I am usually one of those people who gets annoyed at how every year Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier. I love Thanksgiving, I really do. So why the entry on Christmas music before Thanksgiving has even happened? Well, my laptop’s motherboard fried about two months ago. It all comes together just wait. So, the internal hard drive on my laptop was not harmed (thank goodness) which means I didn’t lose every piece of information on that laptop. Because a very generous friend lent me the use of her old laptop I decided my first priority was to buy an external hard drive so in case something like this every happens again I will be prepared. I wasn’t too worried about a time frame with regard to moving data from the internal to external hard drive; until November began and people started talking about Christmas music. All of a sudden I realized, my Christmas music was sitting on that internal hard drive and there was no way for me to access it until I moved it all to an external drive! Needless to say I went online very quickly to purchase said hard drive, and thanks to another good friend, by next week I should be able to have access to all of my Christmas music. Priorities people, priorities!
All of this was to say that Christmas music has been on my mind recently. If you celebrate Christmas you know that certain songs and even certain albums become indelibly linked to the holiday. I decided to share some of my favorite Christmas albums, and I decided to do it pre Thanksgiving so that if my readers notice any gaps in their own collection they have plenty of time to stock up before December 1. Before I get started I want to say that I will be unable to go into great detail on 6 of my favorite Christmas albums as they are mixes that I cannot locate until my music is restored to me. The 6 albums were made by one of my closest friends, Heather Strange. Heather and I met in college and right before winter break junior year she made all of her friends a mix entitled “A Strange Christmas”. Heather has really great and eclectic take in music so I was always happy to receive a mix from her. But these mixes were even more special. She has made them for me every year since then and I credit her mixes with being part of the reason why I never get sick of Christmas music. The songs she picked were so different and interesting and so outside of the mainstream that it really does cure Christmas music fatigue. This entry would not be complete with a mention of those albums, and once I have access to them again I will be editing this entry with links to them so that everyone can enjoy the riches I’ve been enjoying every year since I got my first mix. (November 11: Good news! I my Christmas music back! Scroll to the end of the entry to see Heather’s songs!) Now, without further introduction; my favorite Christmas albums.
I’m starting with pure nostalgia albums. These are albums that may not hold up super well (although I think most of mine do), and they may not appeal to every person that reads this. That’s fine and in fact almost deliberate. I love this album not because of Sandi Patty’s incredible soprano voice and ability to hold notes past the point when normal people need to breath. I love this album because listening to it brings me back to being a very small child in my family’s tiny living room in Rancocas Woods. It also brings back memories of Christmas Eve services where a few of the songs on this album were always in the program; “Bethlehem Morning”, “The Gift Goes On”, “Worship the King” etc. As discussed before I am a person with hardly any childhood memories, but my memories of Christmas have always been the most clear in my mind. I have to believe that part of that comes from music like this being so ingrained in my brain that memories were stored along with it.
Oh Amy Grant. You were Christian Music’s darling, then you weren’t, then you were again…I think? It’s hard to keep track. All I know is that this album is another that is inextricably tied to my childhood. I know “Breathe of Heaven “ is super overdone in churches now, but that doesn’t diminish how beautiful it is. As a kid I always loved this album because it had variety, which in my mind meant both fast AND slow songs. For some Brenda Lee’s version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is the definitive version, for me it’s Amy Grant’s. Another reason I loved this album was because I could sing along with it in the written key. Go Alto Ladies! Even now Christmas Eve is not complete until I listen to her song “The Night Before Christmas.” (One of the few songs with children on it that doesn’t sound creepy.)
Mannheim Steamroller has put out other Christmas albums, but these two are my favorites. If I had to pick only one artist to listen to over Christmas it would be Mannheim Steamroller. These albums more than any other transfer me to a very specific time and place when I hear them. We had a very scratchy green rug in the living room of the house where I grew up. We also had a small woodstove fireplace where we hung our stockings which alternated red and white stripes and green and white stripes. When I hear these albums I can feel that scratchy rug under my elbows as a I lay on my stomach, chin propped in my hands feeling the heat of the fire and looking at the lights on our tree. It isn’t Christmas without Mannheim Steamroller.
Talk about rocking alto ladies, and you have to mention Karen Carpenter. Her voice can only be described in chocolate terms; rich, dark, and creamy. This album is both of The Carpenter’s Christmas albums combined for extra cheer. I can’t decide which tracks I love more; “Merry Christmas Darling”, “Christ is Born”, “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays”, I can’t decide! So instead of deciding I just play it all the way through over and over again. Karen’s story has a sad ending which makes listening to her voice very bittersweet, but I like a little bit of bittersweetness in my holiday cheer. It makes me appreciate the good times even more.
Any list of great Christmas albums is incomplete without this one. Talk about childhood! Is there anything sweeter than the little voices on “Christmastime is Here”? Jazz and Christmas are forever linked thanks to this album. There isn’t much else to say about this album except I put it on and instantly smile. Pretty good review.
I was a fan of Relient K before this album came out. Their ska, pop punk sound was high school me’s jam. So when they put out a Christmas album I was of course stoked. It’s a mix of classic songs done with a Relient K twist, and silly originals by the kings of silly originals. This album makes me smile. Also, “I Celebrate the Day” is one of the most amazing original Christmas songs ever. This album can be summed up as: a creative, fun, original twists on old favorites both in song and idea. Get it. It’s amazing.
I found this man’s music thanks to Heather and her Christmas mixes. After I noticed that her first one had 5 or 6 songs from Sufjan, I determined to just buy the whole 42 song album. Sufjan Stevens is orginal and one of the most interesting musicians I’ve ever listened to. What I love about this album is his reverence for old Biblical hymns, verses, and carols combined with his ability to do something very outside the box musically with them. Some of the songs on here are only a few minutes in length, but all of them pack a punch. And before you leave me a comment yes I know he put out a new Christmas album in 2012 called “Silver and Gold” also full of songs. I purchased the album last year right before Christmas so I really didn’t get a chance to listen to it very much before the season ended. However, I am confident that after this year that album will also become one of my favorites. The amount of songs on this album can be overwhelming, but I would highly recommend listening to all the versions of “O Come O Come Emmanuel”, and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The latter is particuarly breathtaking.
When I saw this album was coming out last year I knew it would be one of my favorites. Michael Buble’s voice was made for Christmas standards. Despite one clunker of a number (“Santa Buddy” anyone?) the album is really great and hearkens back to a good old fashioned Christmas in the style of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole.
So there you have it! My favorite Christmas albums. Please keep in mind this was a not a list of my favorite Christmas songs because of course that list would be MUCH longer. But these are albums that I listen to every track and love them all. What about you? Do you have a favorite Christmas album that wasn’t mentioned on the list? Share it in comments! I’m always looking for more Christmas music.
Here are Heather’s mixes she made me! Some songs appear on more than mix so I only put them down when they first appeared. All songs can be found on iTunes or wherever you download music!
“A Strange Christmas”
- “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas- Relient K
- 2,000 Miles- KT Turnstall
- I Saw Three Ships- Sufjan Stevens
- Get Behind Me, Santa!- Sufjan Stevens
- Baby It’s Cold Outside-Leigh Nash & Gabe Dixon
- Give A Little Love: Rilo Kiley
- It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!- Sufjan Stevens
- Carol Of The Bells- The Bird and The Bee
- The Friendly Beasts- Sufjan Stevens
- Fairytale of New York- KT Turnstall
- All That I Want- The Weepies
- Maybe This Christmas- Leigh Nash
- Mistletoe- Colbie Caillat
- In Like A Lion- Relient K
- Last Christmas- Jimmy Eat World
- Filled With Your Glory- Starfield
- Holy, Holy, Holy- Sufjan Stevens
- Eternal Gifts- Leigh Nash
- That Was The Worst Christmas Ever- Sufjan Stevens
- Star Mile- Joshua Radin
- Boxing Day- Relient K
Merry Little Christmas
- It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year- Andy Williams
- Sleigh Ride- KT Turnstall
- I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm- Frank Sinatra
- Donde Esta Santa Clause- Guster
- 12 Days Of Christmas- Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
- Pocket Full Of Miracles- Frank Sinatra
- Once In Royal David’s City- Sufjan Stevens
- Angels We Have Heard On High- Sixpence None The Richer
- That’s All I Want For Christmas- Jessie Baylin
- The Christmas Song- Catherine Feeney
- I’ll Be Home For Christmas- Mindy Smith
- The First Noel- Bing Crosby
- Lo! How A Rose E’re Blooming: Sufjan Stevens
- Silent Night/Away In A Manger- Relient K
- Awake My Soul- Sandra McCracken
- Here With Us- Joy Williams
- Love Never Fails- Brandon Heath
- I Celebrate The Day- Relient K
- I Know The Reason- Mindy Smith
- Auld Lang Syne- Various Artists (from the album “Winter Songs)
- Hallelujahs- Chris Rice
- It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (Remix)- Andy Williams
- White Christmas: Pink Martini
- Get Down For The Holidays- Jenny O.
- Little Road To Bethlehem- Shawn Colvin
- O Holy Night- Sara Groves
- Do You Hear What I hear?- Pink Martini
- Perfect Gift- Natalie Hemby
- Show Me The River- EastmountainSouth
- Stay With Me Jesus- Guster
- Making Pies- Patty Griffin
- What Child Is This?- Fernando Ortega
- The Heartache Can Wait- Brandi Carlisle
- O Come O Come Emmanuel- Maeve
- Come Thou Long Expected Jesus- David Potter
- Ten Thousand Angels- Sandra McCracken
- Cinnamon & Chocolate- Butterfly Boucher
- Christmas Time Is Here- Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
- Sleigh Ride- Los Straightjackets
- Little Drummer Boy- Meaghan Smith
- Let It Ride- Animal Liberation Orchestra
- Take It To The Country- Katie Herzig
- Christmas In Prison- Joshua James
- My Father’s Father- The Civil Wars
- Blue Ridge Mountains- Fleet Foxes
- Boots- The Killers
- Joy Joy- Sojourn
- Silent Night- Priscilla Ahn
- January Hymn- The Decemberists