Fresh Off The Turntable’s Definitive Holiday Playlist


Alex Wilson, Editor-in-Chief

This year, I have compiled a playlist of my definitive, must-play music for the holidays! You can listen to the playlist on Spotify here:


While much of this music may not be the classic christmas, hanukkah, and general holiday music that we all know and love, most of these songs carry deep meaning for me and help me to envision the season of snow and a nice relaxing winter break. There is no particular order for any of these songs, so I will not be ranking them. I will present them first with a reason for their placement on this playlist and then the song itself, followed by it’s artist. Here they are:


“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a Christmas classic reimagined by Straight No Chaser, an all-male acapella group. This rendition utilizes certain unique aspects, such as a radio frame and a jazzy second verse to make the song stand on its own. 


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Straight No Chaser


Moving straight into the more serious classics, Vince Guaraldi Trio’s soundtrack for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a perfect instrumental representation of the holiday season. Their version of “O Tannenbaum” is filled have an overall jazzy tone and timbre and works well as a light dance song. “Christmas Time is Here” is somewhat more sombre, but reflects well on the relaxation associated with the end of the year with the use of light percussion and resolving chords. “What Child is This” has a completely different and melancholic tone from the other two Vince Guaraldi Trio songs on this list, but is a fantastic cover of the timeless Christmas carol. 


O Tannenbaum – Vince Guaraldi Trio


Christmas Time is Here (Instrumental) – Vince Guaraldi Trio


What Child is This – Vince Guaraldi Trio


Three Bing Crosby classics all epitomize the quiet nature of a cold, dark winter night. “White Christmas” describes the hope for snow and calls for the nostalgic remembrance of childhood glee associated with Winter weather. Both “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Silent Night” are more religious and classic, discussing the need for quiet contemplation on the night of Jesus’ birth.


God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Bing Crosby


White Christmas – Bing Crosby


Silent Night – Bing Crosby


The opening lines “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” of Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” are some of the most iconic lyrics of the holiday season. Immediately using description to build imagery, Nat King Cole creates an entire scenario for Christmas at the warm hearth keeping out the cold, expanding to describe all of the key points that “make the season bright.”


The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole


My favourite holiday movie of all-time, the soundtrack for The Polar Express is fantastic overall, but the best two songs have to be both the eponymous “The Polar Express” and “Hot Chocolate.” These songs both do a solid job at expressing the childhood wonder surrounding the North Pole and Santa Claus and the excitement of Christmas Eve and a train ride to a young child.


The Polar Express – Tom Hanks


Hot Chocolate – Tom Hanks


“Christmas in Killarney” is a fun song. Originally written by The Irish Rovers, the lyrics about a happy Christmas in Ireland cause me to envision a nice vacation in a winter cottage surrounded by farmland and roaming sheep. 


Christmas in Killarney – Bing Crosby


Sufjan Stevens’ “We Need A Little Christmas” is a faithful rendition to the original with a general folksy tone. The building instrumentals throughout the short song emphasize its brevity while also pushing the message that we do “Need A Little Christmas” to get through the cold Winter season.


We Need A Little Christmas – Sufjan Stevens


“Carol of St. Benjamin the Bearded One” is one of my favourite Christmas songs of all time. The strong opening with a mix of of harp, woodwinds, and other stringed instruments conveys a sense of urgency and is a solid rendition of “The Carol of the Bells.” But, halfway through, a viola emerges from the rest of the instruments and the cacophonous background cuts away into harmonic clarity. Sufjan’s quiet vocals sing to the soft background of a guitar and light percussion about how “the things you want in life you have to really need.” This song concludes slowly and quietly, a complete contrast to how it began, with a slow fade of quiet vocals as the instrumentals fade out simultaneously. 


Carol of St. Benjamin the Bearded One – Sufjan Stevens


While this rendition of “Coventry Carol” isn’t a major diversion from its original source material, the string orchestrals in the background paired with the banjo throughout the entire song are beautiful and bring an extra dimension to an often simple melody. Marla Hansen is also a positive in this song, her faint vocals allowing the instrumentals to shine through and take control of the melody.


Coventry Carol – Sufjan Stevens


“Barcarola (You Must Be A Christmas Tree)” is another original Sufjan Stevens Christmas carol. Stemming from the idea of love at Christmastime as a reprieve from the cold, relentless winter storm and emphasized in the lines “You must be a Christmas tree, you light up the room,” the use of very wispy, choralic vocals helps to ease the listener into a sense of comfort and security. 


Barcarola (You Must Be A Christmas Tree) – Sufjan Stevens


A solid rework of Julie Andrews’ “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music, Leslie Odom Jr.’s voice shines through to carry the idea that the things you love must overshadow those that make you unhappy and bring comfort during the harsh winter season.


My Favourite Things – Leslie Odom Jr.


“Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” is a holiday classic with a wispy and nostalgic tone, as emphasized by the whispered lyrics and softly-plucked acoustic guitar. The lyrics, an enticement to stay at home during a cold winter blizzard, further the focus on the importance of holidays spent with those you love.


Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! – Sufjan Stevens


Leslie Odom Jr.’s “Winter Song” is a good demonstration of his vocal ability and a great cover of Sara Barailles’ original, featuring the same sentiment of love in the cold winter season. 


Winter Song – Leslie Odom Jr.


“Christmas In The Room” is one of my favourite songs on this list. Not only do the lyrics suggest that Christmas is what we make of it, but they also emphasize the importance of love in the holiday season. Sufjan explicitly states that there are “No gifts to give, they’re all right here, inside our hearts the glorious cheer,” meaning that Christmas is not about materialism or the religious aspects so often emphasized by society but about the joy and kindness we share  with others. A combination of piano and guitar is the perfect background for his vocals, with heavy percussion during the bridge, which is much more melancholic and depressing than the rest of the song, but which resolves with the idea that the laughter of a loved one is the greatest joy imaginable.


Christmas In The Room – Sufjan Stevens


Bazan’s cover of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” focuses on the death caused by unnecessary wars that we must work to stop before we can truly celebrate. The song’s sombre tone explains that before we can move forward with the joy of the season we must end unjust wars in places like Vietnam (relevant at the songs release) and protect people of all races and cultures.


Happy Xmas (War is Over) – David Bazan


Sufjan’s “Sleigh Ride” is a light electric guitar rendition of the original with large percussion section and lots of computer-generated instrumentals. Overall, it’s an interesting rework of one of the oldest non-religious Holiday songs, dating to the Victorian Era.


Sleigh Ride – Sufjan Stevens


Sinatra’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is a classic Christmas song about Santa Claus’ arrival.


Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Frank Sinatra


Burt Ives’ “A Holly Jolly Christmas” is featured in almost every single Christmas movie and is incredibly representative of the month of December through its upbeat tone and Burt Ives’ boisterous vocals. The simple message to have a “holly jolly Christmas” quickly helps to better the mood of any room.


A Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives


“It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas” by Perry Como is a Christmas classic which explores the childhood wonder of the holiday season, from leaving school on the semester’s last day to the toys unwrapped on Christmas morning.


It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas – Perry Como, The Fontaine Sisters


To end the playlist, a quiet acoustic rendition of the holiday classic “Auld Lang Syne.” Translated from Celtic to “old long since,” “Auld Lang Syne” calls for the remembrance of the past and is often used as a song to toast before the beginning of a new year.

Auld Lang Syne – Sufjan Stevens