15 Sad Christmas Songs, Ranked on a Scale of 1 to 5 Crying Therese Belivets

When we think of Christmas music, we tend to think of sleigh bells and chimes and happy horns and declarations of peace and joy and love and presents — but there are some damn sad Christmas songs that pop up on even the most jolly playlists this season. Below I have ranked 15 of the saddest ones, on a scale of one to five crying Therese Belivets. Happy holidays!


Where Are You Christmas,” Faith Hill

This song is very upsetting! It’s about a woman who used to love Christmas and Christmas loved her back and now she can’t find Christmas and Christmas can’t find her either! They’re lost to each other! Because her world has changed, rearranged, and she’s grown up now, so — according to the music video, at least — she’s wandering around in the woods in the snow calling out for Christmas and creepy-peeping into people’s frozen windowpanes in case Christmas is maybe inside by the fire and can’t hear her mournful plea over the sound of the winter storm. It’s exactly what happened to Susan Pevensie who got kicked out of Narnia for discovering lipstick. Worst of all, one of the windows Faith Hill looks into, Jim Carrey’s Grinch is in there. A true horror. Three crying Therese Belivets.


Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love

You’re probably more familiar with Mariah Carey’s version of this song than the original recording by Darlene Love, but they’re equally depressing. The bells are jangling and everything seems really upbeat, all snow and church bells and pretty lights on the tree, and Darlene (and Mariah) are just smiling and waving to all the people. About every fourth line, though, she slips in a, “Baby, please come home” — but no one can even hear her because they keep going “CHRISTMAS!” “CHRISTMAS!” “CHRISTMAS!” the whole time. She’s not letting on that anything’s wrong and they wouldn’t hear her even if she did. Two and a half crying Therese Belivets.


Christmas Time Is Here,” Vince Guaraldi Trio

You know this song as the jazz music that plays while Charlie Brown travels around town and finds out all his friends and also Snoopy are into Christmas just for the gifts, and not for Jesus. It’s not really sad, but it’s definitely somber. Cue it up on Christmas Eve with a glass of wine if you want to wait for Santa in a super chill, melancholy stupor. One crying — sniffling, really — Therese Belivet.


Merry Christmas, Darling,” The Carpenters

Poor Karen Carpenter! She’s got all the makings of a holly jolly Christmas, even a crackling fire. But her darling isn’t there to share it with her. She’s going through the motions with the cards and the stockings. One second she’s saying it’s no big deal because everyday is a holiday when they’re together and the next second she’s stopped lying to herself, talking about oh if she had just one wish on Christmas Eve it’d be that they were together. Her darling won’t even be there by New Year’s Eve! Three crying Therese Belivets.


Same Old Lang Syne,” Dan Fogelberg

Woof, this one’s depressing. It starts like a meet-cute in a grocery store and ends with two exes sitting in a car drinking a six pack of beer in the liquor store parking lot on Christmas Eve and she’s married to a man she doesn’t even like and he’s got a nice career but the traveling is killing him, and then he gets out and watches her drive off (drunk?) while the snow turns to rain turns to slush. Four crying Therese Belivets.


You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” Thurl Ravenscroft

I saw this on at least ten different lists of sad Christmas songs, as if Thurl Ravenscroft — the original voice of Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger, by the way — was bullying The Grinch and that’s why he turned to a life of crime. No! This song doesn’t even start playing until The Grinch is well on his way to stealing Christmas. Anyway, there’s nothing sad about the sick burns Ravenscroft lays down. You’re a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich, with arsenic sauce? Classic. Zero crying Therese Belivets.


Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Judy Garland

Ironically, Judy Garland sings this to raise the spirits of her little sister in Meet Me in St. Louis. If you think it’s sad now (and obviously it is!) get a load of the lyrics before Garland begged Hugh Martin to change them. “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight,” for example, was originally, “It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past.” What a thing to say to cheer up a five year old! Also, honestly, the title just feels sarcastic. Oh? Oh yeah? Well have yourself a merry little Christmas, pal! Three crying Therese Belivets.


Both Sides Now,” Joni Mitchell

Don’t try to tell me this isn’t a Christmas song. As soon as Emma Thompson put on the album in Love Actually and sobbed silently and alone in her bedroom — while her children opened their gifts by the Christmas tree — because she just found out her marriage was dead on Christmas Eve, it became a Christmas song. The most heartbreaking Christmas song in human history! Five entire crying Therese Belivets.


Please Come Home for Christmas,” Charles Brown

The Eagles version of this song gets more play these days, but it was Charles Brown’s forlorn Christmas entreaty first. This sad guy’s baby has left him and he’s been moaning about it so much he doesn’t even have any friends left. He begs her to come home for Christmas, which he knows she’s not gonna do, so he tacks on a little prayer at the end of his appeal, like, okay, maybe by New Year’s night? You can tell he knows she’s gone, though, and that he needs a different hobby besides pining so maybe his buddies will start hanging out with him again. Two and a half crying Therese Belivets.


I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” Bing Crosby

What makes this song so sad is that Bing Crosby (and his ghost, Michael Bublé) make the whole thing sound like a promise. He’s gonna be home for Christmas, you can count on it, here’s a list of things he’d like you to have ready for his arrival (snow, mistletoe, presents) — but just kidding! He might only be home in his dreams! Way to get a person’s hopes up and then pull the Christmas Tree skirt out from under them, Bing. Three crying Therese Belivets.


Blue Christmas,” Elvis

It sounds like a bummer, but I think writers Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson were hallucinating when they wrote this, due to the fact that they take the blue Christmas metaphor and make it literal. He’s gonna be blue without his lady but whoa man like everything’s blue, yeah? Look at these blue snowflakes falling. Look at these blue memories calling. I had a medical situation that required me to spend an entire would-be stressful-as-heck Christmas on Vicodin. All in all? Not a bad holiday. One crying Therese Belivet.


7 O’Clock News / Silent Night,” Simon & Garfunkel

Just imagine someone singing a beautiful hymn to you on Christmas Eve in one ear while another person reads Twitter to you in real time in your other ear. The real nightmare before Christmas. Five crying Therese Belivets.


Another Lonely Christmas,” Prince

You think this is going to be another song where the singer’s lover left them, and it does start out like that. She’s gone. He’s lonely. They had such good times and the holidays are extra hard without her and her sister’s ice skating on the pond and isn’t that so festive. Why oh why did she have to go? Because she died! On the on the twenty-fifth day of December! “Your mother said it was strep, but the doctor said you were dead” is an actual lyric from this song. I would give it five crying Therese Belivets but to be honest it feels like an episode of This Is Us that’s manipulating me into crying so I’m only giving it four.


Last Christmas,” Wham

It is sad that George Micahel gave his heart to someone on Christmas and the very next day she gave it away, but that seems like a lesson he could have learned from. Instead he’s following her around the city and still being in love with her and scowling at her from the corner of his friends’ Christmas parties and hell bent on rushing out and giving his heart to an entirely different person on Christmas day again! You Need Help: Stop Cuffing For One Second, Dude. One and a half crying Therese Belivets.


The Christmas Shoes,” New Song

I guess everyone on earth thinks this song about a girl rushing out to Woolworth’s or whatever to buy her mom some “Christmas shoes” with a sack of pennies so she can dance with Jesus when she goes to heaven later that night is super sad, but let me tell you something. When I was growing up in rural Georgia we didn’t have haunted houses at Halloween; we had Judgement Houses, which is where you would go into a house and each room was a different horror scenario like premarital sex or drinking alcohol or swearing, and then the characters in that room would die tragically on the very night of their sin. Finally you’d get to a room that was about a hundred and five degrees and completely dark and there was wailing and teeth-gnashing and someone with a Satan voice modulator microphone would call out to the drunk, unchaste, cursing teens and drag them into the pits of hell. Then the final room was a cool, well-lit place where a nice old lady told you how you could accept Jesus into your heart that very night, in the event of your untimely death, and not have to spend eternity in torment. “Christmas Shoes” is Judgment House, but in December. Five furious Therese Belivets.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Heather has written 736 articles for us.

69 Comments

    • I had somehow never heard this Taylor Swift song?! I give it three crying Therese Belivets. I loooove a good maudlin acoustic guitar song, especially about the holidays, but I’m deducting Belivets for her selfish request that everyone’s mistletoe come down just because she isn’t going to be smooching under it and the fact that she only started missing this person when it got cold outside!

  1. No list like this can ever be complete with the greatest Christmas song ever written; Fairytale of New York: The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl. I’d also add Christmas will break your heart by LCD Soundsystem.

  2. I‘m sorry, but that Judgement House story made me crack up.
    I‘m pretty sure, that somewhere in L.A. they have a Lesbian House for writers, where it’s first kiss, first relationship commitment, first sex, open swagger, strongly optioned female character, etc., for the different rooms. At the end you meet a white old producer guy who‘ll then show you the way to a demure heterosexual happy end.
    *cough* Warehouse 13 *cough,cough* *Lames..Emma Swan..*cough*

  3. Oh gods I am a sucker for a sad, melancholic Christmas song, especially when it’s a sad, melancholic country Christmas song. My go-to is Dolly Parton’s Hard Candy Christmas. It’s literally the first Christmas song I break out in November and it’s just awash with beautiful sad, sad, sadness.

    For your consideration:
    – Rodney Crowell – Merry Christmas From An Empty Bed
    – Alabama – Tennesse Christmas
    – Kitty Wells – Christmas Ain’t Like Christmas Anymore
    – Merle Haggard – Daddy Won’t Be Home Again For Christmas
    – Toby Keith – Santa I’m Right Here + What Made The Baby Cry?
    – The Robertsons – Camoflauge and Christmas Lights
    – Reba McEntire – Santa Claus is Coming Back to Town
    – Over the Rhine – If We Make It Through December
    – Kelly Clarkson – My Grown Up Christmas List
    – Kellie Pickler – My Christmas Caroline

    • While it isn’t explicitly a Christmas song, I always think of Me and Little Andy (Dolly Parton <3) as one. Maybe the references to cold and gingerbread and candy and trying to find a place to stay for the night when you have nowhere to go.

    • Great list, especially the Rodney Crowell and Alabama ones.

      Can I recommend Hayes Carll’s ‘Greatful for Christmas’? It is a good one and super depressing.

      Not as sad but still slow, winter-y’all, and very good is the entire Mary Chapin Carpenter ‘Come Darkness, Come Light’ album.

      • Ooh thanks for the recommendation! And yes!! Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come Darkness, Come Light is AMAZING. I don’t know how she did it but every song on that album is the embodiment of winter. Every time I put it on, I can feel that burn in my lungs from inhaling crisp, cold air and feel that winter chill in my bones. My favorite song is Hot Buttered Rum. It’s basically my go-to winter album.

  4. “Home for Christmas” has been the saddest for me since I found out the guards at the Hanoi Hilton used it to demoralize prisoners of war. I’ve since found out that music as torture is pretty common, but for some reason I can’t shake the image of teenaged prisoners (the average age of US soldiers was 19) hearing this on probably their first Christmas away from home.

  5. May I humbly submit Neko Case’s cover of the Tom Waits song Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis for the best sad Christmas song of all time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgTPo4zRI2Q

    Also, I love Both Sides Now, but River does actually mention Christmas and is featured in You’ve Got Mail.

    Also also Heather, you should check out the Good Christian Fun podcast if you haven’t already, especially their episode on the documentary Hell House. In general, the podcast has a lot of interesting conversations with folks looking back on Christian childhoods and the trauma they caused, including a fair amount of queer people. I was not raised Christian and I find it v interesting!

  6. I am now humbly adopting the Crying Therese Belivets scale for use in my everyday life. Nurse asks how much pain I’m in? Giving hers Therese Belivets. Friend asks me about how upset I am about *insert shitty news story*? Therese Belivets. This is the Christmas gift I really needed (And fuck Judgement Houses, seriously!!)

  7. I think the saddest Christmas song I listen to is Christmas Eve by Ringo Starr. It made me cry on the bus last holiday season, that’s worth at least a few Crying Therese Belivets in my book

  8. My church never did Judgment Houses, but I did go to one with a friend at some point. I don’t remember much about it except thinking it was terrible and then when we got to Heaven, we were greeted by Peter, but he was being played by my P.E. teacher from my middle school which I thought was hilarious at the time so of course, I was a sassy little asshole about it and loudly said, “Oh, hey, Coach Johnson! (or whatever his name was)”

    So, before I had even turned 18, I had already had Saint Peter scowl at me before the gates of Heaven.

    Oh, and one of my favorite sad Christmas songs aside from a few you already mentioned is “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day” by Brenda Lee.

  9. River by Joni Mitchell is the ultimate sad Christmas song for me, mostly because whenever I visit my family for the holidays, I frequently find myself wishing for a river I could skate away on.

  10. Oh my god. It feels like someone went into my brain, combined my obsession for sad christmas songs and the perfect christmas movie and then wrote this. Anyway, I feel very seen and will add some of those to my “christmas crying” playlist.
    Also, for your consideration “Things we don’t need anymore” by Jenny Owen Youngs is very great and devastating !
    Thank you for creating this conent ! <3

  11. At first I was shocked there was nothing by Céline Dion on this list, but then I remembered that it is impossible to feel any emotion other than Absolutely Fortified when listening to Céline Dion.

  12. Possible the oldest sad Christmas song still being recorded is Coventry Carol. The 16th century mystery play song about the massacre of the innocents told from the view of one of the mothers. It’s been recorded by many artists over the year including John Denver, Joan Baez, Tori Amos and even Pentatonix.

    Joan’s version is from her rather unseasonal sounding 1966 holiday album Noel, that favors more traditional works to commercial favorites played to classical music. Pretty the whole thing is rather somber and low-key is not necessary sad. The only spirited number Deck the Halls is an instrumental flute number. Interesting to check out if your looking for something different this holidays.

    • I came down to the comments to see if anyone had made this specific addition already… good on ya! It is absolutely the first song I always think of when anyone mentions sad Christmas songs. I’m always shocked to discover how many people had heard of the song but either didn’t really listen to the lyrics or didn’t realize that’s what they were talking about. Pointing it out can either enhance or ruin that song for many people!

  13. I suppose When the River Meets the Seas might count. Even if it has nothing holiday like it the lyrics, it was written by Paul Williams for one Muppets Christmas special and than featured in another.

    • oh! I didn’t know that Brandi Carlile song. Thank you!

      I’ve been working on my Christmas playlist in prep for my big Christmas party next week. It doesn’t have nearly enough queer women country singers. Now it has 1 more! <3 (That brings the total to 2.)

  14. Christmas Shoes and any thing that pulls out all the “aren’t you sad? This is supposed to be sad!!” without actually earning tears can eat rocks. Up earned those tears in fifteen minutes, Christmad Shoes. You just made me angry.

    White Christmas makes me a little pensive because (a) Irving Berlin wrote while he was in California away from his family and (b) of that opening scene of the movie where Bing sings it to the forlorn soldiers

    • I wasn’t going to bring this up because it’s been said to death online before but…Christmas Song is pretty messed up if you bother thing about for more than a few minutes. We are supposed to believe that God arranged for this poor boys mother to die knowing it would move him to make this last minute trip to buy her something in a crowded store that he just-can’t-quit-afford…all so that YOU could learn a lesson!
      Also check out this darkly comic breakdown

  15. One of my favorites is “Things we don’t need anymore” by Jenny Owen Youngs. It’s sad in a distinct way from a lot of other Christmas songs that I can’t quite articulate, but it’s mostly about a breakup /dying relationship

  16. did anyone else have the schoolyard version of last christmas that went ‘last christmas i gave you my heart/the very next day, you said you were gay’ bc a) those are still the primary lyrics in my brain’s database and b) i’ve aged into that version like a house on fire

  17. Having experienced a Christmas Eve funeral with a shitty sound system and shitty copy of very white Baptist arrangement of Amazing Grace when I was going to sing the Cajun version but couldn’t cause he died faster than I could learn the whole song and his Texan Baptist wife needed something familiar anyway I’m immune to the sad of these sad Christmas songs, possibly all sad Christmas songs.

    But I humbly submit this melodramatic gothic bitch of a song

    Red Water by Type O Negative, informally known as Christmas Mourning

    It’s the edgy thot of sad Christmas songs, so I suggest your honor a quarter sad Therese Belivet and half confused Therese Belivet.
    Your honor, that’s what judges are called right?

  18. Great list…. but um Heather? this is the last place on the internet I wanna see heteronormatvity we don’t know if the person he was signing to in Last Christmas was a woman or a man, not good for you to assume “she”

      • Yeah I haven’t seen the video either and heard the song for the first time long after George came out. So it’s was always easy to see how it could be read either way, since the lyrics are gender aren’t real gender specific. Plus it can be kind of iffy how much a music video should be confirm about a songs original meaning, since the ones who put them together might have a very different vision in mind than the singers and songwriters.

  19. My girlfriend left me after a 5 yr relationship and I’m going to be so lonely this Christmas. Been listening to Coldplay – Christmas Lights on repeat but this list and the comments are going to make me really step up my sobbing the next few weeks.

  20. My brother and I sing “First Christmas” by Stan Rogers together every year. First you have a young man who has moved thousands of miles from home and is working Christmas Day all by his lonesome, then you have a young woman panhandling for change for a place to stay “but at least it means no beating from her dad,” and then, as if that wasn’t enough, we close off the song with a lonely old man spending his first Christmas without his wife in a nursing home, hoping his children remember to call him.

    This may be another This Is Us situation tbh.

  21. One Christmas I went with my mom to the Basilica in Minneapolis because I loved how beautiful it was. I normally never let her listen to the Christmas radio station, but I did that day, and we heard a song I’ve never encountered since. It was this narrative song about a mouse (?) and cat (?) who were trying to keep each other from freezing to death in the snow on Christmas. My mom and I cried so hard in that car that she had to fix her mascara and we had to wait a few minutes to calm down before going in for mass.

  22. Christmas Shoes bugs me a lot. I didn’t realize there was a movie. My sister played it for me to harass me, which is about its level.

    I just can’t help but think: here we have this dude on Christmas feeling so smug and holy that he paid for these effing shoes, while no doubt having voted against health insurance for that child and his mother that might have saved her life, or how about a living wage that could have paid for better food/nutrition/time to prepare meals and spend time with the child, or environmental regulation that might have kept her from getting sick…bet he wants to do away with that too! Or how about gender roles, that child is dirty because his mother is dead or dying, but heaven forbid a father be able to take care of his child. I mean, the angry Thereses is only fitting for this dumb song and the self-righteous conservative mindset I overlay on it. /rant

    Peace if you like this song, lol.

  23. The River is the sad song that popped into my head. I hear Sarah McLachlan’s first, but you can’t beat the Joni Mitchell. I’ll also listen to Indigo Girls and a Lea Michelle Glee cover. Why do I have this sad Christmas song in my playlist so many times!?

  24. My hatred for the Christmas Shoes knows no bounds. It is the worst song to ever be sung. It should not exist. The fact that there is a movie is the first and most truest sign of the end times. Five Angry Therese Belivets indeed.

    I love Christmas and campy schmaltzy holiday things so much. A+ list, excellent content.

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