My Votes for the Best and Worst Christmas Songs

Christmas music is one of the highlights for me this time of year. I love the nostalgia that comes with the classics like “Winter Wonderland” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

There are also some really bad songs out there too.

My vote for potentially the worst Christmas song ever is the notorious “Christmas Shoes” song. It’s a stinker, a real dud, the Nickelback of Christmas music.

I have no idea why I hate on this song every year. The poor kid is just trying to buy some red shoes for his near-death mama. Now, why does she need shoes before she heads to heaven? I have no idea.

Why is he alone at a department store on Christmas Eve moments before his mom’s imminent death? Apparently, that’s without explanation.

And why is the guy in line behind him just watching impatiently while this impoverished kid counts all his loose change only to end up not having enough? I’m as baffled as you are.

It’s bad enough that the song makes my skin crawl, but it’s further compounded by my precious kids. They know how I struggle with the lame shoes song, so they intentionally put it on a Spotify loop around mid-November to see how long it takes me to crack.

Maybe part of the reason “Christmas Shoes” rubs me wrong is that it doesn’t have the right “feels” for Christmas. It’s sad and depressing, and the narrator somehow makes the story about his generosity and it leaves me wanting to kick over a Christmas tree when the kids’ chorus chimes in at the end.

But it does make the point that Christmas can be hard for lots of us.

Ideally, we all would love for Christmas to look like a Hallmark, picture-perfect holiday. (Don’t even get me started with the greatness of Hallmark royalty, Candace Cameron Bure.) But it’s hard when our Christmas expectations don’t match up with real life.

The Greatest Christmas Song

In contrast to the worst song of Christmas, Mary, Jesus’ mother, wrote what might just be the greatest Christmas song of all time.

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Mary’s Magnificat “the most passionate, the wildest, one might say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung.” He goes on to say that “this is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary . . . the song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of . . . Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world.”

Who’s impressed that I just pulled out a Bonhoeffer quote?

Me too.

Take a minute to read Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1:

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

The Magnificat might just be the greatest song of the season because Mary lays out the secret sauce for finding true joy and peace no matter what your immediate Christmas circumstances hold.

Mary writes this song as a peasant teenager who has recently become aware that she’s pregnant. She’s engaged and facing potentially life-threatening repercussions. But even then, she responds by recognizing God’s blessing on her life. She uses the Latin word magnificat, meaning magnify. Recognizing her lowly posture, she responds in complete humility and magnifies God (not herself) for his unmerited blessings.

She goes on to say that, in God’s economy, the weak become strong and the mighty are seen as lowly and marginalized. She praises the lasting provision of God from Abraham forward and acknowledges the big picture of God’s mighty plan being more than just temporal or what we can see before us.

What’s Your Christmas Song?

The reality is that, as we get older, Christmas may feel more like the “Christmas Shoes” song rather than the most wonderful time of the year.

You may be mourning the loss of a family member, struggling to afford gifts, facing challenges with family dynamics, worried about a wayward child, or just bogged down with all the demands of striving for the picture-perfect Christmas when it’s impossible to achieve in a fallen world.

Mary can relate to a Christmas with mixed emotions.

But Mary also understood that her mission was larger than having the right “feels.” She had a peace and understanding that transcended her current circumstances. I love the passage in Luke where she had just birthed Jesus and it says she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

As we spend the next few weeks focusing on our families and on the birth of our Savior, make Mary’s song yours.

Find peace in the tumultuous places.

See the longevity of God’s provision instead of focusing on the immediate circumstances.

And choose to magnify God in all situations—knowing that his provision is sufficient and sustaining even when our outward circumstances aren’t perfect.