It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The time for tree decorating, family gatherings, and sweet holiday tunes. In honor of the season, here are some of Halftime’s picks for the best holiday music to sing and dance along to as the year draws to a close.
“Hanukkah in Santa Monica” — Tom Lehrer
As a half-Jewish, half-Christian who was raised with a Christmas tree and a Menorah side by side, I was always so proud and lucky to have the best of both worlds. Twice the presents, twice the festivities, and a way to extend the holiday season with good reason. But there was one thing greatly lacking from my dual-religion holiday tradition: Hanukkah music.
Alas, I was introduced to “Hanukkah in Santa Monica,” a song that combines my beautiful home town and the eight craziest nights of December. I am still to this day convinced that my father wrote this song himself, or modeled his life after it due to how much he appreciated its musical ingenuity. The opening lines go, “I’m spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica, wearing sandals lighting candles by the sea / I spent Shavuos in East St. Louis; A charming spot but clearly not the spot for me.” My father migrated from St. Louis to Santa Monica, and celebrates Hanukkah, so this song is pretty much his biography.
Aside from its scary resemblance to my dad’s life story, “Hanukkah in Santa Monica” is a cheery, fun-filled tune that gave me the one thing I really needed growing up: A banging song for the SoCal Jews.
— Claire Goldberg
“Run Rudolph Run” — Chuck Berry
While the holidays are a great time to sit back and relax, there’s something exciting about the hustle and bustle of the season. Putting out decorations, shopping for gifts, baking, and preparing for visits with family and friends is just fine when soundtracked by Sinatra, and might even get a little swing in its step with “Jingle Bell Rock.” But if you really want to kick the doors off holiday preparations, then there is no better choice than Chuck Berry. He blasts off with a lick brighter than a string of Christmas lights, full of his signature bends and curled notes, before launching into a raucous bluesy shuffle with lyrics going as fast as a reindeer pulling a magic sleigh.The drums and percussive piano playing keep the song flying as fast as the McCallister family running through the airport in Home Alone. So, for two and a half minutes you can slow down by speeding up and rocking around the Christmas tree with pure old time rock ‘n’ roll fun mixed with all the joys of the season.
— Noah Telerski
“Give Love on Christmas Day” — The Temptations
If this soulful tune doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, you might actually be the Grinch! Stow away the Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé this winter and experience the old-timey sounds of Motown! Led by the angelic musical stylings of falsetto singer Glenn Leonard, this Yuletide carol from The Temptations perfectly encapsulates the magic of the holidays. Its pure messages of Christmas joy and respect for one another elicit a warm fuzziness in the hearts of listeners, recapturing a childhood hope and glee for the season. Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t reacquaint myself with this timeless holiday classic. Also, remember to make this song the motto of your life when you inevitably find yourself in stores and malls in the coming weeks. Save your money this year, and don’t participate in the rampant consumerism that plagues our capitalist institutions. Give love this holiday season, not presents! Not only will your pockets thank you, but your family and friends will too.
— Xavier Ruffin
“This Christmas” — Donny Hathaway
Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” is arguably the best Christmas song of all time. It’s got cheerful instrumentation, doesn’t have any of the weird sexual undertones of some Christmas music, and the jingle bells that play throughout are enough to get anyone in the Christmas spirit. All of that is not to mention that this song is incorporated into pretty much every black Christmas movie to ever exist. This is for good reason. “This Christmas” is one of the few Christmas songs that you can actually cut a rug to. What more could you possibly ask for? However, do not be fooled. There are many different versions and reiterations of this classic song, including one by Chris Brown and another by Christina Aguilera. But the best will always belong to Donny Hathaway.
— Kayla Hewitt
The holiday season hasn’t arrived until I’ve heard “Last Christmas” play on the radio. Whether it’s the original 80’s Wham! version, the Taylor Swift’s 2008 pop remake, or the Glee cast’s cover, this song is bound to play in the store’s audio system while I’m doing some last minute Christmas shopping. The lyrics revolve around a pretty straightforward unrequited love story, and they’re uncomplicated, catchy, and overly dramatic. The pop-like music is smooth and simple, providing just the right pacing and drum beats for dancing discreetly while walking by storefronts. The chorus is short and sweet, and it’s probably going to be playing in the back of a lot of minds until January. While it might not win the prize for most meaningful or complex Christmas song, it’s definitely my top pick for any group car karaoke for the holidays.
— Juliana Vaccaro de Souza
Sufjan Stevens has the best Christmas music, no contest. His raw talent for weaving pure emotion into music easily transfers to the holiday season. Over two albums, he has recorded one hundred songs, all in the name of capturing the multiplicity of the holiday experience. Are you a Christmas music purest? He’s got you covered. Are you looking for something new and different? Bam. Feel like wallowing during? There’s something for that too. There’s even a cover of “Alphabet St.” because why the hell not? Silver and Gold and Songs for Christmas are filled with delightful surprises and powerful emotions. You will never have the same listening experience twice. The spirit of reflection and exploration of all emotions is what sets this music apart. While most Christmas music revels in the excess of it all, Stevens chooses to give equal weight to those quieter, more pensive moments that give true meaning to the season. If tackling two giant volumes seems daunting to you, you can start here and here.
— Danielle Hewitt