Odes to Joy: My Favorite Christmas Music

Christmas has always had a strong association with music for me.  As a kid, it wasn’t officially the holidays until my parents broke out the Andy Williams and Elvis Presley Christmas albums, and I knew all the songs from the Rankin-Bass specials by heart.  It doesn’t hurt that most Christmas carols and songs don’t really require a lot of vocal chops, so anyone can sound pretty good singing them.  It’s just a musical time of year.  So, in hopes that everyone has gotten the shopping done and is hunkered down wherever it is they’ll be for tomorrow, here’s a sampling of some of my favorite Christmas music.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

The original version is more about next Christmas being the merry one, what with lines like, “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”  And while I do like the poignancy of that version, the soaring “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” always gets to me.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid

Still the go-to celebrity charity jam, easily beating the deathly earnestness of “We Are the World.”  And for someone who was a teenage when this song came out, it was a veritable hit parade of the second British invasion.  That opening note still gets me a little goosebumpy.

“O Holy Night”

I’m far from the most religious person in the world, but even I can’t deny the power of this carol.  Even without the lyrics, it’s a stirring piece of music.

“I Believe in Father Christmas” by Greg Lake

A somewhat ironic choice, considering the spirit of the song isn’t entirely on board with the whole Christmas thing.  But it’s beautifully sung, the use of Prokofiev is inspired, and it pretty well sums up my experiences with the religion of the holiday.

“Carol of the Bells”

It’s not every Christmas song that sounds like it could double as the theme for a horror movie.  But while its lyrics are about happy tolling Christmas bells, this has always struck me as such a sinister piece of music, filled with the dizzying madness of non-stop bells and carols and glitter.  Yeah, I’m weird.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

There are more recent versions on YouTube, but this one, from the peak of the pre-Born in the USA years, remains definitive, both as  joyous holiday song and as a shining example of Springsteen at the height of his live powers.  Him cracking up at Clarence Clemons’ Santa laugh never fails to make me smile.

“The Russian Dance” from The Nutcracker

Typical frenetic Tchaikovsky, with his dazzling trademark ability to let a piece’s finale seemingly go on forever.  While it’s supposed to accompany Russian toys dancing, it perfectly captures the image of a wild reel through a snowy countryside.

“Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” by U2

Bono has got the perfect yearning voice for this song of Christmas longing.  Throw in the Edge adding some plaintive guitar for good measure.  It’s my favorite song from the first Very Special Christmas album.

“Snow Miser/Heat Miser”


Whatever you’re listening to and whoever you’re listening to it with, I hope it’s part of a merry Christmas!


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