“What are five songs where it Just Isn’t Christmas if you haven’t heard them?”
This was a question that Nathan asked me, and asked himself on his blog. He gave me a secondary challenge of limiting my list to only one Sufjan Stevens song, knowing that the list would only be one artist otherwise.
“Christmas in the Room” or “Only At Christmas Time” by Sufjan Stevens
From the beginning, I’m cheating, but it’s very hard to pick just one Sufjan Stevens Christmas song. Across his two official collections, he’s published 100 Christmas songs that span every emotion of the season.
Christmas in the Room is always the first of his tracks that I put on when I decide that it is indeed Christmas Music Season. Only at Christmas Time is more spiritual – written in a way that feels understandable as a whole, but becomes mysterious when examined line-by-line.
Maybe I’ll write more one day about Stevens’ role in my Chrsitmas canon but Tyler Huckabee recently wrote about how his music captures an authentic Christmas spirit:
Other artists treat Christmas schmaltziness as an obstacle to overcome, but Sufjan embraces it. (…) Slapdash orchestras, one-take singalongs and grand yuletide symphonies with the seams showing. (…) This is, to me, as close to the spirit of Christmas as humans are likely to get.
“Christmastime is Here” by Vince Guaraldi Trio
Vince Guaraldi has a Bandcamp page? A Charlie Brown Christmas has long been my go-to Christmas movie. The whole record is great, but this track especially suspends you in Christmas spirit.
I’m glad to see this made Nathan’s list as well.
“Xmas Curtain” by My Morning Jacket
Their version from My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style, specifically. The first three tracks of their Christmas record have such an easy-going melancholy style.
“In the Bleak Midwinter” by Bombay Bicycle Club
One of my favourite classic Christmas carols. This was the first Christmas song that I listened to this year. In Manitoba, midwinter is indeed bleak. Bombay Bicycle’s version with Liz Lawrence for BBC Radio 1 is perfectly tender with some beautiful breathy horns.
I do wish we could hear Jack Steadman’s delivery of the line “Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him” with the scotch snaps in the middle, but that verse didn’t make the cut.
“The Christmas Waltz” by Sleeping At Last
My 20th century classic pick for this list. This cover, specifically, is gentle, lonely, sweet, and hopeful.
- “Alone on Christmas Day” by The Beach Boys
An unreleased song written in 1977 and not really available online. A cover by Phoenix appeared in Bill Murray’s Netflix Christmas special.
- “The Weight of the Season” by Said The Whale
“Oh bleak December, oh holy night”
- “Last Christmas” by Wham!
My favourite pop Christmas song of the past few decades
- “We’re Going to the Country” by Sufjan Stevens
Can I have one more Sufjan song?
Here’s a Spotify playlist, if you’re cramming to get into the Christmas spirit.