As soon as the department stores and radio stations are ready to start playing Christmas music, I’m ready to start listening to it. And I’m not picky. I love traditional carols and sacred and classical works, but I also enjoy holiday “pops.”
Of course, it’s no secret that, whether listening in the stores or on the radio, one is more likely to hear holiday pops than the other two categories. For Christmas music fanatics like me, that is disappointing enough.
But to make matters worse, the Christmas pops playlist consists of the same handful of songs played ad nauseum, year in and year out, to the exclusion of all others. That’s a shame, because good holiday music is so abundant that, if we wanted, we could easily play it from Thanksgiving through Epiphany and never repeat a track.
To the people who make the playlists, whoever you are: it’s time to expand your horizons. I know I’m probably not going to get you to add Chesnokov’s “Salvation Is Created” or Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” to your offerings, so I won’t go there. But, for the sake of all our ears, it’s time to replace the annual “Christmas with Mariah, Bruce and the Beach Boys” marathon. We’re done. We need a little Christmas with none of the above.
To make it easier for you, I’ve compiled a fun, fresh Christmas playlist with a variety of popular songs and artists from a range of traditions. Some are old, some are new. Some are quiet and reflective, others upbeat and fun. Some have Jesus, some don’t. But what they all have in common is that you won’t find yourself wanting to change the channel within the opening few bars.
The first song on the list, for example, is Joni Mitchell’s “River.” It has been covered by numerous artists, but Mitchell, as the composer, provides the definitive version, and it never gets old. A song of love lost at Christmastime, it will resonate with anyone who has felt loss of any kind during the holidays and has longed for a river to “skate away on.”
There are other name artists on the list, but the songs included are not the ones that often get played. James Taylor’s Christmas CD has gorgeous renditions of “Some Children See Him,” “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and “Who Comes This Night.” Because I couldn’t choose, all are included here. Taylor rightly called “Who Comes This Night,” with words by Sally Stevens and music by Dave Grusin, “a new standard.”
Other name artists on the list are Dolly Parton (“Hard Candy Christmas”), Jim Croce (“It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way”), and Stevie Wonder (“What Christmas Means to Me”). Paul McCartney is here, too, and if you’re wondering why I included “Wonderful Christmastime” even though you tend to hear it this time of year, it’s because, in the first place, it’s Sir Paul, and in the second place, it has singing children (“The choir of children sing their song, they practiced all year long”). It also captures a simple, peaceful contentment that is too often lacking in our day.
I didn’t include classics like “White Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Do You Hear What I Hear” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” because those get played plenty. I didn’t include Pentatonix’ “Mary Did You Know” and the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas, Darling” (even thought I like them both) for the same reason.
But I did include some artists that you may not be familiar with, such as Christian acapella groups Take 6 and Glad and contemporary Christian artists Chris Rice, Keith and Kristyn Getty, and Erin Bode. If you hear a track you like, seek out more of that artist’s work. You won’t be disappointed.
Vince Guaraldi and Leroy Anderson are on the list because, no matter how many times you hear “Christmastime Is Here” or “Sleigh Ride,” they never, ever get old. Finally, you can thank my daughter for introducing me to a few newer Christmas albums by artists such as Josh Garrels, the Oh Hellos, and Sufjan Stevens. All are the epitome of “fresh.”
Listen to the Fresh Christmas Pops playlist here, or play it below.