25 Best Country Christmas Songs: Essentials For Your Holiday Playlist

ByQuyen Anne

Dec 18, 2023
From Dolly and Carrie to Merle and Toby, this list of the best Christmas country songs is as reliable as the Opry itself.

Photo credit Chiara Benelli
Photo: Chiara Benelli / Getty Images

Ready to have a Merry Christmas? Well, the biggest country music stars have you covered. Because they know you haven’t truly made it until you’ve recorded that Christmas song (or album). Luckily, there are plenty of Nashville songwriters and Grand Ole Opry regulars that have helped out over the years, making country Christmas music some of the best holiday music around. So sit back, pour a glass of egg nog, and enjoy the best country Christmas music.

Luke Bryan: O Holy Night

“O Holy Night” has its origins in a French poem by a 19th-century wine merchant. Following in the footsteps of Mahalia Jackson and recording such a famous traditional song wasn’t easy, but Luke Bryan delivered a delicious version in 2017. “I couldn’t be prouder of a piece of work,” Bryan said. “It is probably one of my most proud recording moments.” (If you’re a fan of Luke, also be sure to check out his version of “Run Run Rudolph.”)

Luke Bryan – O Holy Night (Official Audio)

Alan Jackson: Let It Be Christmas

Alan Jackson composed the heart-warming title song for his 11th studio album, Let It Be Christmas, in 2002 and was rewarded with a Top 40 hit on Billboard’s country charts. Tony Award-winning conductor Bill Elliott was responsible for the rousing horn and string arrangements on this country Christmas treat.

Dolly Parton: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

No country Christmas songs playlist would be complete with Dolly Parton. Her 1990 album Home for Christmas was her second Christmas album. (The first Dolly Parton holiday album was a duet record with Kenny Rogers.) The gem on this one, though, is “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” a Christmas music classic. – Sam Armstrong

Elvis Presley feat. Martina McBride – Blue Christmas

Elvis cemented “Blue Christmas” as a country Christmas standard when he recorded it for the first time in 1957. On the 2008 album, Christmas Duets, Martina McBride joined him through the power of technology for a wonderful rendition. Even more impressive? The music video, which makes it look like Martina is performing alongside Elvis at his 1968 comeback special. – Sam Armstrong

Elvis Presley, Martina McBride – Blue Christmas (Official HD Video)

Lady A: A Holly Jolly Christmas

Nearly 50 years after Burl Ives first warbled Johnny Marks’ “A Holly Jolly Christmas” into the charts, it was taken back there in 2012 by Lady A. The trio – guitarist Dave Haywood, and singers Charles Kelly and Hillary Scott – delivered a rousing version for their festive album, On This Winter’s Night. (For more Lady A, be sure to check out their take on the Christmas classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”)

George Strait: Christmas Cookies

Would any holiday season be complete without Christmas cookies? “Christmas Cookies” peaked at No.33 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1999, and country-music fans seemed to relish the innocence and simplicity of the Christmas food song written by the bestselling singer George Strait – a man responsible for many of the best Christmas country songs. “Christmas cookies sounded fun and it fits me, besides, I really like the song,” said Strait.

Christmas Cookies

Taylor Swift: Silent Night

Want to put a little twang in your Christmas with a holiday classic? Taylor Swift singing “Silent Night” might be the one for you. The country star also sings “White Christmas” on The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection, but the stirring rendition of the classic Christmas carol is a highlight. – Sam Armstrong

Reba McEntire: The Christmas Song

Reba McEntire is one of country music’s Christmas stars and has regularly hosted the annual CMA Country Christmas show. Her 2017 festival album contained a sweet version of Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song” (subtitled “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire”). Tormé said the song was written “to stay cool by thinking cool.” McEntire was tackling a song made famous by Nat “King” Cole, who had a hit with it in the 50s.

Kacey Musgraves: Present Without A Bow

Kacey Musgraves’ 2016 album, A Very Kacey Christmas, was full of fine guest stars (Willie Nelson sang and played drum triggers on one track), and the excellent single “Present Without A Bow” features soul and R&B singer Leon Bridges. Musgraves co-wrote the track with Bridges, Austin Jenkins and Luke Laird. “The album has a child-like fun,” said Musgraves, who was 28 when she recorded it.

Kacey Musgraves – Present Without A Bow (Official Audio)

Darius Rucker: You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Any song written by the great children’s writer and illustrator Dr. Seuss is going to be fun, and Darius Rucker does a fine job on “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which was originally composed for the 1966 cartoon special How The Grinch Stole Christmas! Rucker recorded a lively version for his 2014 album, Home For The Holidays. When it comes to frosty lyrics, it’s tough to beat “Your brain is full of spiders, you have garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch/I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole!”

You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Scott McCreery: Christmas In Heaven

The American Idol winner had a smash hit with his album Christmas With Scott McCreery, which contained cover versions of classics such as “Jingle Bells” and “The First Noel.” McCreery also decided to record the song “Christmas In Heaven” (written by Paul Marino and Jeremy Johnson) after hearing just one verse of the demo. “I just wanted it to be holly and jolly and really lift people’s spirits in the Christmas season, because it’s supposed to be a really happy time,” he said. “But I also wanted to get across the real reason for the season. ‘Christmas In Heaven’ is my favorite song on the album and it really speaks to that.”

Christmas In Heaven

Merle Haggard: If We Make It Through December

It’s hard to imagine Outlaw Country heroes Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard singing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Let It Snow,” or “Winter Wonderland.” (Even though, on certain occasions, they did.) But the Christmas tunes we remember from them are the ones with slightly harder edges. Nelson had “Pretty Paper.” Haggard had “If We Make It Through December,” an achingly beautiful song for the folks that are just hoping to make it through the month. – Sam Armstrong

If We Make It Through December

Carrie Underwood: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Carrie Underwood’s first Christmas album, My Gift, showcases her extraordinary voice throughout. It’s on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” however, that she perhaps shines the most. It’s a spare song that rivals Michael Buble’s version in its quiet intensity. (Her duet with her child on “Little Drummer Boy” is pretty special too.) – Sam Armstrong

Toby Keith: Frosty The Snowman

Not only one of the best Christmas country songs, but one of the best Christmas songs of any genre, the song about a snowman called Frosty, who is brought to life by children, has been enchanting listeners since a version of Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson’s song was first recorded by classic country star Gene Autry in 1950. Toby Keith sings and plays acoustic guitar on his energetic version of a song he recorded in 2007 for his album A Classic Christmas.

Frosty the Snowman

Amy Grant: A Tennessee Christmas

Amy Grant was only six when her family settled in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1967. On her 1983 release, A Christmas Album, Grant paid tribute to her adopted state with a song co-written with Gary Chapman (who had also been born in another state but moved to Nashville). “Another tender Tennessee Christmas/The only Christmas for me,” Grant sings with affection.

Amy Grant – Tennessee Christmas

Brenda Lee: Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Brenda Lee’s catchy hit “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” has many country music components. The drummer was Buddy Harman, who was a staple of Patsy Cline’s band and also played with Willie Nelson, and the song was produced by Owen Bradley, who worked with Chet Atkins and was one of the chief architects of the 1950s Nashville sound in country music. By the time the single was cut for Decca, in the summer of 1958, Lee had turned 13, and her dazzling voice lights up a song that has sold more than 25 million copies. Lee enjoyed working with Bradley. “Owen had the studio all freezing cold with the air conditioning, and he had a Christmas tree all set up to kind of get in the mood just a little bit. We had a lot of fun,” Lee said in 2006.

Brenda Lee – Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (Official Lyric Video)

Faith Hill: Where Are You Christmas?

The most famous version of the power ballad “Where Are You Christmas?” is the video one in which country singer Faith Hill performs the song from the mountain-top home of the Grinch, a setting that was featured in Ron Howard’s 2000 movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Mariah Carey, who co-wrote the lyrics, was due to record her version of the song but had to pull out, so the song for the film’s soundtrack was handed over to Hill. Her version was released as a single in December 2000 and gave the singer from Mississippi a top ten hit.

Dolly Parton: Hard Candy Christmas

Dolly Parton grew up poor in rural Appalachia and admitted to a television audience once that among the “simple” Christmas presents she would receive at that time of year was the cheap confectionary treat ‘penny candy’ – which was known as hard candy. Songwriter Carol Hall used a metaphor about the candy as the theme for a song about the bittersweet nature of life. She composed the song for the musical play The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In 1982, the play was turned into a film starring Parton (who earned a Golden Globe nomination for playing brothel owner Mona Stangley) and Burt Reynolds (as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd). Parton performed “Hard Candy Christmas” in the film. The single from the soundtrack was released in October 1982, reaching No. 8 in the U.S. country singles chart.

Elmo & Patsy: Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer

Among the most celebrated modern novelty Christmas songs is “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” which was recorded in 1979 by husband-and-wife duo Elmo Shropshire, a veterinarian, and Patsy Trigg. The tale about Santa mowing down a tipsy grandma with his sleigh quickly became a holiday favorite. The couple divorced in 1985, but the song lived on and inspired a popular 2000 animated TV show. It was written by Shropshire’s friend Randy Brooks. After listening to the Merle Haggard song “Grandma’s Christmas Card,” Brooks decided to write a comic song about a festive disaster. “How would Grandma die at Christmas time? So there was my title line. You know, I thought get hit by Santa’s sleigh. So, grandma got ran over by a reindeer,” Brooks recalled in 2015. “It’s no ‘O Holy Night,’ is it?”

Kenny Chesney: All I Want For Christmas Is A Real Good Tan

After spending several Christmases on holiday in the Caribbean, country singer Kenny Chesney decided to make a song about getting a bronzed body the title track of his 2003 festival album All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan. The song was written by Paul Overstreet, who composed regularly for Randy Travis, and it is about a man who, quite simply, goes to the islands to “put my feet in the sand” and get “a real good tan.” The album, co-produced by country music veteran Buddy Cannon, went on to sell more than a million copies.

Bobby Helms: Jingle Bell Rock

In 1957, the year in which Bobby Helms was named Country Singer of the Year (Male) by Cashbox magazine, he released the festive classic “Jingle Bell Rock” for Decca Records. Helms said that the song, written by Joseph Beal and James Boothe, was the first to tie in Christmas with country music and rock ‘n’ roll, a genre that was just emerging at the time. The iconic guitar opening to the track was performed by Nashville veteran Hank Garland, who played with Elvis Presley and Conway Twitty. In addition, the backing singers were country favorites the Anita Kerr Singers.

Bobby Helms – Jingle Bell Rock (Official Video)

Buck Owens: Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy

Throughout the 1960s Buck Owens records for Capitol sold in the millions and his live shows were constant sell-outs. In 1965, along with his 24-year-old The Buckaroos bandmate Don Rich, he wrote the Christmas hit “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy,” about a child who has sneaked downstairs to catch a glimpse of Santa and suspects that the person he spots is his father dressed up in a Santa costume. The single, which was released with “All I Want for Christmas, Dear, Is You” on the B-side, was a No. 2 chart hit in America. It was later covered by Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley.

Roy Orbison: Pretty Paper

Willie Nelson wrote “Pretty Paper” about a homeless man who sells his stationery and pencils on the street with cries of “pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue.” Nelson played the song for Nashville record executive Fred Foster in 1963, and Foster sent the demo off to Roy Orbison, one of his acts, who was in London at the time playing shows with the Beatles. According to the 2017 book The Authorized Roy Orbison, Orbison was feeling unwell when he went into the studio to cut the song, and it took numerous takes to get it right. Nonetheless, Orbison’s lush, orchestrated version was a hit around the world.

Loretta Lynn: Country Christmas

Loretta Lynn’s first festive album, the 1966 Decca release Country Christmas, is as authentically country as a Yuletide album could be. It was recorded at Bradley’s Barn in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, produced by ‘Nashville Sound’ maestro Owen Bradley and featuring legendary session musicians such as guitarist Grady Martin and Fred Carter Jr. Lynn, who was 34 at the time, wrote the title song. The sweetly sentimental lyrics of “Country Christmas” reference “Mamie popping the popcorn;” the family eating apples, nuts, and candy; and having fun with Aunt Annie Belle and Uncle Bill.

Alabama: Christmas In Dixie

In 1982, Alabama, a country-rock band formed in Fort Payne, Alabama, in 1969, released “Christmas in Dixie” as part of the RCA compilation A Country Christmas. Three years later the song – which was co-written by band members Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, Jeff Cook, and Mark Herndon – got a second airing on Alabama’s first holiday album, Alabama Christmas. The holiday imagery in “Christmas In Dixie,” and the references to places throughout America – including Memphis, Tennessee, Atlanta, Georgia, Jackson, Mississippi and Charlotte, North Carolina (which they folksily describe as “Caroline”) – made this a hugely popular song for Alabama. Kenny Chesney recorded a cover for his album All I Want For Christmas Is a Tan.

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