christmas music

Fantastic Christmas music

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

I grew up around music. It was played throughout the house, I was given a radio for my room at an early age, and I have fond memories of my dad regaling us with childhood stories in the living room while playing his different records.

One of my favorite childhood memories involves riding through the neighborhood with him in his 1982 RX-7, waiting for the scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who. If we saw a good movie with a good soundtrack, we bought the album. Music was a thing for us.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that I find most of my new music through my brother’s recommendations. It’s also no surprise that Christmas music is one of my FAVORITE things about the holidays.

Music is an intensely personal thing, so it’s hard to list The All-Time Favorite Christmas Songs For Everyone And All Mankind, Forever And Ever. So that’s why I’ll share with you MY favorite Christmas songs, along with my Spotify playlist and where on Amazon you can buy each song individually (it’ll automatically ask you if you want it in your iTunes).

Dinner party holiday playlist

For when you want a little pep in your home.

1. Sleigh Ride by She & Him
2. Frosty the Snowman by Ella Fitzgerald
3. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings by Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan
4. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee
5. It Snowed by Meghan Smith
6. I Saw Three Ships by Sufjan Stevens
7. Little Drummer Boy by Jars of Clay
8. Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! by Ella Fitzgerald
9. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams (shrift remix)
10. The Christmas Waltz by Harry Connick, Jr.
11. It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas by Michael Bublé
12. Here Comes Santa Claus by Willie Nelson
13. Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Harry Connick, Jr.
14. I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Tony Bennett
15. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas by Harry Connick, Jr.
16. Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms
17. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Harry Connick, Jr.
18. All I Want for Christmas is You by Michael Bublé
19. White Christmas by Bing Crosby
20. Angels We Have Heard on High by David Crowder Band
21. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald
22. Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Norah Jones and Willie Nelson
23. Little Saint Nick by She & Him
24. Santa Claus is Coming to Town by James Taylor
25. Jingle Bells by Diana Krall and The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

Reflective holiday playlist

For when you want to cry a little from the sheer beauty of the season.

1. Once in Royal David’s City by Sufjan Stevens
2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Sarah McLachlan
3. The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole
4. O Come, O Come Emmanuel by Sufjan Stevens
5. The Christmas Waltz by She & Him
6. Go Tell It On the Mountain by Bebo Norman
7. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/O Come All Ye Faithful by Clay Aiken
8. The Friendly Beasts by Sufjan Stevens
9. Pretty Paper by Willie Nelson
10. O Come All Ye Faithful by Lisbeth Scott
11. Happy Xmas (War is Over) by Sarah McLachlan
12. Ave Maria by Harry Connick, Jr.
13. Silent Night/Away In a Manger/O Holy Night by Steven Curtis Chapman
14. What Child is This? (Greensleeves) by Sarah McLachlan
15. Adeste Fideles by Luciano Pavarotti, Tricia Yearwood, and Marco Boemi
16. Sister Winter by Sufjan Stevens
17. Peace by Norah Jones
18. The First Noel/Mary Mary by Sarah McLachlan
19. Angels We Have Heard on High by Sufjan Stevens
20. O Holy Night by Josh Groban (unfortunately, I can’t find this on sale as an mp3 anywhere)
21. Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) by Sara Groves
22. Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth by Bing Crosby and David Bowie
23. A Mighty Fortress/Angels We Have Heard on High by Amy Grant
24. Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming by Sufjan Stevens
25. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) by James Taylor
26. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? by Harry Connick, Jr.
27. Holy, Holy, Holy by Sufjan Stevens
28. Come and Worship by Bebo Norman

Instrumental holiday playlist

For when you just want a little background music.

1. O’Carolan’s/Welcome Christmas by Alison Brown Quartet with Joe Craven
2. Noel Nouvelet by Maggie Fitzsimmons and Claire Hamilton
3. Carol of the Birds by Mark Hanson
4. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
5. Linus and Lucy by Vince Guaraldi Trio
6. The Holly and The Ivy by Mary Beth Carlson
7. Angels We Have Heard on High by The Irish Christmas and Celtic Christmas Nollag
8. Still, Still, Still by The Columba Minstrels
9. Happy Christmas (War is Over) by Guitar Shop
10. Once in Royal David’s City by Instrumental Christmas
11. March by San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
12. Wassail Wassail All Over the Town by The London Fox Players
13. O Tannenbaum by Vince Guaraldi Trio
14. Joy To The World by Darren Curtis Skanson
15. Emmanuel guitar solo by Christmas Classics
16. Gesu Bambino by Instrumental Christmas
17. Trepak by San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
18. Ding! Dong! Merrily on High by The Columba Minstrels
19. Away in a Manger by The Irish Christmas and Celtic Christmas Nollag
20. We Three Kings by Harry Connick, Jr.
21. Nutcracker Suite: Overture by New England Jazz Ensemble
22. Silent Night by Chris Rice
23. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by The Irish Christmas and Celtic Christmas Nollag
24. Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy) by Duke Ellington
25. Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming by Piano Music for Christmas
26. O Holy Night by Chris Rice
27. Oh Happy Day by Guitar Shop
28. God Rest You Merry Gentlemen by Dan Baraszu and Joseph Patrick Moore
29. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear by Chris Rice
30. What Child is This? (Greensleeves) by Tony Elman
31. Carol of the Bells by George Winston

Phew… I don’t think I’ve ever typed Harry Connick, Jr. and Sufjan Stevens so frequently in one day. But hopefully this will get you through the season.

What’s your all-time favorite Christmas song?

This was originally published on November 29, 2012.

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Comments

  1. O Holy Night by Josh Groban brings me to tears every time. It’s not Christmas without it.

  2. avatar
    Trina Miller says:

    I like almost every song from Blind Boys of Alamaba – Go Tell it On the Mountain. It is the first album I play every Christmas season.

  3. Carol of the Bells, just about any instrumental version. Don’t know why it gets me, but it does. Every time.

    Thanks for an awesome resource!

  4. Great lists, I will definitely use some of the songs here for our Yule/Christmas celebrations. Probably add some more Yule themed ones, multi faith holidays = even more music!

  5. The kids and I love the song “It’s Called Christmas with a Capital C” by Go Fish, not at all a classic but very catchy with a powerful message. We crank it up dance around and blare out the words.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing your holiday favorites:) Do you have a specific “Winter” playlist? I’m looking to create one, and I’d love to steal yours;)

  7. Wow. What a list! You did a great job linking all that.

    I love “O Holy Night”. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams is the first song on one of our oldest Christmas CD’s that we play first every year. So that one brings on the Christmas season in our house.

  8. What a great collection of music! My favorite song is Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant. Just this morning I heard “Christmas is Coming” by Jason Gray (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbtEYUmirBE) and I really liked it – upbeat with a nice message for the season.

  9. avatar
    Robin from Frugal Family Times says:

    We have an old 6 disk cd changer where we put our 1/2 dozen Christmas cd on shuffle for the season. Lots of similarities to your list! Ella and Vince and Harry, of course. Did Elvis make your list? It would be a blue Christmas without him :) But you’ve got me thinking that a bit more variety may add some more fun to the days! (I remember loving my Kenny and Dolly album as a kid – I don’t think we’ll revisit that one!)

    • I know a lot of people like Elvis, but I just can’t get that into him. Just my personal taste, though… ;)

      • I couldn’t believe Elvis didn’t make your list, either! I’m not a big fan of Elvis’s music in general, though I love his movies… but his Christmas album is one of the most Christmassy albums I’ve ever heard! We couldn’t make it through without Frank Sinatra, either; we’re on our fourth generation with him!

  10. I’m new to Spotify…and I’ll definitely be queuing these up! I’m happy to see the Barenaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings track: it’s hard to pick ONE favorite Christmas song but I definitely love that one!

    And I love your brother’s taste in music :)

  11. My favorite song is “I need a silet night” by Amy Grant. Found it 4 year ago and it is about how much chrstmas has changed since even we were kids with the running around, plus it has a kid actually in the middle oif the song saying the bible verse of when the news that jesus was born, it is different than all the other music that I have seen today.

  12. Oh my goodness, these are fantastic! Thank you for sharing them with us!
    Sarah M

  13. Nice. Love the Harry Connick Jr. album. We pull it out every year. And I just downloaded the new Chris Tomlin album – LOVE. IT. What a great list! Pinning this one. :)

  14. Ooh, thanks for sharing!!

  15. Your “Crying with Sufjan” pics are my fave… yes, I’m coining that term… I can’t listen to Holy, Holy, Holy without remembering winter in Ireland. Bittersweet.

  16. I love your play lists…of course I just spent a small fortune on Amazon due to your great suggestions. Thanks!

  17. This is fantastic! I was just getting irritated that my Pandora station kept playing the same things over and over. Just added tons of new suggestions!

  18. Thanks so much for these playlists! My FAVORITE Christmas song is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” sung by Casting Crowns – it’s on every Christmas playlist we make in our house.

  19. I love “Mary Did You Know?”

  20. Bryan Duncan’s Christmas original “Form of Man”. Believe it was released in the 90’s. It captures the true spirit of why we celebrate Christmas. Basically God came down and took the form of a human being to save the world through His son Jesus!

  21. Sleigh Ride sung by Ella Fitzgerald is my absolute favorite!

  22. This pretty much made my entire season. YAY! Thank you!

  23. I love Sarah McLachlan, her album is played a lot around here. Now if Spotify was only available in Canada….

  24. Thanks for all this work, Tsh! I really am so grateful!

  25. Thanks Tsh! What an awesome list! Of course we really get into holiday music around our house…it’s so hard to pick a favorite, but we have this album called “A Bountiful Christmas 25 All-Time Holiday Favorites” with holiday renditions from artists in the era of Nat King Cole, The Beach Boys, Glen Campbell and Bing Crosby. That particular album reminds me of the kind of music we had in my house when I was a kid and it always makes its way into our car for the holidays. I love the way holiday music can connect and make memories that span generations.

    • I love that, too. Funny how we’ll listen to artists during Christmas that we’d never listen to the rest of the year…

  26. I just adore She & Him. Totally going to listen to your playlists now! Thanks

  27. avatar
    Amanda Gray says:

    Wanted to share a Christmas tradition in our family (and one from when I was a kid).
    The kids know that when “Christmas All Over Again” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) is blasted, it’s time to come downstairs and open presents on Christmas morning. It’s the only time that my Mom (and I, now) play it during the holiday season. Makes it much more special…and FUN!

    • Cool idea! We play “It Snowed” (on the dinner party playlist above) whenever we wake up to snow. Makes it more tolerable in March. :)

      • avatar
        Amanda Gray says:

        I can see how that would make it more tolerable. We’ve had years where it has snowed in May—may have to try that this year!

  28. Music can create, enhance, or hinder a mood. I absolutely LOVE Christmas music. Bring it on…

  29. I found She and Him after listening to your latest podcast! I’m excited to check out your other recommendations!

  30. What a fantastic list! Thank you! Our favorite for several years has been Behold the Lamb by Andrew Peterson. You can listen to the entire album here for free: http://www.andrew-peterson.com/players/btlog/

    If the tour is coming anywhere near you this season, GO! It’s a night you’ll never forget.

  31. Yay! I just subscribed to the playlists on Spotify. :)
    I grew up with Evie’s Christmas (I’m pretty sure about 17 people worldwide actually still remember Evie), so to me that album is the sound of Christmas.

  32. avatar
    Elizabeth Kane says:

    Whoa! And I thought I had an extensive Christmas music list! Alot of these songs are going into my collection this week. I love The Christmas Song by the Vince Guaraldi Trio (already listened to it today on repeat!). The jazz piano parts are fantastic.

  33. I tend to have a few particular songs that I really love and I love hearing new versions of them. My top two would have to be “What Child is This?” and “Oh Holy Night”. I pretty much love any version of those songs because its the words that speak to me.

  34. One of my favorite memories growing up was also waiting for the scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again!” My Dad would point to us when it was time to scream. Oh, and great Christmas music list as well :)

  35. I love that you included so many of Sarah McLachlan’s songs! While I adore She & Him, Sarah’s holiday album is definitely one of my faves. This time of year I also really like to listen to the Love Actually soundtrack. It’s not Christmas-y per se, but it reminds me of the movie so it feels like it’s fitting for the season.

  36. Gosh, Tsh! This must have taken so much time. Thanks so much for sharing with us! I’m listening to the instrumental one now while I work on some orders. (:

  37. Hi Tsh,
    I don’t know you personally and have followed your blog(s) through email and the web for the past 2 years. This post has me at Hello! Thank you! Spotify is new to me and after hearing you discuss it on your podcast and now see these lists, I had to start up and I’m giddy inside to share this with my family on Saturday as we begin our venture into a no stress December. I love music and I have been at a standstill in how to embrace it an share it from me as Mom of the household. So thank you and your brother for this generous gift! A blessing indeed.
    One happy humming family in Maine.

  38. avatar
    Debbie Klemcke says:

    LOVE Jim Brickman (piano/new age). Also like Amy Grant , Emmanuel. I enjoy Christmas music so much and appreciate you putting this list together. I will be adding them to my list!

  39. I love these! Thanks for putting them together.

  40. I love God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. My roommates and I would sing it every year in our room, it always makes me smile when I hear it!!

    Blessings,
    Janelle

  41. What a great list. I loved jingle bell rock growing up. My mom also had an album from the andrews sisters and we loved I saw mommy kissing santa claus. My son has always loved jingle bells. I really appreciate that i learned many songs in german, especially christams, as we sang them every year witht the song books in front of myopa and oma’s tree with real lit candles.

  42. I can not tell you how much I LOVE this post. I was just thinking that I needed to update my music. One of my favorites from last season was Carol of the Bells by the Barlow Girls. It is FABULOUS!!! Highly suggest.

  43. I HIGHLY recommend adding this album to your Christmas music list…. it is absolutely WONDERDFUL!! https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/christmas-dreaming/id291701761

  44. LOVE IT!!! I love your play lists so much! I subscribe to all of them, I think! They are fabulous. Thanks for introducing me to some music, too :) You rock, girl!

  45. Tsh, thank you so much for these holiday playlists. I started following your brother’s music on Spotify after reading a guest post he wrote, so now I’ve subscribed to your playlists as well. We are Spotify addicts around here. We are thinking about adding the premium membership because I use it so often. I’ve often told my husband that I could almost completely homeschool our kids with Spotify, You Tube, and the library.

  46. oooh I have so many good ones I’d love to mention here. I guess I should write my own playlist post!

  47. I know bummer about Spotify in Singapore as well. Dumb question …. is there any way to one-stop shop for all of the music you’ve highlighted (without Spotify) ?? Or without it, would we need to click through each linked song?

  48. I love love love “In the bleak midwinter” by Annie Lennox. Her whole Christmas CD is wonderful, but this is my fave.

  49. Thank you for the play list ideas – I needed some new Christmas music. My big kids are “rolling their eyes” at some of my choices, though ;)

  50. Amazing lists, thanks a lot for sharing them with us! We are already playing Christmas music all around the house and are really looking forward to it! Hope you will spend Christmas with your loved ones!

  51. Sarah Mclachlan’s album is certainly a fav – I’ve been known to listen to it all year! Her song Noel/Mary, Mary is so haunting and beautiful. Another favorite, which I didn’t see mentioned at all, is Jars of Clay’s Christmas Songs album. My daughter’s fav is Little Drummer Boy and mine is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, but there’s lots of good ones. It is also not Christmas without Mannheim Steamroller, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas in Serejavo, and The Piano Guys’ Carol of the Bells and their new one, O Come O Come Emmanuel (my favorite advent hymn of all time). Oh, and the version of O Come, O Come by Margaret Becker. Spine-tingling.

  52. Great lists!
    I really like the reflective one with all the Sufjan Stevens tracks.
    This site is a great place to explore the genre:
    http://yuleplay.com/artists/

  53. My favorite is ‘greensleeves’ sung by Kevin Max on his christmas album. Short, but oh so sweet.

  54. My favorite is not a real popular one but I love it and it’s A Baby
    Changes Everything by Faith Hill. When I first heard it something in me wanted to hear it over and over. Thanks
    for all the hard work on your list, you have some great ones!

  55. Love your list, thanks for all the hard work. My favorite is A Baby Changes everything by Faith Hill.

  56. avatar
    Bonnie Jean says:

    One of the things I love about my husband is that he loves Christmas music almost as much as I do. I literally play it all year round… whenever I am in the mood. I sing it in the shower. But my absolute favorite… oh that is hard. I think it would have to be “Peace” by Michael McDonald (formerly of the Doobie Bros.) and “The Prayer” by Celine Dion and Andrea Boccelli… (he could basically sing a menu or the phone book and I would love every second of it… I think some notes he hits are like a slice of heaven on earth and they transport me right to the feet of God in awe of the talent he was blessed with despite his blindness and in awe that a voice could be so perfect). When I die, those are two songs that I want to be played at my memorial service/party. I want it to be like a wedding reception.

  57. Wow, talk about a lot of effort. Thank you so much for making my holiday entertaining that much easier. Currently listening to Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, which I haven’t thought about in a looong time.

  58. You have lots of my favorites on your lists, too. A few I would add for the “peppy” list would be most of the Beach Boys Christmas Album & Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” — they all sound so happy on the cut.

    For “reflective” songs, I’ve never been a fan of “Little Drummer Boy,” but I just love the Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet. I love that they are such an unlikely pair, mashing up traditional and (for the time) really edgy artists, and it works so well.

    Also, Jethro Tull has a Christmas album that is just so pretty. It suits all your lists, I think. :) http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Album-Jethro-Tull/dp/B002SR3T10/

  59. My favorite modern Christmas song is Mary Did You Know. Pentatonix, an acappela group, has a stunning version out this year.
    http://youtu.be/ifCWN5pJGIE
    My favorite Christmas hymn is O Come O Come Emmanuel. My favorite version is by The Civil Wars who sadly aren’t together anymore. Sigh.
    http://youtu.be/xiGyRAhpgQo

  60. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas…by Schuyler Fisk (http://goo.gl/aqs7r0) and Cat Power (http://goo.gl/o54mPN). Jeremy Camp has some great versions of classics, too: http://goo.gl/obkPQu.

  61. I love that Ella Fitzgerald is on your list (one of my favorites!) and that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is not on your list (so not my favorite!). ;) Merry Christmas, Tsh!

  62. This is a great list, thanks so much! We love Louie Armstrong’s Christmas CD. It’s been a tradition of ours for 10 years. That and The Nutcracker soundtrack.

  63. I LOVE any Christmas music….but I guess my favorites are White Christmas sung by Bing Crosby and The Hallelujah Chorus sung by any large choir.

    I enjoy jazzy instrumental, jazzy vocals, old standards, modern versions, and even Trans Siberian Orchetstra and Mannheim Steamroller…

    Love the “Charlie Brown” album, it always makes me smile.

    As for vocal versions I sing along in the car and in stores.

  64. I have to second the Bruce Springsteen ” Santa Claus is coming to town”. My brother sent me a wacky Christmas mix cd one year, and he had a very awesome live version on it. Otherwise I do a lot of singing random snatches of songs throughout the house. Greensleeves/ what child is this was in our music class last semester and that is being sung a lot! I guess I’m reminding everybody that you don’t have to just listen, open up you voice and sing. It will make you feel merry!

  65. Oh my word you rock! I love that you did this for us! Now I don’t have to sit through random Pandora stuff or make playlists for my mood during the season. Loving your choices!

  66. avatar
    maria smith says:

    I’m really enjoying I Need a Silent Night by Amy Grant. There’s always so much to do at this time of year, shopping, baking, visiting and deep cleaning it’s easy to get so frenzied that I wouldn’t even hear the angel’s voice.

    Here’s the song:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRSSsNbF29I

  67. avatar
    Paula Burckhard says:

    Thank you! Love this and your blog. First-time commenter here. My very favorite song is Winter Song by Fernando Ortega. So moving and really captures the true beauty of the season. God bless you this Christmas!

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