10 Most Festive Holiday Songs From Film and TV


‘Tis the season for delicious treats, out-of-this-world light displays, ridiculous sweaters, gifts for the special fans in your life, and your favorite holiday songs playing ad nauseam. On that “note,” here are some of the most well-known holiday tunes that were made popular by — or have their origins in — some of our favorite movies and TV shows.

“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” – How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The deep, ominous tone of Thurl Ravenscroft’s voice in “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is unmistakable. Yet, since he wasn’t originally credited, that’s exactly what many people did — mistook him for Boris Karloff, the voice of the narrator in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This ode to the miserly green grouch can get anyone into the holiday spirit, even if they’re feeling like their heart is “two sizes too small.”

“Christmas Time is Here” – A Charlie Brown Christmas

It’s hard to believe that a song performed by a jazz trio for a network cartoon special would eventually become one of the biggest, most recognizable Christmas standards ever. Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi wrote the song expressly for A Charlie Brown Christmas, and it explores the more melancholy, reflective aspects of the holiday season. Whether you choose the instrumental jazz version or the vocal version sung by a children’s choir, “Christmas Time is Here” is the perfect background track for almost any holiday occasion.

“What’s This?” – The Nightmare Before Christmas

This upbeat tune from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, sung when Jack Skellington first discovers the portal to Christmas Town, lets us share in his wonder and amazement of discovering Christmas for the first time. It allows us to relive our first holiday memories and experiences, and rediscover the magic of the season. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it was written by a guy with the last name Elfman.

“All I Want for Christmas” – Love Actually

By the release of Love Actually in 2003, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” was already an established hit. However, for some, the song will always be associated with the ensemble romantic comedy, due in no small part to its use throughout the film and in a major climatic scene. In the scene, Sam gets up the courage to play drums backing his crush in the finale of their school’s Christmas pageant. Perhaps the actor portraying Sam, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, borrowed some of that courage for his eventual roles as Jojen Reed in Game of Thrones and Newt in The Maze Runner.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Elf

This song may have originally been written for the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter, but it reemerged in the public consciousness through its inclusion in Will Ferrell’s 2003 holiday comedy, Elf. Years before Zooey Deschanel went on to release a Christmas album with her band She & Him, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” features Deschanel’s unique vocal talents complemented perfectly by Will Farrell’s moody, surprisingly smooth vocals. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising given that this is from the same performer who gave us one of the most epic jazz flute sessions of all time and played quite a convincing Robert Goulet on SNL and Conan.

“Twelve Days of Christmas” – Bob & Doug McKenzie

If you feel like you’ve heard the original “Twelve Days of Christmas” one too many times, you may want to head north of the border to listen to the Bob and Doug McKenzie version. The fictional Canadian brothers of SCTV fame replace the gifts of the traditional classic with an updated — decidedly more Canadian — list, including back bacon, touques, and of course, beer.

“The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” – Alvin & The Chipmunks

Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. — stage name David Seville — knew he was on to something with the success of “Witch Doctor” in 1958, a song featuring a high-pitched voice that was the result of a new recording technique. He employed that same technique for this novelty Christmas song featuring The Chipmunks, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” and the rest is history. The song went on to win three Grammy Awards, and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart, the only Christmas song ever to do so. The Chipmunks franchise itself went on to have tremendous success, with the release of several albums, multiple television series, and a slew of movies, including the 2007 CGI/live-action reboot and its squeakquels… er, sequels.

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” – Home Alone

The single from John Williams’ original score for Home Alone,  “Somewhere in My Memory,” has become a holiday classic in its own right. But there’s one Christmas standard that may always be associated with the 1990 John Hughes Christmas classic due to its clever use in the film. In this memorable scene, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is forced to trick the Wet Bandits into thinking there is a party going on, so they don’t catch on to the fact that his entire family is in Paris and he is — in fact — home alone. As Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci) drive by, they see all the lights turned on, with people dancing and strolling back and forth through the windows, and Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” blaring from what seems to be a lively party. Perhaps this is why every time the song comes on, I picture mannequins on turntables and a Michael Jordan standee attached to a toy train. The ’90s were weird.

“Jingle Bell Rock” – Mean Girls

Perhaps it was fortuitous that Regina (Rachel McAdams) didn’t allow Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) to stay on her left during their performance of “Jingle Bell Rock.” Then we never would have gotten to see Cady (Lindsey Lohan) go a cappella and completely save The Plastics from total humiliation at North Shore High School‘s annual Christmas pageant.

“The Hanukkah Song” – Saturday Night Live

This list wouldn’t be complete without perhaps what is the penultimate pop culture holiday song: Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song.” Originally performed on Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update, the song has gone on to spawn several iterations and updates. However, they all have one thing in common: They’re chock full of references to celebrities and pop culture icons that all celebrate the annual Jewish Festival of Lights.

[This article originally published on Dec 23, 2015]

Become a
Pop culture fans! Write what you love and have your work seen by millions.