The most beautiful Christmas songs for piano (including sheet music!)
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The Traditional Christmas Celebration
Nothing wrong with celebrating a traditional Christmas! Traditions can of course vary, but usually Christmas involves an exchange of gifts, some form of Christmas decoration (usually a tree and lights), sharing meals, and some festive rituals with family and friends. Not to forget: Music! Songs suitable for this occasion can be sung by old and young alike, and everyone knows the lyrics by heart.
Here is our selection of traditional Christmas songs for piano:
- Silent Night: The original lyrics to the most popular Christmas carol ever were written by Joseph Mohr in 1816 but were only found in 1995 near Salzburg, Austria. Mohr kept the lyrics in his drawer for two years before asking organ player Franz Gruber to set them to music. "Silent Night" reached worldwide fame because an organ repairman happened to hear the song, liked it, and took it back to his home county, where wandering singers heard it and spread it all over the world.
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: The origin of this Christmas carol dates back to 1739 and Methodist founding father Charles Wesley, but back then it sounded much more serene and slow. The version we all know stems from when George Whitefield reworked the lyrics with music adapted from a cantata by composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.
- I Saw Three Ships: This song from the 17th century was popular in Cornwall with completely different lyrics - it had nothing to do with Christmas for 100 years. In 1833, English antiquarian William Sandys turned it into a Christmas carol with nine verses. Generations of children have wondered how ships could sail into the land-locked town of Bethlehem - some people think the ships are a metaphor for the camels the three wise men traveled with. Whatever the lyrics mean, "I Saw Three Ships" is a beautiful song that has been covered by various artists, Nat King Cole and Keith Emerson among them.
- O Christmas Tree: Another song that started out as a folk song completely unrelated to Christmas, and in the 19th century acquired lyrics that praise the traditional fir Christmas tree used in Germany. Although "O Christmas Tree" is popular as a Christmas song all over the world, many other hymns have since made use of the melody, but with other lyrics.
- In the Bleak Midwinter: In 1872, English Poet Christina Rossetti published the lyrics as a poem. In 1906, composer Gustav Holst ("The Planets") composed the melody to it - "In The Bleak Midwinter" is now sung all over the world and has been voted "Best Christmas Carol" in 2008.
- The Little Drummer Boy: This song, originally known as "Carol of the Drum", was written in 1941 by American composer Katherine Kennicott Davis. Davis purportedly dreamt the famous "parumpumpumpum"-hook line. First recorded by the Trapp Family, and then many others (including David Bowie and Justin Bieber) "The Little Drummer Boy" became quite popular.
- Jingle Bells: One of the best-known American winter songs in the world, it was written in 1857 by James Lord Pierpont. Sleigh-riding and sleigh-racing were quite popular in Boston around the time Pierpont wrote his song. Originally, it was to be sung at Thanksgiving, and it does not mention Christmas anywhere in the lyrics, but more and more people associated it with winter, and eventually Christmas, and it stuck. Fun fact: "Jingle Bells" was one of the first songs broadcast from space by Gemini 6 astronauts.
Sheet music for traditional Christmas songs
The Jazzy Christmas Celebration (with the right songs)
Ideas as to what a Jazzy Christmas celebration is may vary, but we'd say it revolves around inviting people to a formal party, maybe in a company setting. And you need a piano!
We see everyone dressed up, pretty china for trifles, glasses for drinks, and a Jazzy vibe as the soundtrack to it all. The decoration is perhaps a bit less exuberant than with a traditional Christmas celebration or a Pop Xmas Party, but what's there is beautiful - think candles and gold.
The following Christmas jazz piano songs add the icing on the ... handmade glass icicle up on the tree.
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Written in 1943 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, and first sung by Judy Garland in the musical "Meet me in St. Louis", this is one of the most-performed Christmas songs ever. It is the perfect song if the time before Christmas was rough and you want to comfort someone that things are about to pick up and get better. It seems that just about everyone has covered this Christmas classic - Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Coldplay, Sam Smith, and John Legend are just a few names to mention. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is also one of the few Christmas songs to enter the Charts and even go Platinum and Gold in the US and UK.
- White Christmas: The legendary Irving Berlin composed this song in 1942 for the musical "Holiday Inn". It won an Oscar straight away. The most popular cover is, of course, sung by Bing Crosby - and the song's sales exceed 100 million. "White Christmas" is the most recorded Christmas song ever and was voted the second most important song of the 20th century by the American Recording Industry.
- Winter Wonderland: In 1934, Felix Bernard and Richard Smith wrote a charming winter love song that evolved into a gold-winning Christmas classic. Numerous cover versions of "Winter Wonderland" exist - most notably by Guy Lombardo, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Eurythmics.
- Santa Baby: Released in 1953, Eartha Kitt has turned this cheeky, controversial song into an instant classic. Written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer, "Santa Baby" is the only Christmas song that has topped both lists of "best" and "worst" Christmas songs. It became a huge success anyway, topping charts around the globe, and being covered by Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Gwen Stefani, and many more.
- The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire): This song was written in the scorching July of 1945 by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé. Apparently, Wells had just attempted to cool himself off by writing down random "winter" words. Tormé came across Wells' notepad and felt inspired to turn all these words into a song. When Nat King Cole recorded "The Christmas Song" a year later, it became a massive gold-winning hit. Covered by many artists including Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige, and Jacob Collier (who earned a Grammy nomination for his version), the original Nat King Cole Version still stands out as timeless.
- Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!: Another song written during the hot Hollywood July of 1945, this one by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. Fun fact: Due to the song never actually mentioning Christmas, it is played during the winter months in the Southern hemisphere. First recorded by Vaughn Monroe, "Let It Snow!" became a #1 platinum- and gold-selling hit across the globe Popular cover versions include Frank Sinatra's, Dean Martin's, and Bing Crosby's.
Songs for the Xmas Pop Party
Whether you have your friends and family over, or you get to celebrate anywhere else, this is the time for going over-the-top deco-wise. Think red and white colors, Santa hats, glitter, and fun. And just about every Pop musician has recorded a Christmas song for you to play, and your friends to belt along to. Get that party started!
Pop Christmas Songs
- Last Christmas: What did radio stations play in December before 1984? Well, we certainly know what they play since! In 1984, British duo "Wham" released this synthpop song, written by George Michael. "Last Christmas" keeps almost topping the charts all over the world year after year, finally peaking at #1 in the UK in 2021 (!), 36 years after its release. Thus, it held the record for the longest time it took a song to reach #1 until Kate Bush's "Running Up the Hill" surpassed it by one year in 2022. Fun Fact: George Michael plays every instrument on the track, having decorated the studio suitably to set the mood. All the royalties to the song go to Ethiopian famine relief.
- All I Want for Christmas is You: A Christmas staple for every Pop radio station ever since Mariah Carey recorded it in 1994, this uptempo love song features bell chimes, backing vocals, and synthesizers. Allegedly, Carey and Co-writer Walter Afanasieff wrote it in 15 minutes when they were tasked with writing a Christmas hit. "All I Want for Christmas is You" topped the charts in 26 (!) countries and keeps coming back and re-topping several of them year after year - it even achieved "diamond" status in the US (more than 10 million copies sold). Fun Fact: This song is the most popular holiday ringtone!
- Do They Know It's Christmas?: This is the iconic Christmas song written in 1984 that kept Wham's "Last Christmas" from topping the Charts. It became the fastest-selling UK single until 1997 when Elton John re-recorded "Candle in the Wind". Written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to help relieve famine in Africa, it raised millions within a year and formed the basis for Geldof's charity work in Africa. "Do they know it's Christmas" also keeps being voted the UK's favorite Christmas song. The list of big-name musicians participating in the recording of this song is long - among them Sting, George Michael, Boy George, Bono (U2), Simon LeBon (Duran Duran), Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), Phil Collins on drums, Peter Robinson (Kool & the Gang) and Francis Rossi (Status Quo). Its re-releases for charity purposes also topped the charts, and some of the more eurocentristic lines got rewritten in the 2014 edition.
- Merry Christmas (by Elton John and Ed Sheeran): This festive song was written by piano and songwriting legend Elton John, British songwriter Ed Sheeran, and producer Steven Mac in 2021. It entered the UK charts as #1 immediately after release, being Sheeran's twelfth and John's ninth #1 hit. "Merry Christmas" also topped charts in various other countries. All earnings go to charitable foundations, like Elton John's AIDS foundation.
- Driving Home for Christmas: Chris Rea's Christmas song was first released in 1986. Although never a top chart success, it kept reentering charts year after year. In 2021, it peaked at #10 in the UK. The sweet background story: Rea wrote "Driving Home for Christmas" when he was broke and his wife had to come to pick him up at the studio to drive him home because he had no money left for the train ride. Stuck in traffic while it snowed around them and all the other drivers looked miserable on the blocked road, Rea was inspired to write a happy, uplifting "car version of a carol".
- Thank God It's Christmas: Another great Christmas song of 1984 - this one by Queen was, in fact, written by Brian May and Roger Taylor. It had a hard time competing with "Do they know it's Christmas" and "Last Christmas" so the band did not even bother recording a video for it until 2019 when they published an animated video on their official Youtube channel. "Thank God It's Christmas" is still a fabulous song, and great to sing standing around a piano.
Festive Songs for a Contemplative Christmas
Music is what truly awakens the spirit of Christmas - and you get to choose what kind of spirit you want it to be! The right song can put you in a contemplative mood, being grateful for the blessings in your life. It can let you enjoy your community when days are short and nights are long - and we bake cookies and visit fairs. It can deepen your religious feelings about the birth of Christ. And the right song can evoke memories of good old times, and help you relax into a festive mood.
The Best Contemplative Christmas Songs
The Best and Worst of Christmas Music
There's no accounting for taste - one person's Christmas favorite will be the other person's affliction. But generally speaking, the most beautiful Christmas music is the self-made kind that is given or shared with a loving heart. Long before mankind had invented letters and writing, stories and traditions were passed on orally from one generation to the next. No mp3 will ever have the same effect as the people we care about sharing a live music experience. It does not have to be perfect - it's the spirit that counts!
On the other hand, the time before Christmas is also the time we are most exposed to music we have no control over. Christmas melodies are dripping from shopping center loudspeakers and public transport radios alike. This is a stressor, and if you are sensitive or easily overwhelmed by an acoustic stimulus, try to avoid it. But don't blame the songs, it is the lack of control you have over when and where you hear them that is the real culprit.