Ah, the holidays. Either you love Christmas music or you hate it, but I think we can all appreciate the strange variety of holiday music and the fact that it has it’s own distinct sound that continues to stay the same year after year regardless of where the Top 40 hits are at, not unlike the fascinatingly stagnant world of Contemporary Christian music. Maybe there’s a correlation there, but we’ll talk about that later. (Maybe when I tell you why Imagine Dragons’ Smoke + Mirrors is the greatest Contemporary Christian album of this decade.)
Anyway. Moving on.
No December is complete without a weird holiday variety show, however, so I present to you today Manda’s Absurd Holiday Special, wherein I recount some of my favorite Christmas (and Hanukkah) songs from a wide variety of genres and quality. Some of these will be legitimately good. Some might be scary. So grab your egg nog and your funny hat, and let’s do this thing.
Overture: “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” – *NSYNC
Ah, yes, this Christmas gem from… 1998, Google reminds me. Look, it is impossible for me to remember all of this song. All I remember of it when I think of it is the endlessly looping “Merry Christmas, happy holidays. Merry Christmas, happy holidays.” Forever, over and over, like some clip from a re-imagined A Christmas Story that never aired. It’s a great song, though, that really helps you embrace your inner boy band member and/or millennium-era tween self and really just enjoy the holidays. See what I mean about the “signature sound” of Christmas? *NSYNC captured it well. Bravo, boys. This one has circulated long enough to become part of the regular line-up.
Act I: “Oh, Holy Night” – Leon Russell
Why isn’t this the overture, Manda? You’re probably thinking. Because Leon Russell and his magnificent Gandalf beard are incredible enough to merit a better spot, even though this track is only instrumental. Also, this is my absurd holiday special, dangit, and I will place the majestic Leon Russell wherever I damn well please. Anyway, I have nothing else to say about this. Just enjoy staring at Leon’s beard while you enjoy the sounds of a time gone by, and wonder what happened to that budget synth/electric keyboard you received for Christmas when you were seven.
Act II: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings” – Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan
The Barenaked Ladies are known for their absurd lyrics and sound, and given the first two entries on this list you’re probably expecting something weird, but hear me out? This song is actually, legitimately amazing. I love “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” probably more than the average person, and “We Three Kings” is alright, but they’re two songs that can turn into a dirge when the wrong carolers get a hold of them. The upbeat acoustic rhythm really breathes new life into these classics, and it’s become one of my absolute favorites.
Act III: “Christmas Time’s A-Comin'” – Dolly Parton
I do not know what my fascination with this song is, but I heard someone sing it live when I was like ten years old and it just glued itself to my brain. The very idea of a country Christmas song seems to be an anomaly since most are just twangy covers of classics, but this one is either amazing if you like classic country or a complete trainwreck if you aren’t a country fan. So, basically, either way you win.
Act IV: “Candlelight” – The Maccabeats
Remember way back four terrible songs ago when I told you that there would at least be SOME good music and there WOULD be Hanukkah music? Okay, now is your time. These handsome boys make up The Maccabeats, who release new Hanukkah themed (and other Jewish holiday themed!) cover songs every year, and “Candlelight” is an instant classic. Okay, so when I said “good music” you probably weren’t expecting acapella Jewish cover songs, but you’re loving it, right? Of course you are. Also, every good holiday special needs a decent Hanukkah song. It would just be improper without them.
Act V: “Oh Santa” – Veggie Tales
I see you trying to scroll past this one. What are you doing? This song is amazing. Sure, it’s a bunch of animated vegetables singing a song aimed at children, but it’s also super catchy, hilarious, and gets a little too real when someone from the IRS shows up mid-song. Yes. A vegetable who works for the IRS. This song is ridiculous, and it’s going to be stuck in your head until New Years. You’re welcome.
Finale: “Jingle Bells?” – Barbara Streisand
Clocking it at just under two minutes, this song has been an absolute gem of the holiday season as long as I can remember, and until I saw this track list I didn’t even realize it was “Jingle Bells?” with a question mark. Which seems appropriate, because this ultra sped up weird half-mash up of a winter classic by everyone’s favorite Broadway songstress. I love this song. It’s such a weird version, it’s a little too caffeinated, and as an added bonus it annoys my mother to no end. It’s ridiculousness is the perfect end to any holiday special or party: seriously, just loop this thing and after the first enjoyment of it people will start exiting.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s Absurd Holiday Special, and I invite you all to share your favorite obscure or eclectic Christmas, Hanukkah, or Winter songs in the comments. I would love to hear them, and maybe they’ll make an appearance during next year’s holiday special.
If you had a favorite song on this list, be sure to leave a comment, too! I’d love to know which ones you loved the most!