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If you’re looking for musicals to celebrate the holidays with, then look no further! Musical Theatre is rich with yuletide cheer and these two lists have got you covered. Whether you’re looking for something to deck the halls with or a festive song for your next cabaret act you’ll find some gems in this Musical Theatre Christmas Songs list.
Family Time Christmas Songs
We’ll begin with the songs that you can put on while you’re trimming the tree or baking with the kids. These range from classic to obscure but are all approved to share with the whole family!
1. “A New Deal for Christmas” from Annie (1977): One of my favorite lesser sung Annie tunes. President Roosevelt promises the WPA will make good on delivering a festive holiday season in the midst of the Depression. Complete with references to FDR’s cabinet as reindeers and the classic opening line of “I know the Depression’s depressing” this is a cheery number that fits right in with brightening our collective state of pandemic worry. Great to belt out in the kitchen while making cookies!
2. “That Man Over There” from Here’s Love (1963): Meredith Wilson’s biggest Christmas hit was “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” from 1951 so naturally he stuck it in his musical treatment of Miracle on 34th Street but this song is also delightful. The show is hit or miss but this song, which begins its life in the first act as a jingle to sell plastic alligators (don’t ask) gets reused in Act 2 as Mr. Macy’s testimony in the trial judging Kris Kringle’s saniety. It’s a catchy tune which will have your whole family bouncing around the Christmas Tree.
3. “Merry Almost Christmas” from A Year With Frog and Toad (2002): This sweet number comes from the musical based on the children’s books by Arnold Noble. A perfect family holiday tune celebrating the warmth of having the ones you love around you. Snuggle on the couch and enjoy this adorable ditty.
4. “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises, Promises (1968): Ready to jump up and down doing your best festive Donna McKechnie impression? Then it must be time for a Burt Bacharach classic! Wailing vocals and trumpets not enough excitement? Check out the original choreography on the performance from the 1969 Tony Awards. No better way to dance in the holidays and sure to use up that extra sugar rush the kids might have before bedtime.
5. “A Place Called Home” from A Christmas Carol (1994): There are dozens of musicalizations of this Dickens classic but this Alan Menkan and Lynn Ahrens song has always struck a chord for me. Written in the show to be sung as a trio with Young Scrooge, his sister Fan and Old Scrooge, you’ll also find some lovely solo recordings out there that really give the song a holiday spirit (my two favorite renditions are sung by Liz Callaway and Megan Hilty). Another good song for snuggling.
6. “We Need A Little Christmas” from Mame (1966): March around the Christmas tree a few times with this show stopping Jerry Herman tune. Like “A New Deal for Christmas,” this song emphasizes the need for Christmas in a dark time. Sound familiar? In the spirit of pick-yourself-up-and-sing-a-showtune-to-cheer-up, this is a delightful song for the whole family. (NOTE: This is one that I love the original of because of Angela but Sab Shimono’s one solo line is definitely noticeable as a put on Japanese accent, he grew up in Sacramento and was interned at Tule Lake during the war so definitely not his own accent. Lots of other recordings that could be recommended though. I like Patrick Wilson on the Broadway Cares: Home for the Holidays album).
7. “True Blue Miracle” from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978): Stretching into the land of songs written for great holiday television shows, this lush 70’s folk tune features in a charming Sesame Street special. With music and lyrics by the great Carol Hall (who will appear later on the second list) it just makes your heart feel warm. Good for almost any holiday activity this song is the definition of a good family tune. Plus Bob’s beautiful tenor pipes. Does it get any better than Bob?
8. “Who Says There Ain’t No Santa Claus” from Flahooley (1951): From the entry of obscure musicals with obscure Christmas tunes file, this is just a delightful little tune. Yip Harburg (the mind behind the lyrics for The Wizard of Oz and Finnian’s Rainbow) was one of the great lyricists of the early 20th century and how can you argue when you get hilarious rhymes like “ain’t no St. Nicholas” with “too ridiculous”
9. “Snow” from White Christmas (1954): From one of the most ardently American Russian Jewish immigrants comes a whole film based on his biggest hit. Irving Berlin knew how to write a catchy tune and while you’ve all heard “White Christmas” it’s this song that always puts me in the mood to go schussing with a hot buttered rum (light on the butter). As the great man wrote “What is Christmas with no snow?”
10. “Be a Santa” from Subways Are For Sleeping (1961): Another entry from the obscure songs from obscure musicals, this is a joyful tune by Jules Styne with joyful lyrics by the endlessly clever Betty Comden and Adolf Green. The original arrangement even includes a Santa bell chorus. For a more updated jazzy twist check it out as the title track on Lea DeLaria’s Christmas album from 2010.
11. “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” from Elf (2010): Following the trend of taking successful holiday movies and translating them to stage musicals, Elf has quite a bit of charm. You can’t help but tap your toes to this number, written as the call for holiday cheer as they decorate the department store. This is the perfect song for decorating with the kids, just be warned it may end in a family kick line.
12. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): Introduced in the film by Judy Garland this remains one of the classics. Last year it got quite a bit of press because of some lyric changes that are commonly made. Hearing “next year all our troubles will be on their way” and Judy singing about muddling through somehow felt very on the nose. For those of us with young kids in our lives we still may need to hear those words of hope so check out the original if you need to feel not so alone in any holiday blues you and your kids might still encounter this year.
13. “12 Days To Christmas” from She Loves Me (1963): With this show’s climax at Christmas this song is a genius piece of writing. Everyone knows all of the different kinds of shoppers sung about in this song and yet there are so many little jokes, including the tempo which goes from measured to whirlwind. I’m putting this on the family list because this is the kind of song that kids love to bounce around to but there is a “they can go to hell” lyric so use your best judgement around littles. Because they’ll love lines like “We’re not the sheeple who popped in time” by the great Sheldon Harnick.
14. “Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana” from A Christmas Story (2009): From the movie to musical collection this cute number does a great job of capturing the Christmas Eve jitters of all kids. This strikes me as a “Santa knows if you’ve cleaned up your room so let’s get to it” kind of number.
15. “One More Sleep Till Christmas” from The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992): In my non-expert opinion this is the definitive musical adaptation of this story. Nothing touches my soul like Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Michael Caine as Scrooge. I love every song in this film. I could have put them all on this list but this is the one I listen to before I go to sleep on Christmas Eve every year, and I’m 37. Paul Williams wrote the most heartfelt songs for this project and who does heartfelt better than Kermit?
The After-Bedtime Songs
Now that I’m a parent, one of my favorite things about the holidays is staying up late wrapping presents, watching holiday movies and drinking something festive. These are the songs that are a little more “grown up” for those moments when you find yourself with your earphones in and you need some more mature musical theatre holiday cheer.
- “Hard Candy Christmas” from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1978): So the same year she’s got “True Blue Miracle” for Sesame Street Carol Hall busts out this incredible show. I feel like the whole pandemic has been a Hard Candy Christmas and if you’re into belting (maybe not while the kids are sleeping though) this is a great one to just let it all out.
2. “Santa Comin’ Caroline” from Caroline, or Change (2003): At the top of Act 2 the radio busts out this festive song. It’s a total bop (thanks Jeanine Tesori) but the lyrics touch on the main conflict of the show (thanks Tony Kushner). I love bouncing around the kitchen to it but just be warned the track cuts off before they sing “Caroline” so it feels a little incomplete.
3. “Christmas Bells” from Rent (1996): With Jonathon Larson in the air this holiday season any adult list would be lacking without this number. There’s so much going on but the popular carols interspersed throughout never let you forget that act 1 of this show is set on Christmas Eve “and it’s beginning to snow.”
4. “Surabaya Santa” from Songs for a New World (1995): What could be more festive than Jason Robert Brown writing a Kurt Weilesq number for Mrs. Claus? Not much. So beautifully bizarre and again, perfect for belting with a glass of your favorite holiday libation.
5. “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher” from Billy Elliot (2005): Another bopping Act 2 opener! I mean Elton John wrote it so of course it’s a bopper. A good union song cursing the Tory prime minister? Surprisingly festive.
6. “Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year” from Catch Me If You Can (2009): This lovely little ditty is perfect for those of us who appreciate Norbert Leo Butz singing “I wait for Santa with a gun.” And for those who are too young for NLB there’s the lovely Aaron Tveit singing some beautiful harmonies.
8. “The Schmuel Song” from The Last 5 Years (2001): It’s a little Christmas story right? Some more Norbert Leo Butz? Why not! Honestly, this song chokes me up everytime. “You get to be happy” and “I give you unlimited time” is all I want for Christmas.
9. “Lovers on Christmas Eve” from I Love My Wife (1977): Joanna Gleason sings “Santa Claus turns me on.” This nostalgic duet is a sweet little Cy Coleman ditty perfect for cuddling up with your partner.
10. “All I Want for Christmas” from Nuncrackers: If you don’t know Dan Goggin’s Nunsense series let me just preface this by saying that this song is sung by a nun. In this case the great Deborah Del Mastro who also plays the trumpet?! Anyway, if you’re gonna live out your dreams of being a nun or a headliner at Carnegie Hall, this is your song.
Becky Potter (she/her/hers) is a theatre artist who has served as a teacher, director, actor, dramaturg, and writer. Becky has a B.A. in Drama from UC Irvine and an M.A. in Drama from San Francisco State University. She served on the theatre faculty at Oakland School for the Arts for a decade teaching and directing middle and high school students. She is currently an ensemble member at B8 Theatre Company. Becky has two daughters, ages 5 and 2, and they provide plenty of drama on their own.