After a week of poring over entries to the our annual holiday playlist contest, we have a winner (or three). It’s no surprise that holiday traditions vary greatly, and this year’s batch of playlists was no different, representing a diverse sample of the holiday/Christmas music world.
Part of that diversity came from the fairly wide-open rules of the contest: Keep the list to 12 songs and consider the order the songs are played. People crafted soundtracks for many different aspects of the season. Some lists came loaded with more serious, reflective material; others offered music for spiking the eggnog.
Some entries stuck to a theme — religious, upbeat, secular and so on. Some came packed with tried and true classics, while others went decidedly nontraditional, choosing less-common interpretations of old songs, or just less-common songs all together.
The lists varied greatly, though there were a few songs that popped up more than once (or twice). Joni Mitchell’s “River” we popular, as were a few songs from last year’s She and Him album “A Very She & Him Christmas.” Several entries included Elvis and Bing Crosby songs. A few different versions of “Mele Kalikimaka” proved popular as well.
In the end, our team of judges couldn’t pick just one overall winner, so we called it a tie between two very different entries. A big thanks and happy holidays to everyone who entered.
First place (tie), by Tracy Leonard
This list mostly sticks to standards, but they’re good versions of them. Willie’s “Jingle Bells” goes down like a warm cup of cocoa, for example, and upbeat and slow tempos are well mixed, especially ending with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland.“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” Michael Bublé“If Every Day Was Like Christmas,” Elvis Presley“Mele Kalikimaka,” Bing Crosby“Jingle Bells,” Willie Nelson“Mistletoe and Holly,” Jack Jones“Feliz Navidad,” Jose Feliciano“Christmastime is Here,” Vince Guaraldi Trio“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Ella Fitzgerald“O Holy Night,” Linda Eder“The Christmas Waltz,” Frank Sinatra“Happy Holidays,” Andy Williams“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Judy Garland
Listen or subscribe on Spotify.
First place (tie), by Tim Mateer
Mateer went in a non-traditional direction, from the Latin Hanukkah jam “Ocho Kandelikas” to Lord Douglas Byron’s weirdo “Surfin’ Santa.” Perfect for a party.“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” The Dave Brubeck Quartet“’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” Art Carney“Señor Santa,” Y La Bamba“Ocho Kandelikas,” Kenny Ellis“Donde Esta Santa Claus?,” Guster“(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With the Bag,” Black Prairie“Cactus Christmas,” The Brian Setzer Orchestra“Christmas in the Sand,” Colbie Caillat“Surfin’ Santa,” Lord Douglas Byron“Mele Kalikimaka,” Don Ho“Feliz Navidad,” Los Straitjackets“Another Christmas Song,” Stephen Colbert
Listen or subscribe on Spotify.
Third place, Stennett Posey
A good mix of the classic (“Jingle Bell Rock”), the more contemporary (“All I Want for Christmas is You”), the soulful (Charles Brown, Elvis) and the somber (“The Little Drummer Boy”).“Jingle Bell Rock,” Bobby Helms“All I Want for Christmas is You,” Mariah Carey“Feliz Navidad,” Jose Feliciano“O Holy Night,” Neil Diamond“Santa Claus is Back in Town,” Dwight Yoakam“Please Come Home for Christmas,” Charles Brown“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Brenda Lee“If Every Day Was Like Christmas,” Elvis Presley“Holly Jolly Christmas,” Burl Ives“Santa Baby,” LeAnn Rimes“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Gene Autry“The Little Drummer Boy,” Johnny Cash
— Louisa Steggman, who says “since the invention of recorded sound, my family has been the best at compilations.” Steggman’s list includes Bach (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”), Nat King Cole (“The Happiest Christmas Tree”) and Aaron Neville (“Please Come Home for Christmas”).
— Jessica Ridge, for her pop-centric mix, including Wham! (“Last Christmas”), the Waitresses (“Christmas Wrapping”), and Everything But the Girl (“25th December”).
— Beth West, for her folk and acoustic-oriented take on holiday music, with Joni Mitchell (“River”), Fountains of Wayne (“Valley Winter Song”), Steve Earle (“Nothing But a Child”) and Slaid Cleaves (“One Good Year”).