15 Vintage Christmas Songs to Get You in the Holiday Spirit

Long before “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” holiday celebrations bopped to “I Want You for Christmas”—and a surprising number of blues tracks.

‘The Carol Singers,’ a 1927 print by D.M. Wheeler.
‘The Carol Singers,’ a 1927 print by D.M. Wheeler. / Culture Club/GettyImages

The holiday season is the most nostalgic time of year, so it only makes sense that some of the most popular Christmas music dates from the 1940s and ’50s. To really put a retro spin on the season, we gathered up 15 songs from even earlier—the 1910s, ’20s, and ’30s. And while they might not be coming directly out of a phonograph, they’re sure to put you in a very merry, sepia-tinted mood.

1. “Hail! Hail! Day of Days” by the Edison Mixed Quartet // 1913

Perhaps the most traditional song on this list, its performers—the Edison Mixed Quartet (sometimes referred to as the Edison Concert Band)—also recorded a few similar-sounding Christmas tunes during the early 20th century.

2. “Santa Claus Hides In the Phonograph” by Santa Claus Himself (Ernest Hare) // 1922

OK, this isn’t a song—but we just had to include this 1922 bit that does end with a rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

3. “At the Christmas Ball” by Bessie Smith // 1925

If you’re a music lover, you know the blues legend Bessie Smith, but you might not have heard this holiday track, which combines Smith’s soaring vocals with delightfully jazzy horns and piano.

4. “The Santa Claus Crave” by Elzadie Robinson // 1927

We’ve included a few blues tracks here, because, hey, the holidays are the best time to be cheerful—and depressed.

5. “Santa Claus, That’s Me” by Vernon Dalhart // 1928

Vernon Dalhart was an important figure in the early days of American folk and country music—even with a background in opera. He auditioned for Thomas Edison and, over the course of several years, recorded hundreds of songs for Edison Records under a number of pseudonyms. After that, Dalhart began to record country songs, becoming a household name with 1924’s “The Wreck of the Old 97.”

6. “Christmas in Jail—Ain’t That A Pain?” by Leroy Carr // 1929

If the song’s title didn’t tip you off, this is another blues track. And if you find yourself in need of more, click here, here, and here. Yes, there is a surprising number of great blues songs about the holidays, and these somber tunes will definitely bring you joy.

7. “I Told Santa Claus to Bring Me You” by Bernie Cummins and His Orchestra // 1930

While the Christmas music of the 1940s and ’50s would make its way into the studio, much of the earlier music of the holidays still had that live, big band sound—including this 1930 recording.

8. “The Santa Claus Express” by Henry Hall featuring Dan Donovan and the BBC Orchestra // 1933

This is the kind of song you might expect to hear in a Christmas special for kids (which is a compliment).

9. “Does Santa Claus Sleep With His Whiskers Over or Under the Sheet?” by Jack Jackson and His Orchestra // 1933

A very cheeky song honoring an age-old question you’ve never thought to ask.

10. “In a Merry Mood” by Barnabas Von Geczy and His Orchestra // 1934

An instrumental track that’s perfect for you if orchestra swells are what really get you in the holiday spirit.

11. “Swingin’ Them Jingle Bells” by Fats Waller // 1936

“Swingin’” might actually be the best way to describe this 1936 jazz carol.

12. “What Will Santa Claus Say?” by Louis Prima & His New Orleans Gang // 1936

This song is sometimes listed as “What Will Santa Claus Say? (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’),” which is a pretty fun image to conjure.

13. “The Fairy on the Christmas Tree” by Three Sisters // 1936

This 1936 Christmas song sounds a bit like a scene out of an old Disney movie and tells the tale of all the little girls who dream of being the fairy on top of the tree. (It’s OK—we’ve never had that dream either.)

14. “I Want You for Christmas” by Russ Morgan // 1937

Before “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” there was “I Want You For Christmas.”

15. “The Only Thing I Want for Christmas” by Eddie Cantor // 1939

This 1939 song is a sweet ode to all the things we already have (with some not-so-subtle nods to the turmoil happening around the world at the time).

A version of this story was published in 2019; it has been updated for 2023.