People tend to be resistant to Christmas music and it’s true — there is a lot that is horribly annoying and if you spend time in stores or on particular radio stations, it’s pervasive. But if it’s a good song it doesn’t really matter if it’s a Christmas song; there are holiday tunes I listen to all year round (when no one is there to object). I get very nostalgic about traditional Christmas music, but I also place a high premium on original tunes. Here are songs old and new that make me cry, songs that make me laugh, and songs that help me thumb my nose at the crass commercialism of Christmas by celebrating the joys (and at times acknowledging the sorrows) of the season.
- Beta Radio: “The Song the Season Brings” from the album The Songs the Season Brings
A song that starts simply, but by the time the trumpet comes in I’m in tears: “love, love, love”—what it’s all about.
- Craig Duncan: “I Wonder as I Wander” from the album Christmas on the Mountain
An instrumental version of a traditional carol, this song reminds me of how ancient the holiday is, and how melancholy it can be.
- The Jay Ungar/Molly Mason Family Band: ”Darkest Days, Brightest Nights” from the album A Fiddler’s Holiday
The wonder of nature, the warmth of home, to everything a season.
- The Barra MacNeils: “Christmas Together” from The Christmas Album II
As someone who spent many years travelling home for the holidays I really relate to this song.
- The Once: “Cause It’s Christmas” from This Is A Christmas Album by the Once
“Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring” – so let’s make the most of it!
- JP Hoe: “Dead of the Dark” from Hoe, Hoe, Hoe
Santa has history, too.
- Jill Barber, Rose Cousins, Meaghan Smith: ”This Christmas” from A New Kind of Light
This song speaks to the importance of family traditions and of being kind to everyone (ie. we can all be angels), sung by angels.
- David Francey: “The Holly and the Ivy” from Carols for a Christmas Eve
“The rising of the sun/and the running of the deer” has always thrilled me – a timeless melody sung simply and sincerely.
- Tish Hinojosa: “Arbolito” (English version) from Memorabilia Navidad and/or From Texas for a Christmas Night
A story of celebration over the years, so evocative of home, family, music, good food, the little things that we remember most fondly.
- Na Leo Pilimehana: ”Kana Kaloka” from Hawaiian Holidays Christmas Wish
This trio and their harmonies remind me of The Good Lovelies. There is a playful innocence to this song I find delightful
- Leeroy Stagger: “Snowing in Nashville” from Everything is Real
The lyrics don’t mention Christmas but the sense of longing for hearth and home rings true for the season.
- The Civil Wars: “Tracks in the Snow” Single
An intimate tune filled with hopeful longing.
- J.P. Cormier: “Christmas Time’s a Comin’” from Noel – A J.P. Cormier Christmas
There are many versions of this classic tune, but none so full of banjo, which makes me very happy.
- Hawksley Workman: “A House or Maybe a Boat” from almost a full moon
What an amazing album – characteristic of Hawksley Workman this song is quirky but sweetly sentimental.
- Greg Sczebel: “Perfect (Merry Little Christmas)” Single
Some might call it cheesy, I call it fun – “what a wonderful way to love the ones you love”!
- The Kingston Trio: “A Round About Christmas” from The Last Month of the Year
One of my childhood favourites. Even then I loved the harmonies, the play on words, and my Grandpa’s explanation of “ha’penny”.
- Kim Stockwood: “Home This Christmas” from I Love Santa
An ode to all the musicians on the road, and to the joy of returning home.
- Jeremy Fisher: “Snowflakes” Single
Funny and a little naughty – things that are nice about this tune.
- The Fugitives: “It’s Not Christmas” from Light Organ Records: Our First Christmas
It’s time to acknowledge it’s not all mistletoe and fudge: a tribute to Christmas shenanigans and family foibles.
- Matt Anderson: “Little Country Church at Christmas” from Spirit of Christmas
Again with the tears! Sights, smells, and sounds bring the past vividly to life.
- Matthew Barber: “Our Voices” from Ghost Notes
As with “Snowing in Nashville”, this is technically not a Christmas song, but the sentiment fits and it gets me every time.
- Patty Loveless, feat. Dolly Parton & Ricky Skaggs: “Bluegrass, White Snow” from Bluegrass and White Snow
With lively fiddles and banjos, beautiful harmonies and nostalgic lyrics, I think of this as a bluegrass holiday classic.
- Ron Hynes: “Be There Christmas Eve” from Atlantic Standards
Ron Hynes. Enough said.
- Jimmy Rankin: “December” from Tinsel Town
If you can’t be sentimental about the love of your life at this time of year, when can you be?
- Good Lovelies: “Hurry Home” from Under the Mistletoe
The charm of the Good Lovelies shines in this spritely ditty, a reminder of the kind of gifts that are really important.
And further for your listening pleasure, here is a playlist with (most) of these tracks, to get your Christmas on the Shapenote way! Happy Holidays, and thanks for reading, listening, and loving the music.