Best Christmas Songs to Play on Guitar
Playing Christmas songs on guitar can be such great fun, particularly if they’re guitar-led, technically challenging, ‘sing-along songs’, played with other people, or lively, fun songs.
This list of the best Christmas songs to play on the guitar contains all the above. It’s an eclectic mix of Christmas songs both old and new, soft and heavy, known and less known, but all embody the twin spirits of Christmas and guitars.
Note: Finding a cool brand new guitar wrapped under the tree also helps!
Enjoy the songs on this list – happy playing, and happy Christmas!
1 – Run Rudolph Run – by Lemmy Kilmister
Motorhead main man Lemmy is joined by Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters/Nirvana) and Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) to form an unlikely heavy metal Christmassy trio.
This more recent re-imagining of the distinctive Rock-n-roll-ing of Chuck Berry (of Johnny B Goode fame) is a brief, blasting flurry of great tongue-in-cheek holidays fun.
Learning and playing this track will actually put your chops to the test, besides just being great fun. It’s also something of an alternative Christmas tune too. Because as much as we all kind of love the sweet holiday classics, when is a 2 minute heavy metal meets rock n roll blitz from Lemmy, Grohl and Gibbons NOT welcome!?
2 – Traditional Fingerstyle Arrangements – by Various
This doesn’t refer to one specific song, but to a certain style of Christmas song interpretation. Something you may or may not have heard before.
There are so many beautiful, intricate fingerstyle arrangements of traditional Christmas songs (Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, etc) out there. From the famous to the relatively unknown, long and short, accessible and complex.
These involve playing the recognisable melody, while self-accompanying with chords/bass notes/lines in an intricate ‘chord-melody’ style. That is to say the whole piece is arranged for solo guitar.
The traditional element of these songs often means some beautiful underlying harmonies and chords you wouldn’t normally use, if you’re a rock/pop/blues player.
Traditionally, Christmas is also a period when you have a bit more time to spare. And if you can spend it on something that’s both Christmassy and guitar-related, well what more could you want!?
3 – Feliz Navidad – by Jose Feliciano
Ostensibly a bit of an unlikely hero in a list like this, “Feliz Navidad” actually ranks as the 8th best-selling Christmas/Holiday singles of all time.
Live performances always feature Jose Feliciano playing an acoustic/nylon strung guitar, and the repetition of the main refrain (“Feliz Navidad”) can make this quite a sing-a-long classic.
It’s also notable that the song’s overall mood somewhat stands out as not particularly ‘Christmassy’ in itself.
However, when examined, this is in fact the case with a great many of the most successful Christmas songs. Yes there are recordings laden with jingling bells and samples and organs, but those with apparently contrasting moods can be just as far-reaching.
Feliz Navidad brings an element of Summery warmth to the festive season, and that must partly explain its huge success – particularly in The USA & Canada.
4 – Jingle Bell Rock – by Bobby Helms
It’s hard to believe “Jingle Bell Rock” is now over 60 years old, possibly because of the number of times it has been revived and re-popularized over the years, including famously by the cast of ‘Glee’.
There’s also something about a song being heavily played every year (i.e. At Christmas!) that keeps it in the public ear, and helps to slow the ageing process.
One key thing with this track is that on the original – and on many more recent covers – there is so much tasteful lead guitar playing. From the distinctive intro, throughout – with fills and breaks aplenty.
This would be a really nice duet with a guitarist friend, meaning all those sweet lead licks can be played without neglecting the song’s rhythmic continuity and framework.
5 – Christmas Time – by The Darkness
In the UK, “Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)” by The Darkness is considered the best (and only real) 21st Century UK Christmas song.
Around 15 years ago, The Darkness were responsible for explosively reviving many lost elements long lost from the UK’s Rock scene – from twin, harmonizing lead solos, to parody songs, to catsuits!
And one other thing, too: Rock bands releasing Christmas songs!
However, lead singer Justin Hawkins’ previous life as a songwriter and jingle composer has consistently shone through their work, and as such “Christmas Time” is no throwaway Christmas song, but a glorious, melodic, upbeat, jingly, rock and roll Christmas song.
It is frequently the only song of the previous few decades in contention when Christmas songs are discussed, and for good reason. Have a listen!
6 – Fairytale Of New York – by The Pogues & Kirsty McColl
A very well-loved Christmas song that taps into certain Christmas-related emotions often neglected by the more upbeat, one-dimensional Christmas songs. “Fairytale Of New York” is considered out on its own by many as a result.
It is wistful, reflective and melancholy and as such truly paints a picture of Christmas, with all its occasional dramas, family matters, and enduring good (and bad) times too. For all of the catchy success of the more originally mainstream Christmas pop hits, “Fairytale of New York” is seen by many as the reality of Christmas, for better or worse.
As such, this cult hit is now thoroughly a mainstreamer itself, and is increasingly played year on year, showing no sign of abating.
Besides making this a guaranteed sing-a-long that you should definitely learn to play, there’s another important purpose served by the song’s folky, storytelling, reflective, narrative sound and style. And that’s to give a relatively recent song the feel of a centuries-old, traditional classic of the people.