My favorite part of the holidays? Sure, I like the lights and the treats and the gifts and the general festive-ness, but if I had to choose just one thing to keep, the thing that most indicates “this is a special season”, it would be Christmas music.
In our family, we start listening the day after Thanksgiving (in non-COVID times, we’d typically be at my sister’s house lounging and playing board games) and it’s on an almost-constant loop for the next month.
I tend to gravitate toward Jazz Standard-era stuff with some choral and instrumental classics and a few folk renditions thrown in. I can be awfully traditional about my holiday music, and it takes me a long time to accept a new Christmas song or – worse – a new artist trying his/her hand at an old classic. It’s nothing against them, it’s just…not what I’m used to, and I admit, during the holiday I really like what I’m used to.
Below I’ve shared a Spotify playlist I’ve been slowly working on for a few years – it’s heavy on the standards right now, but I do plan to add a few newer songs that have grown on me this year. Some thoughts about this playlist:
- While Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole featured strongly in our stack of Christmas albums when I was growing up, my mom had an especial passion for Harry Belafonte, and this time of year, it showed. “Mary’s Boy Child” is one of those songs I could never forget, even though many years went by between my leaving my childhood home and re-discovering it later.
- Many people hate Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” I understand, but I can’t quit it. I apologize in advance for its presence on this list. See also: Wham.
- The Ray Charles version of “Spirit of Christmas” (You may know it as the song Chevy Chase is crying along with while he watches old movies while locked in the attic in Christmas Vacation) is by far the best version of this song, but I have not been able to find it streaming anywhere. It IS on YouTube, though!
- I used to have a Real Problem with She & Him. My brother liked to play it every year just to drive me crazy. I mean, I like Zooey Deschanel and everything, but the Christmas album just felt like this overly-quirky, overly-precious wink at all the standards I loved. Guess what. Four years later and I actually prefer some of their versions to the originals. I guess you just never know.
- To me, the biggest laugh on this whole list – and to the entire holiday season, really – is Andy Williams’ “Happy Holidays”. I mean, when he croons “loop-de-loop and dickory dock, and don’t forget to hang up on your sock” I just kind of feel like he’s trolling us all. It’s like the man does not care even a little bit with that song. But darn if it isn’t catchy. Also last year my brother and I totally watched three or four hours of The Andy Williams Christmas Special on Christmas Day, and it was amazing. So…I can’t quit him either.
While we’re talking about Christmas music, I also want to make recommendations for two recent holiday variety TV shows that have crossed my path:
- The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show. I’m already a big Musgraves fan, and this show was a totally unexpected, wholesome delight with a smile-worthy cast – loved it!
- I haven’t seen A Very Murray Christmas in a few years but plan to stream it this weekend. It’s a NYC-centric show that calls to mind classic holiday programs from the 50s and 60s, but with a slightly more cynical wink. Enjoyed this one very much!
I’d love to hear what holiday music is brightening your December. Any shows or songs you’d suggest for my lineup?