive) career, she has recorded Christmas standards like ‘O Holy Night,’ ‘The First Noel’ and ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ (the latter with Elvis Presley), but her rendition of the traditional ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ is a standout, with Underwood’s powerful voice a perfect match for the big arrangement. Recorded in 2007 for the ‘Hear Something Country Christmas’ compilation, she also performed ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ in a much more countrified version on NBC during the 75th Annual Lighting of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center that same year.
It’s no secret that Rascal Flatts are one of the top vocal groups in the world, so it seems appropriate that their take on the Christmas classic ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ should bring their voices front and center. Recorded in 2009 for the group’s holiday EP ‘Unwrapped,’ the track features lead singer Gary LeVox in an a capella vocal, joined by the trademark harmonies of bandmates Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney in their signature harmony blend. Not too many groups could pull that off, but Rascal Flatts make it sound like they’re caroling on your front porch — which surely deserves a spot in the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs list.
Folk singer Burl Ives used Christmas to cross over to the mainstream with his rendition of ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas,’ which became a pop hit in 1965 and a country holiday staple in the decades since. Ives had already racked up an impressive career that comprised not only folk music, but also film appearances by the time he was tapped to narrate the animated TV production of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ in 1964. His recording of ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’ was first featured in that program, then re-recorded for a pop release in 1965, eventually becoming a Christmas standard throughout the world.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy took his signature “You might be a redneck if… ” act in a holiday direction with ‘Redneck 12 Days of Christmas‘ from the 1996 album, ‘Crank It Up: The Music Album.’ Written with Tim Wilson, the track is a countrified spoof of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas.’ The song celebrates the simple joys of “Five flannel shirts / Four big mud tires / Three shotgun shells / Two hunting dogs / And some parts to a Mustang GT.” The song peaked at No. 18 in 1996 and had such staying power that it actually charted again every holiday season for several subsequent years.
Randy Travis was riding the crest of the New Traditionalist wave when he released his first Christmas album in 1989. Titled ‘An Old Time Christmas,’ the record featured a selection of Christmas classics like ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,’ along with some excellent original songs. One of the best of the new tracks was ‘Meet Me Under the Mistletoe,’ a light-hearted song about a couple who are so busy at holiday time that they have had no time together. “Meet me under the mistletoe at midnight Christmas Eve / Your sweet kiss is the first gift I’d like to receive,” Travis sings — a sentiment that qualifies it for the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs.
Before Lady Antebellum scored their first No. 1 hit with ‘I Run to You’ in 2009, they had a Christmas hit in 2008 with their rendition of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ which they also performed on ‘The Today Show.’ Playing up the vocal chemistry between Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott, the track is decidedly more straight country than the country-pop hits the band have mostly been associated with.
In a mostly straight reading of the song, the instruments provide a perfect bed for the vocals — topped off by a nice accent of pedal steel that’s like a Christmas present in itself.
Country music was caught firmly in the grip of Garthmania in 1992, when Garth Brooks decided to release his first Christmas album. A breakout star in country at the time, Brooks titled his holiday release ‘Beyond the Season,’ a collection of holiday standards that included such appropriately earnest fare as ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain,’ ‘Silent Night’ and ‘What Child Is This.’ But it wouldn’t be Garth without a more raucous side, provided in this instance by a spirited rendition of ‘Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy’ — a song that’s also been covered by other country artists as diverse as Buck Owens, Travis Tritt and Brad Paisley.
LeAnn Rimes shot to stardom with the 1996 release of her major label debut album ‘Blue.’ That Christmas season, fans who purchased the record exclusively at Target also received a bonus single titled ‘Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart,’ with ‘Unchained Melody’ as the B-side. The classic-sounding track made the most of Rimes’ remarkable voice, with an upbeat arrangement and lyrical message urging peace, love and understanding in the true spirit of the holiday. The song also inspired Rimes to write a made-for-TV movie titled ‘Holiday in Your Heart’ in 1997, co-starring Bernadette Peters.
Country star Suzy Bogguss had a down-home Christmas celebration in mind when she released ‘Two-Step ‘Round the Christmas Tree,’ with its classic country feel and merry-making uptempo beat. Written by Bogguss with her husband Doug Crider, the song was first released by Michael Martin Murphy on his ‘Cowboy Christmas’ album in 1991. Bogguss’ version is the real classic, offering up a festive take on the holidays.
The holiday season got a whole lot hotter with Kellie Pickler’s 2007 release of ‘Santa Baby,’ the much-covered Christmas classic in which a woman is teasingly asking St. Nick for such extravagant gifts as sables and a yacht. The song is a perfect match for the sexy singer, who performed a sultry version of it on the ‘CMA Country Christmas’ special that year. The track is a classic arrangement with horns, making it one of the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs, and let’s face it, Santa would have to be an idiot not to give Pickler whatever she wanted — especially if she sat in his lap and asked really nicely.
Loretta Lynn based many of her best songs on her own early life experiences, and her 1966 Christmasclassic ‘Country Christmas’ is one of them. Celebrating the simple holiday joys of an otherwise hardscrabble life of poverty, Lynn sang, “A good old country Christmas / That’s what it’s gonna be / With all the family gathered ’round our pretty Christmas tree.” Musically, the track is down-home classic country, pulling Lynn’s unique vocal style front and center. ‘A Country Christmas’ is the only holiday-themed album of Lynn’s 50-year career, which makes its title song worth including in the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs list.
At first glance it might seem like an odd choice for country star Clay Walker to attempt a cover of ‘Feliz Navidad,’ but he did a credible job with a Christmas classic that might have been awkward for another contemporary country star. Released in 2002 on an album simply titled ‘Christmas,’ Walker’s version of the Jose Feliciano hit features a Latin rhythm track, female backing vocalists and perfectly-placed horn fills, weaving in and out of Walker’s vocal performance to create a truly joyful noise that makes it one of the Top 50 Country Christmas Songs.
Out of all the many, many renditions of the Christmas classic ‘Run, Run Rudolph’ that have been recorded over the decades, Luke Bryan’s 2008 release is the second-highest-charting, behind only the definitive recording by Chuck Berry. Johnny Marks wrote the song in 1958; ironically, though Marks was Jewish, he made a career out of writing Christmas songs, also penning other holiday classics like ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ and ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas.’ Berry popularized the track for all time, but Bryan’s rockin’, good-time version also hit the charts at No. 42 and became a hit.