Certain Christmas songs are as important to the holiday tradition as stuffing stockings, eating too much and arguing with relatives.
For some, the season hasn't begun until Martina McBride's White Christmas album has been dusted off and played once or twice. Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson and Taylor Swift also have albums that have grown more popular than inflatable snow globes in recent years. Here are the Top 10 traditional Christmas songs in country music — that is, classic Christmas songs that have been recorded many times prior to these favorite versions of ours.
"Last Christmas"Taylor Swift
It's not shocking that Swift sold more than 700K copies of this 2007 Christmas EP. While five of the six songs received radio airplay, "Last Christmas" endured the short test of time. Swift brings her usual melancholy to a holiday standard (written by George Michael during his Wham! years) that had yet to be made popular by a country artist. It's sweet and poppy, yet packed full of sadness and regret. Perfect for the holidays, and perfect to kick off our list of the 10 best country versions of traditional Christmas songs.
"Pretty Paper"Willie Nelson
Even though Nelson wrote this hit from his 1979 album of the same name, Roy Orbison first made it famous in 1963. For this reason it ends up on our list of traditional Christmas songs instead of originals. Nelson tells the story like a favorite uncle who has the kids gathered around the Christmas tree. His timeless voice is somehow able to wrap itself like a bow around a gift of any color or purpose.
"Winter Wonderland"Brooks and Dunn
Brooks and Dunn's take on this classic Christmas song is a perfect way to introduce the holiday season. It's a good compromise between fans of Christmas music before Thanksgiving and those who think that it is taboo. Kix Brooks' guitar work slides around Ronnie Dunn's vocals like a kid avoiding pine trees on his favorite sledding hill. It's a song guaranteed to get grandma dancing, especially if she's hitting the eggnog.
"Silent Night"Alan Jackson
Patience is the key to any successful version of this Christmas classic, and Jackson proves to be nothing if not willing to take his time. The extended acoustic solo that begins the song sets the tone for not only a wonderful recreation of this standard, but a wonderful holiday season. Jackson's Let It Be Christmas album is a must have in the collection of any lover of country Christmas songs.
"Please Come Home for Christmas"Gary Allan
Gary Allan isn't who one immediately thinks of when it comes to Christmas crooners, but his emotional rendition of this song made famous by the Eagles is more than appropriately drenched in sorrow and sadness. Allan's pain urges one to appreciate friends and family at the holiday celebration a little bit more. Putting up with Uncle Bob's dorky sense of humor is better, after all, than spending Christmas night alone.
"Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy"Buck Owens
Buck Owens was always one to liven things up, and this country Christmas classic is no exception. Co-written by Owens and his partner, Don Rich, it was a hit upon its release in 1965 and has since become a standard. The fun song has inspired many cover versions, including Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt and Brad Paisley.
"Santa Baby"Kellie Pickler
There isn't a country artist better suited to remake this traditional Christmas song, first made popular by Eartha Kitt and later by Madonna. Kellie Pickler's cutesy version is irresistible. The sweet irony is that Pickler grew up in a humble household, to say the least. These days she still prides herself on being very practical, but she sells diva with plenty of leftover sass on this song from 2007.
"Blue Christmas"Elvis Presley
While the version of this Christmas song with Martina McBride reintroduced this song to the country audience in 2008, the original is still a more satisfying listen. No one will ever sound like Presley does as he opens this traditional Christmas song, adding extra syllables to words like "I'll have a blue Christmas without you." For some, Elvis is as much a part of the holidays as Santa Claus, and this song is one that should make every Christmas playlist.
"O Holy Night"Martina McBride
This is the most timeless song from one of the most timeless Christmas albums by a country artist in recent decades. McBride's White Christmas has been re-released twice, but her soaring vocals on "O Holy Night" are still a highlight amongst even the added material. She holds back until the end of the third chorus, but as she opens up it's as if angels are dropping down from heaven to bless Christmas.
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"Gene Autry
Autry had a No. 1 hit with this song in 1949, and the next week it became the only song to reach No. 1 and then disappear from the charts. The mid-century production quality only adds to the charm of this standard, which every kid learns by the time he or she is 3 years old. While many artists have released fancier, more jazzed-up versions of this Christmas song, the original that's sung by the "singing cowboy" is tough to beat — and it tops our list of traditional Christmas songs in country music.