Music for Your Winter Break

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This time of year is awesome. The lights, the gatherings, the sugar-rich pastries. A warm glow emanates from everything. It’s all so festive, and communal, and comforting. I love Christmas, even if it’s not really my holiday. I celebrate a traditional Jewish Christmas which involves sleeping late, going to the movies, then capping the whole thing off with dinner at a Chinese restaurant. They’ve never made a Chevy Chase movie about it, but it’s kind of a big day for us.

Still, I understand that Christmas is about so much more than movies and Chinese food. I’ve had the pleasure of observing the holiday from an outsider’s perspective my whole life. Consider me a fan.

I don’t have a tree in my house but it’s a beautiful concept, so luminous and mirthful — a touch of the outdoors when the cold forces you inside for long stretches of time. And the occasions to gather are many and joyous. Work slows down, school is in recess, and opportunities abound to wear pajamas late into the day. From Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, we all get to chill in this little sugar-plum fairy fantasy before the stagnant desolation of winter sets in.

So I mean it when I say that I really, truly appreciate Christmas. I love what it represents. I look forward to watching Home Alone, and to a slightly lesser extent, Home Alone 2. I’ll take my family for long, cheerful drives to look at the lights in the fancy neighborhoods. I decorate the house with cookie tins and snow globes featuring relatively secular reindeer. I’m not averse to a shot of eggnog now and then.

So please understand that I say this with the utmost of respect for this holiday and its celebrants. There is no excuse for inviting people over to your house and putting on a Michael Bublé album just because it’s Christmas. The fact that it’s Christmas doesn’t make it OK to play the David Bowie/Bing Crosby version of “Little Drummer Boy.” (They should never have recorded it, and you should never listen to it.) And I’m sorry. I say this with the deepest and most humble reverence for Sir Paul McCartney, but “Wonderful Christmastime”….dude, you were a Beatle. You’re better than that.

To be clear, some Christmas music is amazing. While Paul was cooking up this earwormy mattress-sale jingle, John Lennon was putting out stuff like “Happy X-Mas (War Is Over).” I’m not the kind of guy to pit two Beatles against one another, but you be the judge. (I’ve included two solid bonus tracks from George and Ringo, both to make up for the terrible Paul tune and because, y’know…shoutout to George and Ringo).

Anyway, this is not at all intended as a rant against Christmas music in general, which when done right is perfectly evocative of the season’s glow, luminousity, merriment and all that other great stuff. In fact, my purpose is quite the opposite. I’m here to praise and celebrate Christmas music to highlight that which is best while punishing, by exclusion, those artists who simply choose to suspend taste and standards for this one special time of year. Nuts to that. This time of year deserves better.

Depending on the scope of your winter vacation, you’ve got anywhere from one to two weeks of free time at your disposal. You’ll need a soundtrack. It should be something that captures the spirit of the season without sliding too deeply into holiday treacle. I mean, some treacle is cool. It’s a sappy time oozing with love and sentiment, and we support that. But it should be at least musically tolerable.

Back when I was in college at Rutgers, I was hooked on WPRB, the free-form radio station broadcasting from nearby Princeton University. It was there that I discovered an amazing guy named Jon Solomon (even interviewed him for my school paper back in the day). Solomon was best known for his annual twenty-five-hour Christmas Eve/Day marathon. He celebrated Christmas music while rebelling against the generally saccharine and often insipid nature of the music that bombards you while you’re shopping. The basic premise of the show is “Christmas Songs That Don’t Suck.” For this, the twenty-ninth consecutive year, Solomon will undertake the mission of proving that it is entirely possible to make a playlist of winter holiday songs that is at once both celebratory and cool.

I intend with this playlist to achieve a similar effect. With the winter break up ahead, I want to make sure you have access to the right kind of winter music, the kind that inspires good cheer, that laps at the heart strings like a crackling fire, that twinkles like snowflakes dancing on a light post; as opposed to the kind of music that makes you feel like you’re waiting in the gift return line at Target behind the guy who’s arguing about the company’s pretty clearly stated policy on bicycle shorts that have been worn for more than a year and in front of the kid who keeps jamming the cart into your ankles while the mother says literally nothing. You’re on vacation. You don’t need that.

We’re here to make sure you stay in your happy place.

Below is a playlist of hearth-friendly fare to get you through your holiday, a collection of songs undisciplined by genre, varying in mood and length, and containing only Christmas songs that don’t suck.

And because Spotify gives you the power to do whatever you want, we invite you as always to borrow our playlist and use it to build your own. Add, subtract, or alter at your pleasure, or simply throw this one on shuffle and let us do the work.

Enjoy, and we’ll catch up with you after the holidays!

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