Practical, portable and perdurable as it is, the noble ukulele makes an ideal accompanying instrument, particularly if you plan on singing Christmas carols outdoors. But not all of us have an ABRSM diploma on the ukulele.
So which carols will leave us with our dignity intact and make us sound (even) better than we are? Here are our top ten suggestions for easy Christmas ukulele songs. With the ukulele already in our list of easiest instruments to play, you should be off to a good start with these festive classics.
Easiest Christmas ukulele songs
‘Mele Kalikimaka’, the Hawaiian Christmas Song, by Bing Crosby
Translating as ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Mele Kalikimaka’ has done well in the popularity stakes ever since it was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1950. It was written in 1949 by American composer Robert Alexander Anderson, who was motivated by his love of Hawaii – where he was born and spent most of his life.
Alexander later reminisced about the song’s genesis: “a stenographer in our office, this was just before Christmas, and we are all leaving (5 o’clock), and she was next to me and she said, “Mr. Anderson, how come there’s no Hawaiian Christmas songs?” She said, “they take all the hymns and they put Hawaiian words to the hymns, but there’s no original melody.”
Well, that spurred me right away – I thought, “what a good idea!” I thought this over, and over a period of a few days this came into my head, put it down on paper, and I’ve been singing it ever since.”
It’s one of the most requested Christmas ukulele songs, and, luckily, one of the most playable, consisting entirely of chords that are fairly easy to get your fingers around.
What Child is This (traditional)
Set to the traditional folk tune ‘Greensleeves‘, this Christmas carol was written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865 when he was bedridden from a severe illness. Dix spent most of his life as manager of a Maritime insurance company in Glasgow, Scotland, but his heart was in the poetry of worship – a field to which he contributed over 40 hymns.
This one, arguably, is his best known, and, happily for uke players, consists of only 4 chords: G, C, E and A.
Joy to the World (traditional)
Ah, a song with only three chords. That’s what we like to see.
Written in 1719 by the English minister and hymns Isaac Watts, ‘Joy to the World‘ ranks amongst the most upbeat of Christmas carols, celebrating Christ’s triumphant return to the world. And, as far as uke players are concerned, it’s also the easiest.
‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’
This carol had a fairly long genesis. In 1739 Charles Wesley wrote its first incarnation: a Christmas hymn that began ‘Hark! how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings’.
But it wasn’t until 1855 that these words joined up with a chorus from Festgesang an die Künstler, a cantata by Felix Mendelssohn to commemorate 400 years since Gutenburg’s invention of the printing press. Enter ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing‘.
The result was one of the most beloved Christmas carols, and one that, happily, is also perfectly playable on the ukulele – one of the easiest Christmas ukulele songs in the repertoire.
Such is the fame and musical quality of this soothing Christmas carol that it has been variously attributed to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. In fact it was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist in the Austrian village of Arnsdorf.
First performed on Christmas Eve 1818, in a village parish church in present-day Austria, ‘Silent Night‘ went on to be taken up by two famous Austrian singing families, the Rainers and the Strassers, who performed it on tour. By 1914, ‘Silent Night’ was so well-known across the globe that, when German soldiers sang it in the World War I trenches, British soldiers were able to join in. Since it has been covered by many, many singers Bing Crosby to Mariah Carey.
Comprising only three chords, it’s a great song for beginner ukulele players, and one of the easiest Christmas ukulele songs out there.
Although it was long believed to have been written by Martin Luther for his children, this iconic Christmas carol was actually American in origin. It was first published in the late 19th century, and rapidly gained popularity on both sides of the pond. It is now perhaps the most popular Christmas carol in the UK, and a fixture of the school nativity play, where it has reduced the steeliest of parents to tears.
With just four chords to put together it is also one of the easiest songs to play on the uke.
First recorded in 1889 on an Edison cylinder, becoming what was believed to be the first Christmas record, ‘Jingle Bells’ is the epitome of the secular holiday song. Nobody, however, quite knows where it came from. Some believe it commemorates the annual sleigh races that took place around Thanksgiving in Medford, Massachusetts. Others say it was originally a drinking song.
Its current popularity literally knows no bounds: the song even went out into space in a Christmas-themed prank by astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra in 1965, with the help of a smuggled harmonica and sleigh bells.
So, Uke players, you’ll definitely want this one in your repertoire, though you might want to ease yourself in with the chorus rather than plunging straight into the first verse.
‘Good King Wenceslas’
Set to the 13th century carol “Tempus adest floridum”, this 1853 carol by the English Anglican priest John Mason Neale is based on the life of Wenceslas, first Duke of Bohemia. Patron saint of the Czech state, living between 907 and 935, Wenceslas was famous for his great piety and devotion. Wenceslas, alas, came to a sticky end: his brother Boleslaw the Bad put an end to him. But with its upbeat melody and lyrics that focus on the duke’s generous deeds to the poor, ‘Good King Wenceslas‘ is as joyful as they come.
Plus, it only has four chords, so you’ll be concert-ready with it in no time.
‘Oh Christmas Tree’
This carol, adapted from a 16th century Silesian folk song, started life as ‘O Tannenbaum’ (O Fir Tree), with no links whatsoever to Christmas. It was only in the 19th century, when the fir tree began its association with Christmas, that this song followed suit.
Whether you sing ‘it ‘O Christmas Tree‘ in English in German, you’ll want a ukulele to hand as this little song is incredibly uke-friendly, consisting of only five chords and no nasty musical surprises.
When, in the winter of 1934, Richard Smith penned the words to ‘Winter Wonderland’, he couldn’t have known he was celebrating his final Christmas. The following September, on the day of his 34th birthday, he succumbed to tuberculosis. But ’Winter Wonderland’ makes for a joyful legacy, even if some of Smith’s original text underwent changes in 1947. The parson became a circus clown, while the promises that the couple make in the final verse gave way to lyrics about frolicking.
The result was a song about playing in the snow – not quite the romantic winter poem that Smith had intended but still something with instant and long lasting appeal, thanks in part to its chirpy tune composed by the song writer Felix Bernhard.
With eight chords to get your fingers round, it’s a little harder than some of the other songs on this list. But what is life without a challenge?