(December 27, 2023).  Christmas 2023 is now in the history books, and radio station playlists and sales/streaming charts will soon return to normal with the same non-holiday songs consumers were binging on before Mariah Carey gave us permission to begin the Christmas spirit anew.

And while the same perennial Christmas classics dominated our hearts and the Billboard charts for the umpteenth year in a row — or since song streaming and Billboard’s current chart rules made that annual dominance a possibility — some of those tunes actually were able to break through previous ceilings and reach new heights this year (while others failed to match their previous peaks). 

The most obvious, of course, was Brenda Lee’s No. 1 smash “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” which broke Mariah’s hold on the Billboard Hot 100 chart crown by beating “All I Want For Christmas” to the top for two weeks earlier in December.  (“All I Want” reclaimed the throne the past two weeks and is aiming for a third and final week before the charts completely rid themselves of holiday fare in January).

Brenda Lee’s 1958 classic “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” reached No. 1 in 2023.

Lee, who recorded her beloved classic in 1958 when she was 13 and who celebrated her 79th birthday this month while it was perched at the top, capitalized on increased marketing for “Rockin’ Around,” including a new music video tie-in to the song’s 65th anniversary.

But Lee’s early rock-and-roll gem wasn’t the only famous Christmas tune to reach an all-time high on this season’s Billboard rankings.  Several others climbed higher on this year’s charts than they had in previous years.

And while the reasons aren’t as clear as they were for Brenda Lee’s classic, which had a much higher profile in 2023, the fact that they climbed to new heights is noteworthy.

Here are some other annual favorites — including tunes that are decades old — that raised their own bars during Christmas 2023:

“Sleigh Ride” – The Ronettes (New High: No. 8; previous holiday peak No. 10).

The Ronettes, produced by the late Phil Spector and led by his late ex-wife Ronnie Spector, rode the annual wave of nostalgia to a new high this year as their beloved “Wall of Sound” classic slid up to No. 8, besting its 2022 high by two spots.  

“Underneath the Tree” – Kelly Clarkson (No. 11; previous peak No. 12).

Talk show host and former American Idol Kelly Clarkson took another step closer to the top 10 with the 2013 song that has its own “Wall of Sound” arrangement and is slowly becoming a modern day standard.  If it continues this momentum next Christmas, it’ll become the first top-10 Yuletide tune recorded in the 2010s or later that this blogger is aware of.  

“Jingle Bells” – Frank Sinatra (No. 16; previous peak No. 20).

Until this week, the only version of this nearly two-century-old song to make the Billboard Hot 100 was Sinatra’s (although other versions have graced other charts), which he recorded with an orchestra conducted by Gordon Jenkins in 1957 (or 1948, depending on which source you cite).  But as Sinatra’s tune reaches a new high (his highest position since the No. 1 duet “Something Stupid” with daughter Nancy in 1967), another version debuts: Meghan Trainor’s at No. 81.  

“It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas” – Michael Buble (No. 19; previous peak No. 20).

Canadian crooner Michael Buble annually charts the highest ranking holiday album on the Billboard 200 with his top-10 Christmas regularly outpacing older sets by Mariah Carey, Nat King Cole and the Vince Guaraldi Trio.  But this year he inched one step closer to the top ten of the singles list with his modern-day rendition of the Perry Como/Fontane Sisters/Mitchell Ayres Orchestra standard, reaching a No. 19 peak on the Dec. 23 rankings.

“Here Comes Santa Claus” – Gene Autry (No. 22; previous peak No. 25).

Santa couldn’t visit millions of homes each year without Rudolph guiding his sleigh.  And until this year on the Hot 100, Gene Autry’s classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was out in front of his “Here Comes Santa Claus” on the Billboard charts, maintaining the proper order of things.  This season, “Santa” leapt ahead of “Rudolph” (see below) by reaching a new peak of No. 22, while the famous caribou with the cherry nose climbed no higher than No. 26. 

“Santa Baby” – Eartha Kitt (No. 30; previous peak No. 35).

Technically speaking, “Santa Baby” by the late Eartha Kitt charted at a much higher No. 4 in 1953, the year she recorded it.  But that was on one of Billboard’s predecessor lists prior to the Hot 100’s inception in 1958, after which chart rules prevented recurring oldies from recharting. Today’s more relaxed rules and song streaming have fueled the purring classic’s return, which peaked this week at a new Hot 100 high of No. 30, exactly 15 years after Kitt’s death on Christmas Day 2008 of colon cancer.  

“Like It’s Christmas” – Jonas Brothers (No 43; previous peak No. 44).

The Jonas Brothers have had a much higher profile in 2023 than in recent years.  A new top-10 (non-holiday) album earlier this year, an appearance on SNL, and the highly buzzed about divorce announcement of Joe Jonas from his wife Sophie Turner.  Perhaps all of that is what it took to lift their 2019 holiday contribution “Like It’s Christmas” one rung higher on this year’s Hot 100 charts to No. 43. 

Meanwhile, these classics — including a couple of tunes by ex-Beatles — charted in 2023 but failed to reach previous highs:

“A Holly Jolly Christmas” – Burl Ives (previous peak No. 4; this year No. 5)

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Andy Williams (previous peak No. 5; this year No. 7)

“Feliz Navidad” – Jose Feliciano (previous peak No. 6; this year No. 9)

“The Christmas Song” – Nat King Cole (previous peak No. 9; this year No. 11)

“White Christmas” – Bing Crosby (previous peak No. 12; this year No. 15)

“Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)” – Darlene Love (previous peak No. 15; this year No. 17)

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – Gene Autry & the Penafores (previous peak No. 16; this year No. 26)

“Wonderful Christmastime” – Paul McCartney (previous peak No. 28; this year No. 35)

“Little Saint Nick” – The Beach Boys (previous peak No. 29; this year No. 31)

“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” – Thurl Ravenscroft (previous peak No. 31; this year No. 34)

“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” – Jackson 5 (previous peak No. 33; this year No. 34)

“This Christmas” – Donny Hathaway (previous peak No. 37; this year No. 45)

“Happy XMas (War Is Over)” – John & Yoko/The Plastic Ono Band w the Harlem Community Choir (previous peak No. 38; this year No. 48)

What does this all mean in the grand scheme of all things Christmas?  Well, not much considering how preferences seem to fluctuate from year to year and the differences in chart peaks are in many cases a modest one or two positions off from prior seasons.

But it does beg the question of whether many of these songs — several of which were recorded in the mid 20th century or not too long afterward — will be overtaken by more modern holiday fare in the years to come.

The good news for these artists is that at least their songs are still charting, which is more than one can say for equally classic tunes like Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas,” The Temptations’ “Silent Night,” “Merry Christmas, Darling” by the Carpenters, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (by take your pick of artists) and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy.


DJRob (he/him/his), chart geek, is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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