In general, I’m not a big Christmas guy. My dad’s favorite expression during the holidays was to quote Ebeneezer Scrooge: “Bah, humbug!” But I’m fairly sure he was being facetious. I’m definitely not one of those folks who put up lights and decorations before Thanksgiving, but I, in no way, condemn those who do, at least not publicly. If it brings them joy, who am I to judge. If nothing else, I’d rather see Christmas lights and wreaths than “F#CK Biden” flags.
The one contemporary practice I do slightly wish would go away is the early onset of Christmas songs being piped into many public places so prematurely that the songs lose their poignancy and power for being ubiquitous and overplayed. The one benefit of this trend is that, over the years, it has sent me searching for less obvious, alternative musical selections to help put me in an appropriate mood for the concurrent seasons of winter and Christmas.
The winter/Christmas songs I’ve come to prefer are not the typical carols, pop-rock, and kitschy tunes that tend to dominate the air waves and playlists. I like tunes that remind me of how fortunate I am and have been and that remind me of the numerous gifts I’ve already received, especially in comparison to so many unfortunate others. I also like those that present a unique or ironic take on the season.
What follows are a few of my favorites:
“Wintering” by The 1975 captures the strange mixture of joy and dread that accompanies any obligatory visit with the family over the holidays.
“The Winter Song” by Sam Fender is a cover of an Alan Hull song that’s worth giving a listen to as well. The song recalls the saying the “real reason for the season” with lyrics that ask “Do you spare one thought for Jesus // Who had nothing but his thoughts // Who got busted just for talking // And befriending the wrong sorts.”
Joni Mitchell’s “River” covered by James Taylor. “River” is actually a break-up song and only obliquely about Christmas, but the image of having a river “I could skate away on” speaks to my soul.
I love the Gaelic chorus and the sea shanty sound of “Christmas at Sea” by Sting. It makes me feel for those away from home, such as service men and women, and those who must work on Christmas Day, such as my son the firefighter, and their longing to be home.
Leslie Odom Jr. singing “Winter Song” is simply a sublime love song. “This is my winter song // December never felt so wrong // Cause you’re not where you belong // Inside my arms. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to have my love, my wife at my side every day and every night. Every morning I wake up next to her is Christmas morning.
“Christmas Biscuits” by Glen Hansard and Mark Geary is similar to Fender’s “Winter Song” in that it pleads with us to be mindful of those who spend Christmas alone and lonely, maybe cold and homeless. The song was actually written to support the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“How to Make Gravy” is a song by the Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly. The song is from the point of view of a man in prison as he remembers Christmases past with his now-broken family and the Christmas holiday that looms ahead when he will be separtated from them once again. Not sure I’ve ever heard more heartbreaking lyrics as “If I get good behavior // I’ll be out of here by July // Won’t you kiss my kids on Christmas Day? // Please don’t let them cry.”
“It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” is a song from Jim Croce that captures his signature sound and provides hope at the end of one year and the beginning of a new one that past mistakes can be remedied, and there’s no better time to do so than Christmas.
Other favorites of mine include “Gabriel’s Message” by Sting, “This Christmas” by Donnie Hathaway (This one is pretty mainstream, but Hathaway is so smooth.), “Yule Shoot Your Eye Out” by Fall Out Boy, “A Long December” by The Counting Crows, “The Last Christmas” by The Arkells, “The Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues, “The Season’s Upon Us” by The Dropkick Murphys, and “25th December” by Everything but the Girl.
If you’re looking for something a little different by the way of Christmas music this year, give some of these a listen.
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