Top 10 Greatest Sad Christmas Songs

India McCarty

Christmas is known as the most wonderful time of the year….so why are there so many heartbreaking songs written about the holiday season? Some people are far from their families, others might be going through an ill-timed breakup, but no matter the reason, it’s undeniable: sad Christmas songs are the best. Here’s my list of the tearjerker holiday songs you need on your playlist this year. 

10. “Snow in California” (Ariana Grande)

Ariana Grande is one of the few pop stars these days that understands the importance of a good Christmas song. The artist has released two holiday EPs and dozens of Christmas singles, all to the delight of her fans. On this track, Grande is begging for snow in California to delay her boyfriend’s flight and keep him with her in the Golden state a little longer. “Just make it snow in California,” she croons. “I’ll even settle for rain.”

9. “Hard Candy Christmas” (Dolly Parton)

This is one of those Christmas songs that’s not technically a Christmas song, but those are usually the best kind. In this song from the soundtrack for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Dolly Parton sings about going through hard times, likening it to “a hard candy Christmas.” even though she’s down in the dumps, the country superstar refuses to give up: “But still I won’t let // sorrow bring me way down.” 

8. “Last December” (Nina Nesbitt)

This track featured on Nina Nesbitt’s 2019 album, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, but the singer gave it a holiday-infused makeover to make it as Christmas-y as possible. It’s a song about holiday heartbreak and the memories of a lost love, with Nesbitt singing sadly, “I loved last December // don’t think that I don’t remember it all now.”

7. “If We Make It Through December” (Merle Haggard)

Written by Merle Haggard, this is one of those Christmas songs that reminds us that this time of year can be hard for so many people. The song’s narrator recounts getting “laid off at the factory” right before Christmas and how he “wanted Christmas to be right for Daddy’s girl.” He remains hopeful, though, singing, “If we make it through December // everything’s gonna be alright, I know.” Check out Phoebe Bridgers’ cover; instant waterworks, guaranteed.

6. “Home Alone, Too” (The Staves)

The Staves’ delicate holiday track is one of my all-time favorites. The song describes that weird feeling of not having someone in your life, but still thinking about them. “Are you watching Home Alone, too?” the group sings wistfully and without malice. It’s not angry or sad’ just a simple recounting of a relationship with shared traditions that came to and end. 

5. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (John Lennon, Yoko Ono)

Okay, so maybe this one can’t be technically classified as sad, but this is my list, so I get to make the decisions. This John Lennon-Yoko Ono classic is about evaluating what you’ve done over the past year, and thinking about what you can do to make the world a better place. When that children’s choir comes in on “War is over // if you want it”….chills. 

4. “Please Come Home For Christmas” (Eagles)

I love the Eagles in a completely unironic and fanatical way. They’re one of the greatest rock bands of the 70s – if not all time – so it makes sense that they’d put out an equally amazing Christmas song (well, cover, but let’s not get nitpicky). “Oh, what a Christmas to have the blues,” Don Henley sings in that unmistakable rasp, before begging his lost love, “please come home for Christmas // if not for Christmas, by New Year’s night.”

3. “Last Christmas” (Wham!)

You all knew this one was coming. Forget being one of the best sad Christmas songs, Wham!’s immortal holiday hit is one of the best Christmas songs ever, period. The bouncing synths contrast with George Michael’s retelling of a love affair gone south: “My God, I thought you were // someone to rely on // Me? I guess I was a shoulder to cry on.” Instantly singable and somehow universally relatable, this is one of those songs guaranteed to get everybody singing along.

2. “River” (Joni Mitchell)

This is my number one, all-time greatest not-really-Christmas Christmas song. I mean, come on, how does it get better than Joni Mitchell? The song starts with the “Jingle Bells” melody played on the piano, before Mitchell launches into those heartbreaking lyrics known the world over. She described the Christmas preparations going on around her before talking about what’s really on her mind: “I made my baby say good-bye.” It’s a timeless track that takes on new meaning around the holidays, making it the perfect song to put on if Christmas stress has got you wishing for a river to skate away on. 

1. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (Darlene Love)

I could argue that this is a strong contender for best Christmas song of all time, but that’s another list for another time. For now, let’s get into what makes it the greatest sad Christmas tune. One, we’ve got the incredible, out-of-this-world vocals of Darlene Love. When she wails, “Baby, please come home,” you get goosebumps. Two, it’s got Phil Spector’s famous Wall of Sound production (I’m choosing to overlook the fact that he is a convicted murderer.) And reason number three….well, come on! It’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)!” If you’ve never screamed the lyrics to this song with friends or family, you simply haven’t lived – and you definitely haven’t experienced the true joy of Christmas.

Feel free to share your own picks for best sad Christmas songs in the comments, but just know, you will never change my mind <3 Happy holidays everybody! 

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