The Only 10 Christmas Songs I Can Tolerate

I've been known to shout "Nooooooooooo!" after starting a car and having the radio greet me with a late-'90s boy-band rendition of an age-old Christmas carol I didn't like in the first place.
Publish date:
November 14, 2013
music, holidays, Christmas, lists, songs, christmas music, christmas songs

The other day, I harumph-marched over to Emily's desk and said, "Can you believe stores are already playing Christmas music?"

Emily replied, "I know, right? And did you see MTV doesn't play music videos anymore?"


I realized it's hackneyed to complain about how early Christmas oversaturation starts, but it really does annoy me. The only thing that bothers me more than seeing a Christmas-themed commercial before summer's over -- I saw two different ones this year (Kmart and Radio City Music Hall) -- is hearing Christmas music before December.

OK, so, that's not entirely accurate. I actually don't like hearing Christmas music in December, too.

I'm just not into Christmas -- never have been. I was raised superficially celebrating Hanukkah; today, I don't celebrate anything. Belief-wise, I'm basically the secret lovechild of Bertrand Russell and Robert G. Ingersoll, though I do give end-of-year gifts to close friends and family because... America?

I've been accused of being a Grinch, a Scrooge, a four-star general in the (nonexistent) war on Christmas. I'm the person who says, "Thanks, but I don't celebrate" when someone says "Merry Christmas." And I've been known to shout "Nooooooooooo!" after starting a car and having the radio greet me with a late-'90s boy-band rendition of an age-old Christmas carol I didn't like in the first place.

That said, music is music; so some Christmas music, by deductive reasoning, inevitably sounds pretty good to me. And by "some Christmas music," I mean, like, 10 songs.

These 10 songs.

"Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses (1981)

This song just appeals to my musical sensibilities. It's one of those Christmas songs that I'd forget is about Christmas if I didn't listen carefully to the lyrics, which can be more or less summed up as, I'm too tired for Christmas but not for Christmas sex. And nothing captures seductive holiday apathy better than the late Patty Donahue's emotionless voice.

"Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney (1979)

If you watch only one video in this article, let it be this one. Linda McCartney's mullet and inexplicable animation that seems like a practice run for Tim Curry's musical number in "The Worst Witch" make it THE BEST.

I'm blind to Paul McCartney's flaws, one of which is supposedly this song, according to many people. But in addition to loving just about anything he's done, I also associate this song with the Christmas week I spent at my dear friend Heather's house in New Jersey my junior year of high school. I was visiting from Florida, and she and I were both depressed and angsty and snowed-in-stir-crazy. As we were zoning out on her queen-size waterbed, we noticed that her alarm clock was ticking to the exact tempo of "Wonderful Christmastime."

I know, it doesn't sound special or fun or anything -- especially when I round out the story with the fact that I woke up with a 100+ fever on Christmas morning, which is super-awkward when you're a guest -- but I will always fondly associate this song with Heather.

"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon & Yoko Ono (1971)

Man, what a stark contrast between two former Beatles, right? Paul's all like "Whoopity doo!" and John's all like "Whoopity do you have any idea what's going on in the world?"

But even though this is a downer of a Christmas song, it's timelessly inspirational, and it proves that Yoko can carry a tune with some pretty sweet vibrato.

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid(1984)

Let's keep the vintage Christmas guilt trip going, shall we?

Ethiopian famine was the first international crisis I became aware of as a child, largely due to this song (as well as USA for Africa's "We Are The World"). I was five years old when this was released late in 1984, and even my kindergartner brain was impressed with the roster of pop stars Bob Geldof brought together for it: Phil Collins, Duran Duran, George Michael, Boy George, Bono, Sting, and even a couple of Americans. Americans!

They just don't make star-studded philanthropic songs like they used to. (Actually, I don't think they make star-studded philanthropic songs anymore, period.)

"Sleigh Ride" as performed by Arthur Fielder & The Boston Pops Orchestra (1949)

The oldest song on this list, composed by Leroy Anderson in 1948, this is the original recording of "Sleigh Ride," before the lyrics were even written. It's one of my all-time favorite orchestral recordings, regardless of its link to a holiday I don't care about.

What makes it especially magical to me is the verse after the bridge -- starting at 1:50 in this video, featuring a bizarre "Christmas with Colonel Sanders" album cover -- where the song seems to forget its classical sophistication and gives a seven-bar nod to the swing era that was on its way out. I have literally wept without warning when I hear that part. Can't explain it; I'm just nerdy and sensitive.

"Lonely Christmas Eve" by Ben Folds (2000)

Before you start thinking I'm warming up to the idea of Christmas, here's a song that's written from the perspective of the Grinch.

Ben Folds wrote and recorded "Lonely Christmas Eve" for the live-action Grinch movie, which I can take or leave; but, like with Paul McCartney, I am immune to any of Mr. Folds' deficiencies and will physically fight Emily for the chance to be his fifth wife.

"Same Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg (1980)

I'll admit two things: this is, by far, the sappiest song on this list (it's a true story, by the way... Awwwww), and it's also not officially a Christmas song. The narrative takes place on Christmas Eve, though, and it ends with a totally '80s sax solo of "Auld Lang Syne," the traditional New Year's song.

This song is almost as old as I am -- I think growing up with it made me like it -- and although it was played on the radio throughout the year during the '80s, it seems to pop up only during the holiday season nowadays.

Did anyone else think it's strange that they couldn't find an open bar, but they could find an open liquor store? That always bothered me.

"Step Into Christmas" by Elton John (1973)

I love this song because it's catchy as hell and it doesn't make a lick of sense.

First, he welcomes you to the song. After thanking you for the year (you're welcome?), he says he'd like to sing about all the things your eyes and mind can see, at which point, I just tune out and bop along because what?

Also, how does one step into Christmas? It's not like Christmas is a bathtub or pants.

It's insane and wonderful.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" as performed by U2 (1987)

This was a tough choice for me, because I do really like the original recording by Darlene Love. Every year, she sings it on "The Late Show With David Letterman," where I interned and served as an audience page over a decade ago, and she randomly sang it in my hometown's high school auditorium when I was a kid.

I guess there's something about an Irish rock band's '80s spin on a Wall of Sound classic that makes me feel extra-tingly/tolerant.

"All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey(1994)

This is the second-newest Christmas song on my list, which is saying a lot considering it's almost 20 years old and sounds like it was written in the '60s. But it's just that -- the could've-just-as-easily-been-sung-by-a-young-Ronnie-Spector factor -- that makes me appreciate it.

Also, I think there would have been an office uprising had it been omitted.

The only thing that may be better than the original version is last year's rendition from "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," which you've probably seen, but just in case: watch and try not to cry from being tickled with joy.

There are, of course, a handful of honorable mentions, like Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" and Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means To Me" -- that's just good music, Christmas-themed or not. But that's where I draw the line. OK, I like "Feliz Navidad" too.

Oh, and one last thing: The Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" is not -- I repeat -- NOT a Christmas song. It's Peanuts' perennial theme. So there.

Do you love, hate or just deal with Christmas music? What's your favorite/most tolerable Christmas song?