Is it December already?
Over the years I’ve collected quite a bit of Christmas music—both English songs and instrumental albums—and I thought today would be a fitting time to share some of our favorites. As I discuss in How the Power of Music Nurtures Bilingual Ability, playing background music can have a very positive impact on a child’s language development, and Christmas is an ideal chance to keep CDs spinning in your home.
Of course, there are hundreds of choices when it comes to Christmas music—and even Santa Claus himself probably isn’t familiar with them all—but I offer our current top ten albums for your consideration. These are CDs that I play regularly throughout December, in both the house and the car, and can be enjoyed by the whole family. Maybe you’ll find some festive new music in this list to help ring in the holidays!
Below you’ll find our favorites, each with a brief description and a link to listening samples.
Raffi’s Christmas Album
If you’d like a great kid-friendly Christmas album—and one that’s perfect for English input—I highly recommend this CD from Raffi. A singer-songwriter from Canada, Raffi has long been one of the most popular children’s musicians in the English-speaking world. Here he sings much-loved Christmas songs in a warm, clear voice, backed by simple arrangements and a chorus of kids. A superb holiday album for the whole family!
Now That’s What I Call Christmas!
A cheesy title, but a terrific compilation of holiday music, both old and new. A two-disc set with 36 songs by various artists, the first CD features the classic versions of such tunes as “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” (My kids are partial to “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.”) The second CD consists of Christmas fare by contemporary artists, including John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and Celine Dion.
Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Christmas (instrumental album)
As a child, I loved the TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas”—it was an annual holiday rite in our house. This wonderful album of soft jazz, led by the remarkable pianist Vince Guaraldi, is the original soundtrack of that TV special. It’s nostalgic, joyful music that will put the whole family in a mellow Christmas mood.
Dave Koz & Friends: A Smooth Jazz Christmas
Speaking of joyful music, this album is the brightest, happiest Christmas CD we own. Dave Koz is one of the finest saxophonists around and he’s joined by a stellar group of musicians on both instrumental and vocal tracks. With a nice mix of upbeat tunes and softer songs (like the lovely “Get Here (For the Holidays”), this CD really shines.
George Winston: December (instrumental album)
If you’re not familiar with the pianist George Winston’s spare, beautiful music, then start right here with this classic album that captures the quiet beauty of winter better than anything else I’ve ever heard. Winston’s piano solos cast a mesmerizing spell and are perfect for a calm, contemplative mood. This is one of my all-time favorite CDs, in any genre. (And it’s great for overexcited kids!)
A Windham Hill Christmas (instrumental album) No listening samples available
From the Windham Hill Records label (which also releases George Winston’s work), this album is a collection of instrumental arrangements of traditional and popular Christmas carols, performed by a fine lineup of musicians. A CD full of peaceful, beautiful music, played on a variety of acoustic instruments, it’s another good choice for a quieter mood.
James Taylor at Christmas
I’ve been a big fan of James Taylor for many years and was excited when he finally released this Christmas album. An excellent blend of slower-tempo interpretations and upbeat pop-jazz arrangements (his rendition of “Jingle Bells” is not to be missed), featuring Taylor’s smooth, distinctive voice, this is super-hip holiday music for the whole family.
Sarah McLachlan: Wintersong
Sarah McLachlan is a gifted vocalist, and her Christmas album is a beautiful mix of traditional and contemporary holiday music, with some inventive arrangements. The tracks “River” and “Song For A Winter’s Night” are good examples of her evocative, graceful style, like a quiet snowfall.
Here’s Sarah McLachlan singing “River.”
Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas
Recorded in her prime, Mariah Carey sings traditional hymns and festive pop songs in a voice as glorious as any angel. Lively tunes, and moving ballads, this is a classic Christmas album that the whole family can enjoy.
Mehdi: Christmas Treasures (instrumental album)
A composer of instrumental and alternative music, Mehdi has made versions of traditional Christmas carols that are undeniably catchy, but his heavy use of synthesizers makes the arrangements kind of cheesy, too. Still, it’s fun, peppy music for the holidays and my kids bop about the house when it’s playing.