I’m all for Christmas traditions. My family spends every Christmas Eve eve decorating cookies with homemade icing. Every Christmas Eve, we sit in a circle in my grandma’s living room and sing Christmas carols.
But, I have to say I quickly tire of hearing the same traditional Christmas songs over and over everywhere I go for a month.
Instead, I like to listen to Christmas music that isn’t so overplayed. I put together a list of seven of them. Some are old and some are new. Four are happy, and three are sad. You most likely aren’t tired of hearing them (yet).
‘Christmas Tree Farm’ by Taylor Swift
“So, I’ve just written a Christmas song,” Taylor Swift announced in a selfie video this month. Dressed in a festive sweater, she proceeded to ask her three cats if she should release the song. The consensus? Yes. Yes, of course. “Christmas Tree Farm” swiftly came out and, to the delight of Swifties, was accompanied by a music video full of childhood footage of the pop star playing on the Christmas tree farm she grew up on. Videos of little Taylor go perfectly with lyrics like, “Just being in your arms/takes me back to that little farm.” “Christmas Tree Farm” is bright and theatrical and begs you to sing along when Swift bellows, “And you would be there, too!” To be fair, this just came out so it hasn’t had a chance to be annoyingly overplayed. I don’t see myself getting annoyed by this one, though. It’s sure to be included on Christmas playlists for years to come.
‘Come Thou Fount’ by Penny and Sparrow
When Penny & Sparrow put their harmonies together on anything, I’m listening. The duo put out a collection of covers called “Christmas Songs” in 2016. Along with versions of “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” Penny & Sparrow start and end the album with covers of one of my favorite hymns, “Come Thou Fount.” Their whispery singing calls on you to really listen to the words, which have for more than two centuries prompted reflection.
‘Love in the Winter’ by Miki Ratsula
The singer-songwriter Miki Ratsula has a small, but strong, following on YouTube, where she has for years shared covers, like Gotye’s “Somewhere Only We Know.” Her original acoustic music is even more worth listening to and that includes her latest release, “Love in the Winter.” In a behind-the-scenes video, Ratsula said she wrote the holiday-themed love song, inspired by her girlfriend, in one night. This is my nomination for best lyric: “Here comes December/perfect on time/season for kissing lips stained in red wine.”
‘Hard Candy Christmas’ by Cyndi Lauper
Warning: Your Christmas cheer will temporarily disappear while listening to Dolly Parton list all the things — learn to sew or get drunk on apple wine? — she might do to distract her from being sad on Christmas. It’s the perfect amount of melancholy and more melancholy. I’d venture to say Parton’s version isn’t overplayed (or played entirely enough), but, just in case, there’s Cyndi Lauper’s lesser- known version to put on your list.
‘River’ by Lissie
Joni Mitchell’s songs are among the most difficult to cover, as Brandi Carlile noted when she played the entirety of “Blue” in front of Mitchell this year. Lissie, the folk/rock singer/songwriter from Iowa, handles the task with ease. She covered the Christmas-set “River” in 2016 and included it on her acoustic album, “Live at Union Chapel.” You shouldn’t just listen to this heartbreak song disguised with references to trees and reindeers as a Christmas song. You should also watch Lissie’s performance to fully see the emotion she throws into “River.”
‘Glittery’ by Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves isn’t known for putting out the happiest of vibes. For 2016’s “A Very Kacey Christmas” album, for example, she wrote “Christmas Makes Me Cry.” But that was before Musgraves fell in love and things changed. Musgraves channeled more happy than sad in a new Christmas special, where she debuted the original song, “Glittery.” She teamed up with Troye Sivan on the flirty tune that includes cute, but not-too-corny lines, like, “I love the way you decorate my heart.” If you’re looking for another happy holiday tune by Musgraves, listen to her collaboration with Willie Nelson. It’s called “A Willie Nice Christmas.”
‘Lonely Christmas’ by Now, Now
When the idea for this song came to Now, Now singer KC Dalager, she was crying in her car while listening to Christmas music on the radio. “The world around me was sparkling and cheerful but I couldn’t feel it,” she said in a statement to Stereogum. “Lonely Christmas” doesn’t sound traditionally Christmassy at all. The synth-pop tune carries on a tradition of longing-for-love Christmas songs. Dalager said she’s a fan of the freedom of Christmas music. “Nothing is too much. Nothing is too far. Nothing is too joyous. Nothing is too desperate,” she said. “I can openly plead with someone to not break my heart in the name of Christmas.”