2020 a record-breaker for Christmas songs in top 40

A record number of Christmas songs made it into the top 40 singles chart during 2020, with many appearing earlier than ever, analysis has found.

Of the current top 40, a total of 26 have a festive theme – the highest proportion for any Christmas chart in history.

The previous record was 16 out of 40, in 2017.

Eight of the current top 10 are seasonal hits, including All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey (number 2), Last Christmas by Wham! (3) and Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin’ Stevens (7).

Christmas singles in Top 40 in Christmas week
Christmas singles in Top 40 in Christmas week

This year also saw the earliest appearance in the top 40 for a festive song.

All I Want For Christmas Is You entered the chart on November 20 – five weeks before Christmas week.

Wham!, The Pogues, Shakin’ Stevens, Michael Buble and Band Aid (the original 1984 recording) all joined Carey in the top 40 on November 27, making an unprecedented number of Christmas songs in the chart before December had even begun.

The findings have been compiled by the PA news agency, and are based on every top 40 since 1970 – the first full year of the official singles chart – that has featured a festive song in the weeks up to and including Christmas.

They reveal dramatic variations in the popularity and prevalence of Christmas songs over the past half-century, with some years boasting a handful of seasonal hits, while others have featured as few as one or none at all.

Fertile years included 1973-75, which saw such hits as Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade (1973), Step Into Christmas by Elton John (1973), Lonely This Christmas by Mud (1974) and I Believe In Father Christmas by Greg Lake (1975).

Slade pictured in 1973 (PA)
Slade pictured in 1973 (PA)

Another bumper period was 1983-85, featuring the likes of 2000 Miles by The Pretenders (1983) and Walking In The Air by Aled Jones (1985), along with Wham!, Shakin’ Stevens and Band Aid.

The 1990s was very different, with few original festive singles troubling the top 40 and only All I Want For Christmas Is You – a number 2 hit on its first release in 1994 – surviving the decade to become a long-term classic.

There were some years when the only trace of Christmas in the chart was a novelty song, such as Your Christmas Wish by the Smurfs in 1996, or I Believe In Christmas by the Tweenies in 2001.

In 2005 digital downloads started to be included in the chart, which kick-started the tradition for seasonal favourites to reappear in the top 40 year after year.

Downloads were fully incorporated into the chart by 2007 – which was the year All I Want For Christmas Is You returned to the top 40 for the first time since 1994, and it has since reappeared every year.

In 2014 audio streams were added to the charts for the first time, making it even easier for songs, rather than just new singles, to enter and stay in the charts.

Cliff Richard
Cliff Richard

In recent years more contemporary hits have joined the likes of Wham! and Shakin’ Stevens in reappearing every Christmas, such as Leona Lewis’s song One More Sleep, first released in 2013, and Michael Buble’s version of It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, which made its top 40 debut in 2016.

Over the five decades since 1970, Sir Cliff Richard has enjoyed the most chart appearances with different seasonal songs, scoring seven top 40 hits with Little Town (1982), Mistletoe And Wine (1988), Saviour’s Day (1990), We Should Be Together (1991), The Millennium Prayer (1999), Santa’s List (2003) and 21st Century Christmas (2006).

Having 26 festive songs in the top 40 is a far cry from the one Christmas song that bothered the charts in 2002 (Sleigh Ride by S Club Juniors), let alone 1970 and 1971, when no seasonal tunes appeared.

For anyone who cannot wait for the charts to be free of festive clutter, the omens are good: once January arrives, the top 40 has a habit of ridding itself of Christmas songs remarkably quickly – including Carey.