Top 5 of All Time: Black Christmas Songs

Whitney Houston (Kevin Mazur/WireImage); Donny Hathaway (Gilles Petard/Redferns);Kanye West (Randy Brooke/WireImage)
Whitney Houston (Kevin Mazur/WireImage); Donny Hathaway (Gilles Petard/Redferns);Kanye West (Randy Brooke/WireImage)

Chances are people will bah-humbug the songs not listed. Understood. I know there are more than five great holiday songs, but here's what else I know: These songs are great. One of them is undeniable, three of them are unquestionable and one of them will probably make some scoff because they think it's absurd that a rap song might belong on a list of great holiday music. On that point, we will agree to disagree.


5. "Christmas in Harlem" by Kanye West, featuring Cam'Ron, Jim Jones, Vado, CyHi Da Prynce, Pusha-T, Musiq Soulchild and Teyana Taylor

Most Christmas rap songs sound satirical. Not "Christmas in Harlem." A slew of MCs sandwich their best 16 bars about the holiday season in between a breezy, festive hook sung by Teyana Taylor and Musiq Soulchild. The result is a song that feels timeless, though it's only a year old. The song's producer, Hit-Boy (he of "Ni—as in Paris" fame), told Vibe: "I never really heard [the beat] as a Christmas song, but when Kanye heard it, he said it sounded like some classic Christmas music." Kanye was right.

4. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by the Jackson 5

"You just gotta believe me!" So says little Michael Jackson to his older brothers at the end of this holiday gem. The way he sings it, why would we not? Little MJ is so certain that Santa Claus exists, he not only thinks his mom is kissing the man himself but implies that he won't tell his dad what he saw. It would be mildly disturbing if it weren't so adorable, catchy and true to how most kids feel at a young age about Santa.

3. "Let It Snow" by Boyz II Men, featuring Brian McKnight

If ever there was a holiday song appropriate to play while conceiving, it would be "Let It Snow" from Boyz II Men's 1993 holiday album, Christmas Interpretations. As soon as the group and special guest McKnight harmonize their vocals on the first utterance of "snow," one thing is clear: "Let It Snow" is more than a Christmas song; it's a bedroom song, just as appropriate for a night of romance in the middle of June as it is in December.


2. "Joy" by Whitney Houston

It is not a traditional holiday album, but Houston's work on the sound track to the 1996 holiday film The Preacher's Wife feels like a holiday church party, and "Joy," her interpretation of the Kirk Franklin classic, is the revival. Houston channels her gospel pedigree to churn out a flawless performance with the Georgia Mass Choir, matching their energy note for note. Houston later released One Wish: The Holiday Album in 2003, but nothing matched her work on "Joy."


1. "This Christmas" by Donny Hathaway

There are holiday songs, and there are holiday standards. Holiday songs come and go, but holiday standards stay, permanently imprinting themselves into the yearly traditions. That's what Hathaway's "This Christmas" has done. Thirty years after it made its debut on his self-entitled album, "This Christmas" is arguably the soul man's most beloved song, becoming as much of a staple in Christmas songbooks as "Jingle Bells." The evidence lies in the numerous remakes the song has undergone in its short lifetime. And though none touch the original, when any version of "This Christmas" comes on the speakers, people carol along. 


Jozen Cummings is a writer living in Harlem, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter and read his blog,

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Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.