For other uses of related terms, see Christmas Album (disambiguation), Christmas Music (album), Christmas Song (disambiguation), and Christmas Songs (disambiguation).
Christmas music comprises a variety of genres of music regularly performed or heard around the Christmas season. Music associated with Christmas may be purely instrumental, or, in the case of carols or songs, may employ lyrics whose subject matter ranges from the nativity of Jesus Christ, to gift-giving and merrymaking, to cultural figures such as Santa Claus, among other topics. Many songs simply have a winter or seasonal theme, or have been adopted into the canon for other reasons.
While most Christmas songs prior to 1930 were of a traditional religious character, the Great Depression era of the 1930s brought a stream of songs of American origin, most of which did not explicitly reference the Christian nature of the holiday, but rather the more secular traditional Western themes and customs associated with Christmas. These included songs aimed at children such as "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", as well as sentimental ballad-type songs performed by famous crooners of the era, such as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "White Christmas", the latter of which remains the best-selling single of all time as of 2018. Elvis' Christmas Album (1957) by Elvis Presley is the best-selling Christmas album of all time, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.
Performances of Christmas music at public concerts, in churches, at shopping malls, on city streets, and in private gatherings is an integral staple of the Christmas holiday in many cultures across the world. Radio stations often convert to a 24-7 Christmas music format leading up to the holiday, starting sometimes as early as the day after Halloween – as part of a phenomenon known as "Christmas creep".
Music associated with Christmas is thought to have its origins in 4th-century Rome, in Latin-language hymns such as Veni redemptor gentium. By the 13th century, under the influence of Francis of Assisi, the tradition of popular Christmas songs in regional native languages developed. Christmas carols in the English language first appear in a 1426 work of John Awdlay, an English chaplain, who lists twenty five "caroles of Cristemas", probably sung by groups of wassailers who would travel from house to house. In the 16th century, various Christmas carols still sung to this day, including "The 12 Days of Christmas", "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen", and "O Christmas Tree", first emerged.