The Christmas songs you love to hate the most

These are the Christmas songs it's ok to hate.
These are the Christmas songs it's ok to hate. Photo credit: Supplied

"Hate" is such a strong word, but we're human enough to admit hating on things — especially Christmas songs — can be a joyous exercise. Healing, even! (And the English language has yet to produce a better word for the white-hot jolt of being exposed to Paul McCartney's 'Wonderful Christmastime' without warning.)

After all, some Christmas songs seem created to be hated. Others have wormed their way so far into our brains and culture that our reactions to them are beyond our control, like a sleeper assassin being activated by a code word.

When we say things like, "If I hear Michael Bublé's gender-adjusted version of ‘Santa Baby' one more time I'm going to run my car into a ditch," neither the talented Bublé nor the mounds of money he makes are harmed. Rather, in a way, we are acknowledging the power of such art to affect us, whether we want it to or not.

That being said, it's impossible to create a definitive list of hated Christmas songs, and it's certainly impossible to do so without inviting the contrarian rage of the estimated three individuals who actually enjoy listening to 'The Christmas Shoes.' But let's try anyway.

Songs people just don't like

'The Christmas Shoes' - written and performed by NewSong, 2000

When looking at the mounds of literature on hated Christmas songs, or just stopping a random person on the street, "The Christmas Shoes," originally recorded in 2000 by Christian vocal group NewSong, inspires a very specific ire. It is a depressing-slash-heartwarming Christmas parable wherein a little boy tries to buy a pair of shoes for his mother for Christmas and — surprise! Said mother is terminally ill, and her son wants her to look pretty when she meets Jesus (dies). The jaded singer is moved to purchase the shoes, and the True Meaning of Christmas is restored.

Like many hated things, 'The Christmas Shoes' is also wildly popular. It spawned a book and a movie — with Rob Lowe! — and has been streamed more than 12 million times on Spotify (though there's no telling how many of those were people investigating why everyone hates this darn song so much). It has topped many a "Worst Christmas Song" list, and now it's on this one.

'Wonderful Christmastime' - written and performed by Paul McCartney, 1979

It takes a seasoned music expert to explain why a jolly synth ditty by a literal Beatle makes people want to rinse out the inside of their skulls. In 2021, musicologist Nate Sloan explained to Mental Floss that the song's lyrics and structure are "simple to a fault." It could also be the instrumentation, which consists of synths and bells and seemingly whatever else McCartney had lying around his living room when inspiration struck.

When it comes to Christmas music, "usually the timbral palette leans toward the acoustic, and by extension, nostalgic, sounds of ‘real' instruments," Sloan said, noting that the use of synths in "Wonderful Christmastime" are "staccato, harsh and tinny." In other words: It kind of sounds like it's played on garbage.

Regardless, it's also widely loved, and reportedly nets McCartney a few hundred thousand dollars a year in royalties.

'Do They Know It's Christmas?' - written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, performed by Band Aid, 1984

The holidays are a fruitful time for pontificating about things like gratitude, personal privilege, and whether people in Africa (all 1.2 billion of them, across their more than 50 countries and three major latitudes) are satisfied with their seasonal snowfall.

As one CNN staffer put it, "On paper, this should be great. George Michael, Bob Geldof, Bono, Simon Le Bon, Phil Collins, Sting, Boy George — all those '80s icons brought together for a good cause. But once you stop trying to spot the superstars in the video with their carefully tousled hair, all you're left with is nine excruciating choruses of ‘FEED the WORLD…'"

Bob Geldof has nobly taken the blame for what has aged into a cringe-y and myopic holiday take on humanitarianism: "I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history," Geldof said in 2010. "The other is ‘We Are the World.'"

Songs people don't like because, surely, that is the point

'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer'  - written by Randy Brooks, performed by Elmo and Patsy, 1979

You know things have gotten weird when even the creator of a novelty Christmas song expresses surprise that people still listen to it. This tender ballad was originally recorded as a kind of joke by Elmo Shropshire and his then-wife Patsy Trigg in 1979 (a rough year for Christmas music, apparently).

It rolled around on different records and gained some traction, and Shropshire re-recorded it a few times after he and Trigg divorced. It's caused all kinds of division amongst radio stations and Christmas music fans through the years, but the high point of the song's infamy arguably came in 1985 when a disgruntled DJ in Davenport, Iowa played 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer' 27 times in a row before being pulled off air and suspended.

Anonymous CNN staffer input: "This song convinced me as a child that Rudolph fully murdered the singer's grandmother."

'The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)'  - written by Ross Bagdasarian, 1958

It's generally understood that "The Chipmunk Song," and really any "Alvin and the Chipmunks" Christmas song, could be used to strip wallpaper. And that's okay to say because this song won three Grammys! Yes, three whole 1958 Grammys, for best comedy performance, best children's recording, and best engineered record (non-classical).

It was even nominated for record of the year! Granted, at the time, the technique of speeding up the tracks to produce the grating "chipmunk" voices probably seemed rather charming. It is no longer, except to children and sadists.

Anonymous CNN Staffer input: "Having grown up with two much younger brothers, anything on the Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas album makes me run screaming. The way they played those squeaky voices on repeat in our house makes me wince just thinking about it."

'Santa Baby - written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer, performed by Eartha Kitt, 1953

A 2021 survey reported by YouGov named 'Santa Baby' the most hated Christmas song, but blame for the ditty's reputation cannot be laid entirely at Ms. Kitt's feet. If the original was criticized for being weirdly suggestive, the endless parade of covers in the ensuing decades have only made it worse.

Some covers, like the aforementioned Bublé version, attempt to downplay the sexuality with lines like "I'll wait up for you, dude / Santa buddy, and hurry down the chimney tonight!" The cover's release in 2020 generated, let's say, some very negative and confused press. (No more confused than Santa would be, though.)

'Baby, It's Cold Outside' - written by Frank Loesser, 1994

Ah, yes. This highly controversial Christmas song has a lot of haters, whether they find offense with early recordings featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan or Dean Martin and Marilyn Maxwell, or the seemingly endless recreations that have spun forth in the decades since.

Much discourse has been devoted to whether the interplay between the male and female voices amounts to cozy sexual harassment or a sly coded exchange.

During the early days of the #MeToo movement, some radio stations even chose to skip the song. Hoever, when John Legend and Kelly Clarkson released a consent-heavy updated version in 2019, it wasn't exactly a hit, either. Among its critics was Dean Martin's daughter, Deana Martin, who called the remake, with lines like "It's your body and your choice," "absolutely absurd."

Songs people don't like because of onomatopoeia

'The Little Drummer Boy' - written by Katherine Kennicott Davis, 1941

One of the highlights of engaging in Hated Christmas Song Discourse is how often you learn brand new things, and see words and names arranged in ways you never could have imagined. Words like "The 2011 cover of ‘Little Drummer Boy' by Justin Bieber feat. Busta Rhymes was named as one of Billboard's 100 ‘Greatest of All Time' holiday songs."

Imagine telling that to accomplished composer Katherine Kennicott Davis, who wrote 'The Little Drummer Boy' in 1941. The world is truly full of miracles.

Anyway, while it usually doesn't raise the same frothing ire as other songs, the "parum-pa-pum-pum" of it all can get grating. So can the visual of the holy family, exhausted and overwhelmed, with a squalling infant among a bunch of livestock, forced to put on a brave face while some little kid bangs on a drum.

Anonymous CNN Staffer input: "There's a reason you never see a boy with a drum in your neighbor's nativity scene"

'Dominick the Donkey' - written and performed by Lou Monte, 1960

For every person who can't stand this little song about a donkey who helps Santa deliver presents in Italy, there is someone else who will swan rapturously forth to defend it. "It's so charming!" they say. "It's so fun!" There is space for all of these truths. It can be charming. It can be fun. It can also be something no reasonable soul would listen to unless they were under extreme duress or highly impaired by a holiday beverage. Jing-a-di-jing hee haw hee haw!

Songs people don't like because so help them, if they hear it one more time …

'Last Christmas' - written and performed by Wham!, 1986

As we have seen, not every hated song is bad. Some songs come to be hated because there are only so many times one can hear George Michael sing, "I'll give it to someone special!" before something breaks inside.

There is actually a whole game, a whole culture, dedicated to avoiding such an unfortunate outcome. "Whamageddon" is a challenge with one chief objective: "to go as long as possible without hearing Wham!'s Christmas classic; ‘Last Christmas'." There are other rules; the game runs from the beginning of December to Christmas Eve, you post your inevitable defeat on social media, you avoid intentionally Wham!-ing your friends, et cetera. There's even merch! ("Whamageddon: Stay safe, stay vigilant.")