Christmas Songs – Public Domain or Copyrighted? Free Guides to Help You Plan

November 18, 2023

This time every year, we start getting questions from churches about what licensing, if any, is needed to use Christmas music during programs and special events. And while there are many songs you can use freely, many other Christmas songs, carols, and hymns are copyrighted and require permission.  

We know you’ve already started planning your Christmas programs, and adding one more concern adds to the stress. But we don’t think choosing your music needs to be an added burden. To help guide you in that process, we’ve put together two great resources, Copyrighted Christmas Songs and Public Domain Christmas Songs , to help identify the difference between public domain and copyrighted Christmas songs and explain how performance licenses provide tremendous freedom to play and perform music legally this Christmas. 

Public Domain vs. Copyrighted  

So, what’s the difference? It’s a commonly held misconception that all Christmas music is available for use without permission. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.   

You can use public domain songs without obtaining permission, paying royalties, or crediting the original author. However, this does NOT apply to copyrighted arrangements of a song in the public domain. Songs that are copyrighted will require permission, licensing, or exemptions.   

Just for fun – want to test your Christmas music knowledge? Look at the list below and see if you know which songs are in the public domain and which require licensing:    

Away in a Manger    

Deck the Halls  

Do You Hear What I Hear?    

Hark the Herald Angels Sing   

Little Drummer Boy    

This group has two copyrighted songs: “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Little Drummer Boy.” Did you guess correctly? 
So what about some of your other favorite songs? You might be surprised. 

Feliz Navidad   

A Holly Jolly Christmas  

Frosty the Snowman    

O Come, O Come Emmanuel    

Jingle Bells    

Santa Claus is Coming to Town    

Silent Night    

First Noel    

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen   

Angels We Have Heard on High    

White Christmas 

Come, Emmanuel 

Carol of the Bells    

Download CCS’s Christmas Fact Sheets to find out which songs are copyrighted and which are public domain!

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.”  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights, and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. The information contained here is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. 

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