Skip to main content

Top Earning Christmas Songs: All Time and Annually

top-earning-christmas-songs-all-time-and-annually

Christmas songs that generated the most revenus

I like to share ideas with my readers concerning ways they can build wealth, and one of those ways is to create intellectual property (IP) that can be licensed and produce passive income via royalties.

To that end, I wanted to use the top earnings Christmas songs of all time to show examples of success in this area. I'll share the all-time sales leaders in Christmas songs, as well as the songs that generate the most annual sales for owners of the rights to the songs.

An interesting thing I found when researching this was that there is a difference between how much revenue is generated, and say, songs that are downloaded using apps. In other words, popularity doesn't always translate to huge revenue streams.

Another thing I discovered was, because there are a lot of people that enter into residual royalty deals with the owners of the rights to the songs, each contract can be different, so it's close to impossible to get an exact number to the very specific revenue a song receives. That said, the top earning Christmas songs in this article are close to actual earnings numbers.

As for royalty deals, a well-known singer will usually, if not always, get a better deal because of the size of the audience that can be reached. That person may get a larger cut, while lesser-known artists with a smaller fan base will probably get a smaller cut because it isn't as lucrative to the owner of the rights to the songs, meaning they would have to pay a larger percentage of the take.

For the Christmas songs listed below, they include earnings through 2020.

We'll start with the top earning Christmas songs of all time, followed by annual earnings leaders. They'll be listed starting with No. 5 and down to No. 1

#5 Wonderful Christmastime (1979)

#5 Wonderful Christmastime (1979): Paul McCartney. Approximate earnings: $35 million

Paul McCartney wrote the popular Christmas song and recorded it by himself when working on his individual album called McCartney II. It was first released as a single in the U.K., peaking at number six on the UK singles chart in early January 1980. Its top finish in the U.S. was on the Cash Box Top 100 Singles chart, where it climbed to number 83.

Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime

#4 The Christmas Song (1944)

#4 The Christmas Song (1944): Mel Torme. Approximate earnings: $35 million

The Christmas Song, AKA Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, was written by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé, and had an interesting story behind its creation.

According to Tormé, he noticed a spiral notepad on the piano of Wells and read what Wells had written. On it were word fragments such as Chestnuts roasting..., Jack Frost nipping..., Yuletide carols..., etc. The fact is, Wells wasn't even thinking in terms of writing lyrics to a song, but rather, because it was stifling hot at the time, he was thinking of words to write in order to think of winter in order to cool himself off.

Tormé started adding words to what Wells doodled, and in less than an hour the song was completed, with Tormé writing all the music to it.

The most popular version of the song was sung by Nat King Cole.

Nat King Cole - "The Christmas Song" (1961)

#3 Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934)

#3 Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934): Haven Gillespie and Fred J Coots. Approximate earnings: $43 million

Written by Haven Gillespie and Fred J Coots, Santa Claus is Coming to Town was an immediate hit after the first known recorded version of the song was released on on October 24, 1934 by Harry Reser and his band.

About a month later the song was sung on the radio show of Eddie Cantor, generating record sales of over 30,000 within a 24-hour period. It also produced orders of 500,000 of its sheet music from that performance.

Below I've included the first known recording of the song. There are a lot better recordings of the song, but I think it's important to hear of a time when Christmas music history was being made.

Scroll to Continue

Santa Claus is Coming to Town (first recording)

#2 All I Want For Christmas Is You (1994)

#2 All I Want For Christmas Is You (1994): Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff. Approximate earnings: $52 million

After the successful release of Carey's 1993 album Music Box, her and her management team started thinking in terms of what projects to plan for next. The idea for a Christmas album was pushed by her husband at the time, Tommy Mottola, who managed Sony Music Entertainment, the parent company of Columbia.

Carey and her songwriting partner Walter Afanasieff capitulated to Mottola when he continued to push for the Christmas album and started to write and compose songs for the album.

It the two about 15 minutes to write and compose the song, which has become of the most popular and lucrative Christmas songs in history.

Mariah Carey - All I Want for Christmas Is You

#1 White Christmas (1940)

#1 White Christmas (1940): Irving Berlin. Approximate earnings: $56 million

There are conflicting accounts concerning where Irving Berlin wrote the wildly popular Christmas song "White Christmas," but there is no confusion about how Berlin felt about the song after he wrote it, He said this to his secretary: "I want you to take down a song I wrote over the weekend. Not only is it the best song I ever wrote, but it's also the best song anybody ever wrote."

The song was originally written for the movie "Holiday Inn." Bing Crosby's version remains the most popular by far, selling over 50 million copies.

White Christmas (Bing Crosby)

Top earning Christmas songs based upon annual royalties

Next we'll get into the Christmas songs with the highest earnings based upon annual royalties.

It is interesting to note that the older songs that sold well on an all-time basis didn't make the annual list. More than likely it's because of the longevity of the recordings. They certainly do well, but at a more modest pace than some of the more modern Christmas songs.

We'll lead it off with a repeat from the above list: Wonderful Christmastime.

#5 Wonderful Christmastime (1979)

#5 Wonderful Christmastime (1979): Paul McCartney. $400,000

I'm not going to repeat what I mentioned above about this song. See above for a brief synopsis and history of it, along with the video.

I will mention this, some unsourced people were cited as saying the song may generate as high as $600,000 per year in royalties. But since there is no way of knowing whether or not that's an accurate statement, I have to go with what is known.

#4 Last Christmas (1984)

#4 Last Christmas (1984): Wham!: $439,744

This popular Christmas song was written by George Michael when he and a friend were visiting Michael's parents' house. He reportedly wrote it in the bedroom he spent his childhood sleeping in.

It was written and recorded in 1984, with Michael playing all the individual instruments used in the recording. There were some sleigh bells and a LinnDrum drum machine thrown into the mix as well.

Wham! - Last Christmas

#3 All I Want for Christmas Is You (1994)

#3 All I Want for Christmas Is You (1994): Mariah Carey: $523,803

Mariah Carey and her wildly popular All I Want for Christmas Is You is the other repeat from the above list.

Again, rather than simply repeat myself, see the above summary of the origins and success of the song.

#2 Fairytale of New York (1987)

#2 Fairytale of New York (1987): The Pogues: $553,453

Contrary to many of the other songs on this list, "Fairytale of New York" took much longer to write and record.

Work on the song started in 1985 by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan, but had a series of rewrites and failed attempts at recording it. After a couple of years they finally completed it in August 1987.

It was initially released as a single in November 1987, later being included on the 1988 album of the Pogues named "If I Should Fall from Grace with God."

The Pogues - Fairytale Of New York

#1 Merry Xmas Everybody (1973)

#1 Merry Xmas Everybody (1973): Slade: $736,290

Topping the list for annual earnings for a Christmas song is Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody"

Similar to Mariah Carey, Slade was encouraged to write and record a Christmas song by manager Chas Chandler. Also similar to Carey, there was initial resistance to the idea, but Jim Lea got foundational inspiration for the song while taking a shower.

Lea remembered that Noddy Holder has written a song several years before that he discarded. That song became the chorus of the song, while Lea's was the melody.

Holder an entire night working on the lyrics of the song, which he was able to finish in a single draft. It was the last No. 1 single by the band, and easily the best-selling one.

It's amazing to think of the variables that are included in the history of successful songs like this.

Also, some unconfirmed sources say the song is generating over a $1 million in annual sales.

Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody

Conclusion

In the past the usual practice for performers concerning Christmas songs was to wait till near the end of their careers to develop and/or perform them, as it tended to extend the length of their careers because it targeted a different demographic than they had while younger and more popular.

That has been changing for some time, as a number of performers are going with Christmas songs at the time when they are still in their prime.

The numbers above show you why. Most of the Christmas songs the singers above sang were either the most popular, or among the most populer of their music catalog.

As for readers, the point in all of this is many of us create intellectual property that can be converted into royalties over our lifetimes, and can be passed on to our heirs. It's truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Concerning the Christmas songs themselves, I have my favorites among them, but it's easy to see why they became so popular among the fans they had, and why they'll endure for long into the future.

Related Articles