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12 Days of Christmas Songs: From Classics to Newbies, Here’s 12 Songs to Add to Your Playlist

Nov 28, 2012 11:15PM ● By Erin Frisch

12 Days of Christmas Songs: From classics to newbies, here’s your favorite new playlist

Now that we’ve had our fill of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, it’s officially that most wonderful time of the year—Christmas-music-on-the-radio season! Anything before Thanksgiving is sacrilegious, but as we head into the holiday season, we can now indulge our deepest desire—to listen to Christmas music 24/7—without feeling guilty. And for those of us who have been making our Christmas playlists since September, here are a few more to include as you rock around the Christmas tree. Happy caroling!

1. Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Band Aid. A throwback to the days of ’80s rock, this passionate single was recorded pro bono. The artists include Boy George, Phil Collins, Bono, Bananarama, and countless other big names. Do They Know It’s Christmas? was recorded to raise money to stop poverty in Ethiopia, and topped charts in 1984, the year of its release. Listen to the lyrics; they are a timely reminder of how much we have, and what we sometimes take for granted. In a world of poverty, people can’t afford to think about the spirit of Christmas when they are worrying about how to get food on the table. While it’s a tearjerker (my mom cries whenever she hears it), it will hopefully inspire us all to give more this holiday season.

2. Christmas Song by the Dave Matthews Band. Although it sounds at first like another love song, the lyrics tell the much deeper story of the life of Jesus Christ. The love described in the song is not between a man and a woman, but between a man and all the people of the Earth for whom he sacrificed his life. In fact, perhaps the message behind this song is that the story of Christ is intended to continue to spread the love that He gave so freely. Whether or not you are a devout Christian, this song kindles the fraternity within us all.

3. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel as sung by Enya. This is an eerily beautiful rendition of the classic religious song, made even more somber by Enya’s reverberating chants. Prepare to be haunted by her voice. Perhaps the most distinctive part of this song is not Enya’s voice, however, but her words; after one chorus of English, the lyrics are in Latin. “Rejoice, rejoice” becomes “Gaude, gaude.” I find this particularly moving because it reminds us of the Latin birth of this hymn and its original performance in Christmas church services.

4. Good King Wenceslas as sung by Loreena McKennitt. Perhaps one of the most joyful on the list, this old carol tells of a generous king and his loyal page who trek into the cold winter night to help a poor peasant. Loreena McKennitt’s version is particularly uplifting and rhythmic. Complete with tambourine, bells, and pipes, alongside her mystical voice, this carol conjures up singers in a medieval hall before a roaring hearth. Lose yourself in the magic of this song.

5. Carol of the Bells as played by George Winston. The gifted pianist has created a wordless expression of Christmas holiness. Each note chimes like a bell in this piece. Carol of the Bells doesn’t sound like it’s being played on a piano, but rather like it is ringing out from church steeples and echoing down snowy streets. In fact, every song on Winston’s winter album, December, is breathtaking. A perfect song to listen to as you sit quietly on Christmas Eve, waiting expectantly for the magic of the night.

6. On Christmas Night as sung by Cherish the Ladies. A joyful Celtic carol, this song praises the Lord for His Christmas gifts. The voices of these Irish-American women are pure, clean, and simple. Their melodies spark a desire to jump up and do an Irish jig (whether or not one is actually capable). Play this cheerful tune as you carve the Christmas turkey and share the abundance of the season.

7. Baby, It’s Cold Outside as sung by Colbie Caillat and Gavin DeGraw. This jazzy classic was first sung by Rosemary Clooney and is equally catchy by its original artist. This version is a duet sung by a young, flirtatious couple, and it’s guaranteed to make you want to cuddle up with a loved one by a warm fire.

8. What Child Is This?/The Holly and the Ivy as sung by Bing Crosby. Who doesn’t love Bing Crosby? Practically Father Christmas himself, Bing’s legendary voice comes alive here (as it does in all his songs). His deep, rumbling tones combined with the heavenly voices of his choir are enough to make angels swoon. This particular medley combines two classic carols; it begins with the somber What Child Is This? and then lightens up with The Holly and the Ivy, a jollier tune. My grandfather loves this epic singer just as much now as he did when Crosby first performed White Christmas in 1941.

9. A Tale of Two Cities by Mark Isham. This is the Christmas song that you never knew you loved. In a wordless song, Isham has captured the joy of Christmas morning in five and half minutes. Let your mind wander through every wonderful holiday experience in your memory, from building snowmen to unwrapping presents to gathering around Christmas dinner with family; this song can evoke all of them. Play it on New Year’s Eve to remember the joys of 2012.

10. I Saw Three Ships as sung by Sting. Is winter’s cold numbing you to the bone? Warm up with dreams of sunny skies and hot beaches, images evoked by Sting’s version of I Saw Three Ships. Sting and his band perform the carol as a Bahamian holiday song, steel drums and Rastaman voice included. For those of us not lucky enough to be digging our toes into warm sand on Christmas morning, this melody takes the chill off nonetheless. This is your Calypso Christmas song, and it will keep you afloat come chilly tides.

11. Mary, Mary by Harry Belafonte. Harry Belafonte’s swinging voice is perfect for this Christmas hymn. It’s a feel-good song; one can imagine the lowing of his voice as the lowing of the animals in the manger. This story in a song is simple but beautiful, with classic acoustics that let Belafonte’s voice shine through.

12. The Twelve Days of Christmas as sung by your family. Each year, our family and friends have a tradition of Christmas caroling in the oncology clinic of Dartmouth Hitchcock, and this is a carol that guarantees smiles every time. Starting with the youngest, my sister Stephi, and ending with my grandma, each person from the youngest to the oldest is assigned one of the twelve gifts of Christmas. You can adjust as needed, depending on the number in your party, doubling up or making some group verses (“five golden rings” is traditionally sung by everyone in our ensemble). As you proceed though the song, each person sings his or her assigned verse as many times as it comes up in the song. This means that the youngest sings “and a partridge in a pear tree” a dozen times, while grandma sings “twelve lords a-leaping” a grand total of once. It’s a great tradition and very entertaining, as everyone is bound to forget their cue at least once.

What is your favorite holiday song?

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