9 Of The Very Best Non-Religious Holiday Songs Ever

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear -- it's in the code of the elves so you know it's true.

As soon as Thanksgiving was over, I had the local Christmas station set on the radio and Elf on the television. Actually, maybe those things are related, given the third article of the Code of the Elves:

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

I'm not a particularly good singer so I pretty much just sing in my car on the way to and from work. And I sing to the dog when I'm home alone. And, uh, any time there's holiday decorating going on. The point is that while I appreciate a gorgeous religious carol despite my own agnosticism, what I really love is a good time of a holiday song, something that I can hear at a holiday party or play while I'm wrapping presents without there being a lot of heavy church stuff going on.

(There's a discussion here about how Christmas became a mainstream secular holiday versus just a religious one but it's the weekend and I respect the folks for whom it's very much a religious holiday. I'm just not that person.)

There's a ton of holiday music on my playlist but these are what I've played the most in the first 5 days of December.

I promise this list does not include that damn Christmas Shoes song. Because if you took my cummulative love for all other Christmas music you would only possibly have an amount equivalent to my hatred of that song.

What can I say, the holidays bring out strong emotions.

1. Dolly Parton's Hard Candy Christmas

If you've never watched "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas," I understand because it came out in 1982 and it's Burt Reynolds who is one of the most mysterious sex symbols ever to me because really? But it's also got Charles Durning as an amazingly corrupt politician doing a literal song and dance about politics. This is also the movie where Dolly Parton sings the original version of "I Will Always Love You" (Whitney Houston's version was on every radio everywhere when "The Bodyguard" came out).

I'm getting off track. "Hard Candy Christmas" comes at the point of the movie when the Chicken Ranch has been shut down and all of the girls are going to have to go their separate ways. It's actually kind of sad, in direct contradiction to what I said above about good time holiday songs, but it's ultimately about getting through the hard times and not letting sorrow bring you down, whatever that takes.

2. Willie Nelson's Frosty the Snowman

As a general rule, "Frosty the Snowman" strikes me as a grim and cruel reminder of the futility of affection -- OK, not really, but that would have made an amazing paper in, like, Freshman Composition 102. Even so, I was always really angry, even as a kid, that Frosty disappears at the end of the song, because he's melting. I mean, maybe the song is some complex commentary on mortality and the ephemeral nature of childhood pleasure but that's not what I'm looking for in a Christmas carol.

Of course, then Willie Nelson covered it. And there's brushy drums and his voice and, OK, fine, I like his version of this song and no other. It's a short song but it's not rushed and maybe that's part of why it's so enjoyable. It's like a meditation on Frosty's promise to come back again some day -- there's implied magic there.

3. Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You

Look, there is zero chance that I'm going to compile a list of holiday music that I love and not include something from Mariah Carey's holiday album. I don't even like Mariah Carey's music as a general rule but she knows how to kill it during the holiday season. The jingle bells are perfect in the background. Also, unlike "Please Come Home For Christmas" (which is also a great song, no lie), this is a song about not being with your loved one for the holidays but it isn't maudlin. There's a place for maudlin. But I don't always want to walk away from a Christmas carol wanting a sympathetic drink.

Also, how great would it be if Mariah Carey and Billy Idol did a verion of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" as a duet? I'd pay top dollar for that. Well, at least I'd pay $1.29, which is what it would cost me on iTunes. Someone needs to jump on this and make it happen.

4. The Piano Guys' Carol Of The Bells

This is the opposite of my "Frosty The Snowman" situation -- which is to say that I like every version of this song except one and that one version is by John Tesh. That version needs to never be on the radio when I'm listening to it. The Trans Siberian Orchestra version is pretty hot and I usually just go with that but I'm really enjoying this version for cello.

Also, the guy just looks so happy to be playing the cello in the middle of the snow. People are precious and wonderful. As a bonus, I'm including this link to one of my favorite versions with vocals, which is from the Home Alone soundtrack.

5. Ru Paul's All I Want For Christmas

Ru Paul has a Christmas album. It's exactly what you expect it to be.

6. Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)

Who am I to fight the classics? I'm not going to fight Nat King Cole singing this song, OK? If my holiday spirit starts to slip, this is the song that fixes pretty much everything. I've been known to tear up when it comes on and I'm particularly emotional at the moment.

Ugh, I'm always emotional about this song. It's like super concentrated holiday spirit and if you get it in your eye you can't help but turn squinty and watery a little bit. I stand by that.

7. Thurl Ravenscroft's "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch"

"You have termites in your smile" is the very best insults ever. I can't fully acknowledge the live-action movie that happened because the horror of it makes me want to cry but the cartoon is a holiday season staple. I think my love of the Grinch worried my mom -- I was similarly enamored of the Grouch on Sesame Street and other curmudgeonly characters who had good hearts.

I still believe in personal redemption though I think it's a lot of hard work that has to take place over time -- trust that is broken cannot be easily repaired. So while the Grinch carving the roast beast is a start, it's only a start. He'd better be making some hardcore, high-quality amends with the Whos down in Whoville.

8. The Ronettes' Sleigh Ride

There's something pretty great about listening to songs about snow while I ride around with my windows down and my sunroof open. And I love listening to this when Ed is in the car because it's like we're taking a sleigh ride together except it's Florida and there's palm trees and stuff.

Also we're usually just on our way to Walgreens instead of taking a romantic drive or anything but we take our moments where we can find them. And if you can't have a moment when there's sleigh bells jingling and horses whineying, I don't know when you can have a moment.

9. Wendy & Lisa's The Closing Of The Year

"Toys" is a weird movie, not super highly rated by critics. Robin Williams does not start out likable at all and the humor is not particularly child appropriate throughout even though it's a movie about a toy company. But I love it and watch it every single year at Christmas.

I guess this another movie about a cynic who finds his heart -- because the only way to fight what Robin Williams is dealing with is to become less jaded. That's really why I love Christmas; it's a very hopeful and genuine time for me even though there's plenty of difficult moments during the holidays.

No matter what you're doing this holiday season (if you're celebrating or not and if you're celebrating something completely other than Christmas or not celebrating that either), I hope you're well. And I'm so glad you're spending the weekend with me.