What is the best Christmas song of all time? Trick question: There are two. One of them is among the three choices we've got here, and the other is whichever song happens to be playing at the exact moment on Christmas Day when you are 1) riding a high of fatty, salty holiday food; 2) giddily inebriated on expensive booze you didn't pay for; and 3) not yet mired in that argument with Uncle Biff about why giving people free healthcare isn't a terrible idea/why people should be free to marry whomever they want/why it's perfectly fine that you don't yet have a spouse/child/front lawn.
That Christmas song, the one that comes at just the right moment, we cannot predict for you. But the other best Christmas song, the one that's the best every time you hear it -- well, that one's easy. Sort of. We're pretty sure it's one of these three:
"Things Fall Apart," Cristina
Cristina's "Things Fall Apart" is a Christmas tale for cynical young urban things, which is basically all of us. It has that metallic throb of early-'80s New York, because that's where it came from; the groove is as heavy as the guitars, and the lyrics -- which Cristina talks more than sings -- are basically a series of somewhat bleak episodes in her personal life, all of which happen to take place around Dec. 25. And yet, through all the tear-smeared eyeliner, cold city nights, and long-discarded boyfriends, this song argues for the inevitability of Christmas, for the persistence of the spirit of the holiday. Which is about as spiritous as you should be, we think.
"Christmas in Hollis," RUN-DMC
Perhaps hip-hop's most indelible contribution to Christmas music (although that Death Row holiday album has a few jams), here we get our favorite ambassadors from Queens spouting off their way of holding a holiday: finding a million in cash on the street, mailing it back to Santa, then finding out its for you; a home-cooked family meal in Hollis; and then finding out Santa really is black. If the straight-up lyrics aren't enough, "Christmas in Hollis" even samples one of the best and naughtiest Christmas tunes of all time: Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa." But this version might be even better.
"Fairytale of New York," the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
We really want to argue with the prevailing wisdom that says this is the best Christmas song of all time. We really do. But even having praised the alternatives above, we just ... can't. "Fairytale of New York" is a great Christmas song because it does the opposite of what most other Christmas songs do: Instead of over-idealizing the holiday, of painting an impossibly rosy picture of loving families and bountiful meals and yuletide serenity, it paints a bleak and disappointed -- but resignedly proud -- vision of life and love, and says that's just as real and Christmasy as all the Hallmark bullshit. So we want to argue with this, but we can't, and if you really want to know why, don't just watch the video, although definitely watch the video. Read the lyrics. Then you'll realize this is the best Christmas song ever.