Why are there no more new Christmas hit songs?

All we want for Christmas is … the same old Christmas hits.

That would certainly explain why Mariah Carey returned to No. 1 on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 with her 1994 holiday classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” knocking none other than Adele (“Easy on Me”) out of the top spot. It’s the historic third year in a row that the Queen of Christmas has reigned atop the charts with her seasonal juggernaut.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” leads a Top 10 that also includes 1958’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee (No. 2), 1957’s “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms (No. 4), 1964’s “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives (No. 5), 1963’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams (No. 7), and 1984’s “Last Christmas” by Wham! (No. 9). And just outside of the Top 10 is José Feliciano’s 1970 chestnut “Feliz Navidad” at No. 11.

Mariah Carey has made history by reaching No. 1 for the third year in a row with “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
CBS via Getty Images

That makes Carey’s 27-year-old tinsel tune the baby of the bunch among beloved holiday originals that go all the way back to the ’50s. Clearly, when it comes to Christmas hit songs, the oldies are the goodies.

“It does tend to be pretty much driven by the songs that have been out for decades,” said Gary Trust, Billboard senior director of charts. “With pop music, the general angle is, the newer the song is, the cooler it is. It’s kind of the reverse with holiday music, where the older the song is, it probably has a leg up because holiday music really seems to be comfort food, seems to be all about nostalgia and family memories. So even if a new song comes along during the holidays that’s really good, it’s just gonna really take years, maybe decades to match the resonance that an older song has.”

Andy Williams
Andy Williams is at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Indeed, while there have been some relatively minor hits — including Justin Bieber’s 2011 ditty “Mistletoe,”  Kelly Clarkson’s 2013 bop “Underneath the Tree” and Ariana Grande’s 2014 jam “Santa Tell Me” — there hasn’t been another certified holiday classic since “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

Although the song was a radio hit right away, the streaming boom helped catapult “All I Want” to No. 1 25 years after it was released. And the seasonal streaming surge has also worked some Christmas magic on other classics. “The reason that we’re seeing all these songs do so well is because they stream incredibly well,” said Trust. “There’s a lot of streaming services that have so many playlists dedicated to holiday music.”

Brenda Lee
Brenda Lee is all the way up to No. 2 on the Hot 100 this week with her 1958 classic “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
Getty Images

But those playlists don’t always make room at the inn for newer Christmas originals, giving them less exposure. “The programmers of playlists on major streaming services do have a pretty big say in what the most popular songs are gonna be, and they pretty much are sticking with the classics,” said Trust. “When you’re programming this music, whether it’s on the radio or streaming services, you have maybe 100 years of music to choose from. So if you’re going to put something that’s pretty new up against Brenda Lee and Bobby Helms and Burl Ives, it better be good.”

While some artists — such as Pentatonix, Michael Bublé and Josh Groban — have more recently had success with Christmas albums, they have relied more on covering familiar faves than crafting fresh ones. But Carey herself co-wrote “All I Want” with Walter Afanasieff.

“You go back to 1994, and very few artists were putting out new original holiday music at the time,” said Trust. “It was sort of accepted that if you were going to do holiday music, you put out covers. It just tended to be the way it worked. And Mariah came along and she put out a brand-new song.”

Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey released “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in 1994, but it didn’t reach No. 1 until 2019.
WireImage

Now, though, there are other Christmas originals — from the Ed Sheeran and Elton John duet “Merry Christmas” to Clarkson’s recent single “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)” — that may not be getting a real chance to one day join the ranks of the great holiday standards. 

“There’s so much great original holiday music out there, but how much of that is getting a big audience?” said Trust. “The competition is so great because you’re dealing with so many decades of so many classics. It’s a lot to cut through.”