The Nation's Favourite Carol 2016

Thousands of you voted in our annual poll. Now we can reveal the results. Scroll down to see the Nation's Favourite Carol chart, including which one you voted into the coveted no.1 spot.

Don't forget to listen to Classic FM on Christmas Day at 1pm, when John Brunning will count down your top 30 favourites in his Nation's Favourite Carol programme.

And once you've browsed the Nation's Favourite Carol chart, why not enter our competition to win a VQ radio every day until Christmas Eve and also listen to our 4 binaural carols >

Top Carols

  • 30

    What Sweeter Music

    John Rutter composed this carol in 1988 for the choir of King's College, Cambridge, for the performance during the college's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols which is broadcast around the world on Christmas Eve, with lyrics taken from seventeenth century poet Robert Herrick.

  • 29

    Angel's Carol

    Composed in 1980 by John Rutter, this carol has become a great favourite with children's and community choirs.

  • 28

    Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

    The author of this carol is unknown, however it is a clever text setting, referring to both the apple tree in the Song of Solomon, which is often interpreted as a metaphor representing Christ, and to Jesus' description of his life as a tree of life in Luke's Gospel. It is also a tradition to wish health to apple trees on Christmas Eve in England.

  • 27

    Candlelight Carol

    John Rutter's music is certainly popular at this time of year, and when listening to the soaring melodies of the Candlelight Carol, it's clear to see why. 'Candle light, angel light, fire light and star glow shine on his cradle.'

  • 26

    Shepherd's Pipe Carol

    Celebrating the piping of a shepherd boy on his way to see the baby Jesus at Bethlehem, this carol is everything festive about Rutter - sprightly, syncopated and rhythmically taut, and composed while he was still a school boy.

  • 25

    See Amid the Winter's Snow

    Also known as 'Hymn for Christmas Day', this nineteenth century English carol was written by Edward Caswall with the music composed by Sir John Goss, an organist at St Paul's Cathedral and a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music.

  • 24

    The First Nowell

    This carol is of Cornish origin and was first published in 1823, however there is a misconception that the First Noel is French because of the French spelling of Noel, as opposed to the old English Anglo-Saxon spelling, Nowell.

  • 23

    Angels from the Realms of Glory

    Written by Scottish poet James Montgomery and first printed on Christmas Eve 1816, this carol sounds just as beautiful today as it did almost 200 years ago.

  • 22

    Gabriel's Message

    The angel Gabriel visits Mary to announce she is to bear the son of God. The lyrics to this carol quote the biblical account from the Gospel of Luke and the melody is taken from the Basque tradition. 

  • 21

    Sussex Carol

    Originally written in 1684, the lyrics to this carol were set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams who heard it being sung over 200 years later near Sussex, hence the title Sussex Carol. The video, right, shows the carol being performed by the choristers of Winchester College Chapel.

  • 20

    The Three Kings

    Written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins Jr., the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport in Pennsylvania, this carol is designed so three male voices can sing a verse each to correspond with the three kings.

  • 19


    The oldest carol on the list. It's thought to have been composed in the late 16th century, but could well have existed without harmonies from the medieval period. Its Latin words simply translate as: 'Rejoice, Jesus is born from the Virgin Mary! Rejoice!' It's hard not to rejoice when listening to the lively pulsing music.

  • 18

    The Holly and the Ivy

    Thought to have been first published in 1823, this gentle carol is inspired by the hope that singers would survive the difficult winter months like the holly and the ivy, so they are brought inside for good luck. The green and red colours of the holly and the ivy are also the traditional colours of Christmas.

  • 17

    Coventry Carol

    This carol can be traced all the way back to 16th-century England. The lyrics refer to the 'Massacre of the Innocents' by King Herod, who in an attempt to ensure the death of the baby Jesus, ordered the death of all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem.

  • 16

    Ding Dong! Merrily on High

    With celebratory bell-ringing, and a cheery chorus of 'Gloria's', this is a wonderfully festive carol. The tune first appeared as a secular dance tune known in a dance book written by Jehan Tabourot.
 Click 'play' to hear a version of this carol sung in 3D binaural sound (and use headphones for the best effect).

  • 15

    In Dulci Jubilo

    This carol is a mixture of both German and Latin text, dating back to the Middle Ages. Many composers have since been influenced by its melody, such as Johann Sebastian Bach's BWV 729, Franz Liszt with his piano suite Weihnachtsbaum, as well as Gustav Holst, Ronald Corp, and Dieterich Buxtehude.

  • 14

    It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

    The lyrics for this carol were written by Massachusetts pastor Edmund Sears and refers to the issue of war and peace. There are two typical musical settings for this carol - the first composed by Richard Storrs Wills in 1850, who trained under Felix Mendelssohn, and the second and more common accompaniment was adapted from an English melody in 1874 by Arthur Sullivan. In the video, right, the carol is performed by the choristers of Winchester College Chapel.

  • 13

    God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

    One of the oldest Christmas carols on the list, this one dates back at least to the 16th century, possibly earlier. Although most people assume the first line is a suggestion that merry gentlemen should rest, in early English it actually means something closer to 'remain bountiful, gentlemen'.

  • 12

    Away in a Manger

    This late 19th-century carol is hugely popular with children. The melody most popular in the UK was originally composed in 1837 by Jonathan E. Spilman and adapted for a musical in 1895 by William J Kirkpatrick.

  • 11

    O Come, O Come Emmanuel

    Sung at both Advent and Christmas, this hymn originates from Latin but was translated to English in 1861. The music for the hymn is composed in such a way that both the English and Latin words can be used interchangeably.

  • 10

    Joy to the World

    Rather than celebrating the birth of Christ, the text of this hymn represents Christ's triumphant return. The words are by English writer Isaac Watts and are based on the second half of Psalm 98 in the Bible. As of the late 20th century, it was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

  • 9

    Carol of the Bells

    This Christmas carol was composed in 1914 by Ukrainian Mykola Leontovych. Apart from its urgent, catchy melody, its recent popularity is probably down to an arrangement by John Williams written for the 1990 Christmas comedy Home Alone. In the video, right, Katie Melua and the Gori Women's Choir sing the original Ukrainian version of the Carol of the Bells, 'The Little Swallow'.

  • 8

    Once in Royal David's City

    Believed to have been first published in the early nineteenth century, this carol paints a picture of the events of the nativity. The words were first written by children's poet Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander, who is also well remembered for her hymn 'All Things Bright and Beautiful'. The carol was set to music a year later by organist H.J Gauntlett. Click 'play' to hear a version of this carol sung in 3D binaural sound (and use headphones for the best effect).

  • 7

    O Little Town of Bethlehem

    Following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and feeling inspired by the view of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine, Rector Phillips Brooks from Philadelphia wrote the words to this carol in 1868. Three years later, his church organist Lewis Redner wrote the melody for the local Sunday school children's choir. In the video, right, the choristers of Winchester College Chapel perform the carol.

  • 6

    In the Bleak Mid-Winter - Harold Darke version

    Harold Darke's musical setting for the English poem is considered to be more complex than that of Gustav Holst and was named best Christmas carol in 2008. In the video, right, the choristers of Winchester College Chapel perform the carol.

  • 5

    O Come All Ye Faithful

    It is unclear who first wrote the text to this hymn. Possible candidates include King John IV of Portugal (1604-1656) and John Francis Wade (1711-1796). The composer is also unknown, however the likes of George Frideric Handel, Christoph Willibald Gluck are possibilities. This hymn also features in the 1992 film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, played by a symphony orchestra inside the Carnegie Hall. In the video, right, the choristers of Winchester College Chapel perform the carol.

  • 4

    Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

    With lyrics written by Charles Wesley, and set to a tune by Mendelssohn, this carol was always going to be one of the most recognisable and popular ones on the list.
 Click 'play' to hear a version of this carol sung in 3D binaural sound (and use headphones for the best effect).

  • 3

    In the Bleak Mid-Winter - Gustav Holst version

    Based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti, this carol was written sometime before 1872 in response to a magazine request for a Christmas poem. The poem became recognised as a carol after it appeared in The English Hymnal in 1906 with music set by Gustav Holst.

  • 2

    Silent Night

    Originally written in German, this carol was composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber with lyrics by Joseph Mohr and was translated to English in 1859. During the Christmas truce of 1914 during World War I, the carol was sung simultaneously in both English and German by troops. The version sung by Bing Crosby is also the third best-selling single of all time. Click 'play' to hear a version of this carol sung in 3D binaural sound (and use headphones for the best effect).

  • 1

    O Holy Night

    Placide Cappeau, a wine seller from southern France, was asked by the local parish priest to write a poem for Christmas in 1847 to celebrate the church organ's renovation. Cappeau felt it should be accompanied by music, so approached his friend Adolphe Charles Adams. The text reflects on the birth of Jesus and of humanity's redemption. The video, right, shows Katie Melua singing the carol with the Gori Women's Choir at Classic FM in December 2016.

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