With stores playing Christmas music immediately after Halloween, even classic holiday tunes wear out their novelty. The playlist below features lesser-known or unconventional Christmas songs to add some variety to your Christmas music and liven up your holiday celebrations.
1. Jonathan Coulton, “Chiron Beta Prime”
Jonathan Coulton’s geeky, quirky sense of humor shines through in “Chiron Beta Prime,” in which the Anderson family sends a Christmas letter from an asteroid mining colony run by robot overlords. The family keeps their spirits up despite their imprisonment, and this oddly peppy song will put a smile on the face of any science fiction fan or small child fascinated by killer robots.
2. Tim Minchin, “White Wine in the Sun”
In “White Wine in the Sun,” Tim Minchin creates a rare blend of heartfelt sentiment and irreverent snark. Minchin pulls no punches regarding his distrust of religion and its role in society, but for Minchin the heart of Christmas rests in how the season brings his family together. Minchin’s voice turns especially tender as he addresses his “jet-lagged infant daughter” who will be “handed ’round the room like a puppy at a primary school.” He sings to her, “You will learn yourself one day that wherever you are and whatever you face, these are the people who will make you feel safe in this world.” The most beautiful part of “White Wine in the Sun” is that simple truth: no matter what you believe, you can find comfort and joy within the bonds of family.
3. The Long Blondes, “Christmas Is Cancelled”
The Long Blondes, in a style reminiscent of 1960s girl group the Ronettes, sing of a broken-up couple on Christmas. “Christmas Is Cancelled” for the two of them as the singer refuses to take back her cheating lover, and jilted lovers experiencing Christmas solo this year will enjoy rocking out to this song while making holiday preparations.
4. Eraserheads, “Santa Ain’t Comin’ No Mo‘”
This funky tune by Filipino alternative rock band Eraserheads appears on their Christmas album Fruitcake. In this song, the Eraserheads break the news that Santa has decided to skip out on Christmas: “You may have been naughty, you may have been nice/ Well it doesn’t really matter at all/ Throw your stockings right out the window/ Coz Santa ain’t comin’ no mo.'” If you plan to DJ a holiday party, play this song to get people onto the dance floor; they will be too busy grooving to care that Santa is gone.
5. Vienna Teng, “The Atheist Christmas Carol”
Vienna Teng’s gorgeous voice and sublime song-crafting offer us this beautiful song that holds its own among the classic holiday canon. The title might put off a Christian who takes seriously the religious aspect of Christmas, but I encourage anyone who shies away from the song because of the title to give the song a listen. “It’s the season of grace coming out of the void/ Where a man is saved by a voice in the distance,” Teng sings, offering a vision of finding hope in one another to help survive the cold.
6. Stephen Colbert, “Another Christmas Song”
Stephen Colbert, as his bombastic and self-absorbed character from the Colbert Report, sings a swinging tune about his desire to rake in the royalties from an oft-played holiday classic. Colbert nonsensically tangles Christmas carol tropes in lyrics such as “Chestnuts glisten on a silent night/ Sleigh-bells kissing by candle light/ The tree is frozen, the winter’s bright.” Play this song while celebrating with friends who appreciate Colbert’s ironic sense of humor and satirical send-up of holiday clichés.
7. Sufjan Stevens, “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)”
Musical savant Sufjan Stevens sings a melodious and melancholy song about a relationship on the rocks, showing off Stevens’s emotional range and blending in the sound of banjos and bells with a myriad of other instruments. Haunting and hypnotic, “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day?” proves that a Christmas song does not need to be upbeat to be good; save it for a moment when you need to come down from an overabundance of holiday pep.
8. Murray Gold, “Song for Ten”
“Song for Ten” first appeared in the Doctor Who episode “The Christmas Invasion,” making it a must-have for any geeky holiday playlist. This poppy love song transcends time and space, spreading joy to far-flung galaxies. Play this song while baking gingerbread Daleks and placing Weeping Angels on the Christmas tree.
9. Los Campesinos, “Kindle a Flame in Her Heart”
Indie rockers Los Campesinos bring their harmonious choruses and confessional lyrics to the Christmas party with “Kindle a Flame in Her Heart.” As the lead singer begs, “You’ve got to untie me from these bows/ Wrap your arms around me like swaddling clothes,” I doubt anyone listening to his smooth delivery would refuse the request.
10. The Knife, “Christmas Reindeer”
The extraterrestrial quality of the Knife’s vocals and electronic sound ensure that you will hear few holiday songs like “Christmas Reindeer.” I recommend playing it to frighten naughty children if your threats of coal-filled stockings fall flat.
Bonus New Year’s Track: The Dismemberment Plan, “The Ice of Boston“
“The Ice of Boston” has become my go-to song to celebrate New Year’s Eve, with its gritty punk vocals and stream-of-consciousness lyrics of a lonely and lovelorn man spending the holiday in a new city. When I find myself alone on New Year’s Eve, I sympathize when the song’s narrator resorts to drenching himself in champagne to fight off his ennui. If your plans for the New Year fall apart, “pop open a bottle of bubbly” and share in the Dismemberment Plan’s booze-fueled insouciance.
This list provides just a few examples of Christmas songs to reinvigorate the holiday spirit. Fire up your MP3 player, pour yourself some eggnog, and start feeling festive!