The earliest Christmas songs date back to the fourth century A.D. and popular tunes of the season from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries were composed in France, Germany and Finland. The classic “Silent Night” was written and first performed in Austria in 1818.
While American songwriters have composed some of the most enduring holiday melodies of the last 100 years, from Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” holiday songs are still being written all over the world. Most of these international compositions never make it to American shores, so as a gift from Billboard, here are 13 Christmas pop songs from around the globe that deserve holiday playlist love.
“Don’t Start Without Me,” The Fizz (2018) U.K.
Bucks Fizz was introduced to the world in 1981 when the quartet won the Eurovision Song Contest, representing the U.K. with “Making Your Mind Up.” That single topped the British charts and the group had two more U.K. No. 1s in the ’80s, “The Land of Make Believe” and “My Camera Never Lies.” After a period of inactivity, different incarnations of the group toured Great Britain and in 2017 they regrouped as the Fizz. After one studio album of new material, the Fizz – now a trio with Cheryl Baker, Mike Nolan and Jay Aston, all original members of Bucks Fizz – recorded a holiday album this year, Christmas with the Fizz. The first single, “Don’t Start Without Me,” was co-written and co-produced by Mike Stock, part of the legendary Stock-Aitken-Waterman team that produced a large roster of hits for Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Jason Donovan and many others. That helps explain why “Don’t Start Without Me” is such a great earworm, ranking up there with the very best Bucks Fizz singles.
“Dear Santa,” Girls’ Generation-TTS (2015) South Korea
Long before BTS brought K-Pop to the attention of the world, Girls’ Generation was a musical force in South Korea. Debuting as a nine-member group in 2007, they had a breakthrough two years later with the smash single “Gee.” In 2014 the aggregation became an octet and a year later the offshoot trio TTS, featuring Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun, released an EP, Dear Santa, which peaked at No. 2 in South Korea and No. 4 on Billboard’s World Albums chart. The title track was written by three Swedish musicians, Simon Petren, Andreas Öberg and Gustav Karlström, and Maja Keuc, a singer from Slovenia. The song begins as a ballad but transforms into a pop confection at 1:26.
“Something for Christmas,” Caro Emerald (2017) The Netherlands
It should be a crime that Caro Emerald hasn’t had a breakthrough in America. The vocalist from the Netherlands has released a string of chart-worthy singles, including “Liquid Lunch” and “Coming Back as a Man.” The jazzy pop singer recorded “Something for Christmas,” a holiday song in the tradition of Eartha Kitt’s materialistic “Santa Baby” (but also check out her duet with the late American R&B singer Brook Benton on “You’re What I Want for Christmas”).
“Christmas Eve,” Tatsuro Yamashita (1983) Japan
Just as you can count on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” being played on American radio stations every holiday season, Tatsuro Yamashita’s “Christmas Eve” is a perennial in Japan, where it has garnered airplay every year since its original release in 1983. Yamashita is a disciple of the Beach Boys and Phil Spector and those influences can be heard on his “Christmas Eve.”
“Every Day’s Like Christmas,” Kylie Minogue (2015) Australia
Although Kylie Minogue recorded her version of “Santa Baby” in 2000, she didn’t record a full album of holiday songs until 2015 with Kylie Christmas, some 28 years after she first hit the Australian singles chart in 1987 with her remake of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Locomotion.” The matching of the pop princess with Christmas was such a natural idea that it’s hard to imagine it took her so long to warm up to the idea. The original album release featured three original songs, including “Every Day’s Like Christmas,” co-written by Coldplay’s Chris Martin and featuring him on backing vocals. In 2016, Minogue recorded three additional original holiday songs for a deluxe edition.
“Wrap Myself in Paper,” Magnus Carlsson (2006) Sweden
Swedish pop singer Magnus Carlsson has had three different parts to his musical career. First, he was in the popular dance band Barbados, from 1992-2002. Then he became the fourth member of the already established group Alcazar. Then he went out on his own as a solo star. “Wrap Myself in Paper” was the first of three songs on his 2006 Christmas EP.
“It’s Gonna Be a Cold Cold Christmas,” Dana (1975) Ireland
Born in London but raised in Ireland, Dana was 18 when she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1970 with “All Kinds of Everything.” The single went to No. 1 in Ireland and five years later Dana had her second-biggest hit to that date with an original holiday pop song, “It’s Gonna Be a Cold Cold Christmas,” written by British songwriters Geoff Stephens and Roger Greenaway.
Dana has also dabbled in politics. She ran for President of Ireland twice, in 1997 and 2011, as a conservative, pro-life candidate. She did not win either time.
“Navidad,” Miranda! (2008) Argentina
Formed in Buenos Aires as an electro-pop band in 2001, Miranda! (named after Argentinean actor Osvaldo Miranda) has recorded 10 studio albums, the latest being Future in 2017. The group’s Christmas song, “Navidad,” appeared on the 2008 release El Tempio del Pop, a greatest hits collection.
“Kto Wie,” De Su (2008) Poland
How about a girl group from Poland for Christmas? De Su formed in 1993 and one of their final recordings, in 2000, was “Kto Wie,” which translates as “Who Knows.”
“Santa Claus Llegó a Ciudad,” Laura Pausini (2016) Italy
While the other songs on this list are all originals, Laura Pausini’s swinging version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” from her 2016 holiday album is too good to exclude. Pausini, who records in Italian, Spanish and English, is a national treasure in Italy but is popular in many corners of the globe.
“Spin Me a Christmas,” Aqua (2009) Denmark
Aqua, one of the most successful Danish pop groups in America, is best remembered for the novelty hit “Barbie Girl” in 1997. In their native Denmark, Aqua had seven No. 1 singles. In 2009, they recorded the original Christmas song, “Spin Me a Christmas,” as a new song for a special edition of their Greatest Hits album. Released as the third single from that set, “Spin” peaked at No. 43 on the Danish chart.
“Alt Jeg Ønsker Meg,” Marcus & Martinus (2015) Norway
Marcus and Martinus Gunnarsen are twin brothers, born in Elverum, Norway in 2002. They were 13 years old when they released their first album, Hei. It peaked at No. 1 on the Norwegian charts, as did their two subsequent albums in 2016 and 2017. A special edition of Hei added six bonus tracks, including the holiday song “Alt Jeg Ønsker Meg.”
“Just 4 Christmas,” Fabrizio Faniello (2002), Malta
Fabrizio Faniello represented his home country of Malta in the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest with “Another Summer Night.” A year later, he released a holiday single, “Just 4 Christmas.” In 2006 he returned to Eurovision as the Maltese entrant with “I Do.” Popular in Malta, he has also charted in Germany and Sweden.