What Makes A Christmas Song

What Makes A Christmas Song

By Cat Daczkowski

From Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’ to Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody,’ songs are the aspects that make Christmas. In fact, 41% of Brits say that they need Christmas music to feel festive.


In 2019 the PRS For Music organisation discovered that ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl is the most played Christmas song, but interestingly this year, the BBC announced that they would be playing a censored version of the song this festive season. Unsurprisingly, the track held the no.1 spot on the Nation’s top 20 festive song list in 2019! 


Ultimately though, what is it that actually makes a song sound festive?


The Elements of Christmas

This may sound obvious but simply utilising sleigh bells in the background of a song or having lyrics such as ‘let it snow’ can create a festive mood instantaneously. Also, if a song has been used in a Christmas film, this could help highlight its festive mood through the film’s imagery. An example would be the song ‘Walking In The Air’ sung by Peter Auty and popularised by Aled Jones, which was featured on ‘The Snowman’. 


Minor and Diminished Chords

Of course, Christmas songs use major chords as they highlight the joy that we feel during the holiday but in order to have texture, other kinds of chords are required. Ways in which artists can do this is through changing to a minor key in a section or even just dot diminished chords through the piece.



Every year people look forward to the John Lewis Christmas Advert, and subsequently the non-festive song that is used in those adverts become closely associated with the holiday. This, along with the ritual of choir groups and even carollers singing festive tracks each Christmas are also great examples.


A Moment Written In History

In the list of the UK’s top 20 Christmas songs from 2019, the majority (19/20 in fact) were written before the year 2000. Nostalgia is required for a Christmas song as it reminds people of a more simple time full of festive cheer. Think of Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’: it was written in the 1940s but since has been covered over 500 times! People are drawn to the past, and Christmas music relies on that.



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