I know. We all probably have a love-hate relationship with Christmas music. When played too early, too often, or long after the holiday, it’s THE WORST. But there’s a sweet spot – I’m gonna say Black Friday through New Year’s Eve, and even that may be too much for some.
It doesn’t help, of course, that the radio stations that convert to Christmas seemingly play the same dozen songs over and over and over and over. Then, just as you leave the car, you head into the mall, where the SAME SONGS are playing.
The majority of Christmas songs are standards and have been around for decades. It’s very rare for a “new” Christmas song performed by a trendy music artist will actually become apart of the pantheon of usuals.
So of course, there are tons of lists out there of Bests and Worsts. Maybe I’ll get into that someday. But I have my own list of songs – Christmas songs that are important to me, whether they’re new, old, well-known or obscure, terribly or awesomely over-played. Because, in that sweet spot, I can’t get enough of these songs.
#1. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – Bruce Springsteen
For me and my mom, this is our JAM. We rock this song like no one else. Mom loves Bruce’s half-singing, half-growling. I love the super deep “Better be good for goodness sake,” and the “ho ho ho” in the background. Let’s just say, no matter what’s going on in the house, if that song comes on, we drop what we’re doing and belt it. When I go home for Christmas, I just might try to get Mom to do a Dubsmash with me… Stay tuned.
#2. Christmas Eve Sarajevo – Trans-Siberian Orchestra
This song is at least 20 years old now, but every time it plays, I feel the same as I did when I first heard it on the middle school bus. Cory and I have seen TSO several times, and let’s just say if you love rock and pyrotechnics, this is the greatest Christmas concert ever. Cory’s favorite part? When they light the *fire* on fire.
#3. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Frank Sinatra
The Sinatra version is one of the saddest, making it closest to the original and devastating version Judy Garland sang in Meet Me in St. Louis. Why do I love a sad Christmas song? I can’t say, really. Maybe because the pressure to be chipper during the holidays can be too much. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean life stops. It’s nice to be reminded that in spite of everything, you can still have a Merry Christmas, even on a small scale.
#4. Deck the Halls – Sesame Street
This is a VERY SPECIFIC version, from A Muppet Family Christmas, only the greatest Christmas TV special of all time. While it’s an hour full of music, including a religion-free, gift-giving celebration courtesy of the Fraggles (Pass it On!), and a brilliant transition of a humble Jingle Bells (Kermit and Robin) into Jingle Bell Rock (Dr. Teeth & the band), it was tough to pick just one. But the part of the special that fills me with absolute glee is when the Sesame Street gang shows up to Mother Bear’s house, singing their hearts out. They enter singing “Here We Come a-Caroling,” but when they break into “Deck the Halls,” each of the Street stars – Bert, Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover (THE BEST, btw) – they each have their moment. I just love it.
#5. A Christmas Carol from Scrooge
This may not be my favorite song from the 1979 film (more on that at a later time), but wow does it hold some impact. For example, when searching for the above video, I burst into tears as soon as it began to play. Okay, I might be a little holiday homesick…. Anyway, it’s not a show stopper like Thank You Very Much. In fact, it’s barely featured. It’s played over the opening credits, then sung essentially in the background by school children celebrating Christmas, dressed in costumes (the carrot kid is my favorite) during Scrooge’s venture into his past. The other reason is that in high school, while organizing the chorus instructor’s cabinets full of music, I stumbled upon an arrangement of this song. After my constant insisting, he added it to the line-up for the Christmas concert. What’s more, he asked if I wanted to accompany on the keyboard. A terrifying request, since I had major insecurities playing in public. But I did it. I may have turned the keyboard way down, letting the band director’s keyboard take the lead — but that octave chord at the start of each chorus? All me, baby.
#6 Christmas Children – Scrooge
Okay, when I was typing about #5 and eventually stopped crying, this song came to mind and actually laughed out loud for awhile. This is the song that Bob Cratchit sings to his children as they go around the marketplace, buying things for their Christmas dinner. This song cracks me up because my family watched this film every year for decades. And yet my brother and I never, ever knew the lyrics to this bloody song. If forced to sing it, it would go like this:
“Christmas something something in Christmas windows.
Christmas something something something goes.
Christmas la la la.
Christmas la. La la.
Something something something something no one knows.
Something something something young and old.”
#7. We Need a Little Christmas – Angela Lansbury
The Angela Lansbury version, right from Mame, is probably my favorite. One nerdy reason is in high school, we did “Hello, Dolly,” and I was thoroughly convinced “It Takes a Woman,” was the same song. The following year, we did “Mame,” and to my delight, I was pretty much right, since both were written by Jerry Herman . Another moment was my long-time friend Annie and I performed this song for our church Christmas show. It was… pretty sad. We choreographed it minutes before. But our priest thought we were just delightful, so…
#8. Twelve Days of Christmas – ALL OF THEM
There are so many freakin’ versions of this song, and I have a place in my heart for all of them, yes even the grating Twelve Pains of Christmas. Twelve Days was a huge hit in the 4th Grade Christmas Show. I auditioned for 9 Ladies Dancing, but got stuck with a solo in Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Whatever.
While some of these songs are so specific, you only know them if you already know them, if you know what I mean… you know…
Others are played ad nauseam for eight straight weeks. And that is a beautiful thing. If Bruce Springsteen didn’t come on every 21 minutes, my mom and I wouldn’t be guaranteed a great sing-off. The many different versions of Twelve Days give me and Cory something to argue about. Every time I hear Burl Ives’ Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, I think of my brother, which makes me think of Scrooge and Christmas Children, and I laugh. In fact, I’d argue that BECAUSE these songs are played so often is why they become important. It wouldn’t be nearly as funny if James and I didn’t get Christmas Children lyrics after one or two viewings. But after twenty? It’s damn hilarious.
And honestly, I could probably add to this list for awhile — Somewhere in my Memory, Feliz Navidad, Hey Santa, Carol of the Bells — but you get it. Christmas music does more than bring in the holiday season. It gives us the chance to create memories and traditions — and that, my friends, is what it’s all about.
What over-played Christmas song means something to you? Let me know in the comments or head over to Share Your Favorites!