Christmas is just a few days away and we know from experience that the worst part of last-minute Christmas shopping (aside from the traffic, dwindling shelf stock, and unbearable checkout lines) is the endless loop of the same two dozen Christmas tunes pouring through the radio. If new Christmas albums are dropping every year, why do we hear Wham!’s “Last Christmas” every hour?
Well, now that the shopping is done, you’ve got a full night of present wrapping ahead of you and Aleteia is here to soothe your grated ears with a playlist of some truly wonderful Christmas hymns and carols. We’ve assembled an hour’s worth of some of our favorites, from timeless classics, like The Carpenters’ “Silent Night,” to some that may have been overlooked, such as The Roches’ “We Three Kings.”
Nat King Cole’s “Joy to the World” is as timely as Burl Ives’ “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Cole was one of the most prominent and influential musicians of his time and recorded over 100 songs that became hits on the pop charts. His compositions may not receive much radio play these days, but each year we are reminded of his velvet-smooth voice at Christmastime.
We love this rendition of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” by The Banyan Days. We couldn’t find much information about the band, but the instrumentation and guitar driven rhythm really works for the song.
Celtic Thunder is approaching legendary status in the roots music genre. This storied Irish band is usually noted for their liveliness, but for this rendition of “Away in a Manger” they took on more tender tones. The song gently builds throughout, but at no point does it sound like anything other than a lullaby.
The Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait should be a part of everyone’s Christmas music collection. The whole album is phenomenal, but the treatment Karen Carpenter gives this “Silent Night” is top-notch.
We’re going back to Ireland for a quick “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” The Chieftains have been making the finest Celtic music since the 60’s. We chose this version because the voices sound like they’re actually out caroling.
Matt Maher just dropped his newest album, which is chock-full of great reimagined Christmas songs, along with a few originals. Sting released his rendition of “Gabriel’s Message” in 1987, but we think that Maher has improved upon the original.
Pentatonix has really cornered the market on vocal Christmas music. Their voices meld together perfectly and with their a capella flair, they perform classic songs in new and exciting ways.
It baffles us that this recording of “We Three Kings” is not a regular holiday radio hit. The Roches really outdid themselves with this one. The way their voices mix is simultaneously haunting and hopeful. The meandering soprano saxophone also adds something wonderful.
Sometimes it’s nice to just hear an instrumental version of a song we all know the words to. The way the London Symphony arranged “Deck the Halls” brings to mind images of children waking up to find it’s Christmas day.
We know that some people love Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” although we don’t know why. Not only did Michael Jackson have an unbelievable instinctual control over his voice, what could be more appropriate than a child singing about Santa?
“The Holly and the Ivy” is quite possibly the most beautiful Christmas carol. This arrangement by the Choir of Royal Holloway makes it all the more beautiful with cascading vocals.
A fanfare of joy with the “Wassail Song.” The way the tuba bounces its notes throughout the piece makes it all the more fun.
This is probably the most likely of our picks to be heard on the radio. We’ve heard it said that Carey went too bombastic with the arrangement, which could be argued, but no one can argue with those high notes at the end.
Amy Grant released her first Christmas album in 1983 and she hit it right out of the park. The work is just what you want from a Christmas record all the way through, especially her “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” which is constructed to begin as a solo and grow to a full chorus.
Sufjan Stevens’ treatment of “Joy to the World” is so gentle and different from the standard large chorus version. We especially loved the way it is sung as a round.
For a hymn this big, there’s no better voice than Pavarotti’s.
If you would like to listen to the whole playlist on Spotify, CLICK HERE.