It’s the mooost wonderful time of the year! I absolutely adore the Christmas season. It’s like our world gets a bit more grace as it patiently waits for December 25. And of course, as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are done, I bust out my trusty Christmas playlist and start blasting all of my holiday favorites! Since it is Christmas after all, I thought to tell you about my favorite – and most unusual – musical selections. Read on for the best Christmas music you don’t have.

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I pride myself on trying to encourage all different genres in all of my music recommendations. I’m a music educator by trade, so I guess I consider it part of my job! You can read more about the importance of music with children here.

The Best Christmas Music You Don't Have - Real Simple Mama

Ok so the “12 Days of Christmas” single on Reliant K’s holiday album Let It Snow Baby… Let It Reindeer is some of the best Christmas music because it takes a classic and puts an original spin on it. “Well what’s a partridge? And what’s a pear tree? Well I dunno so please don’t ask me. But I can bet those are terrible gifts to get!” 

I honestly don’t remember where I first heard Darius Rucker but I absolutely love his voice. And his “Candy Cane Christmas” single is fantastic. It’s a bit cheesy but on the romantic cuddly Christmas side, and it’s original. (And we all know how hard it is to find original Christmas songs that don’t suck.)

The entirety of the Chanticleer Christmas album is just gorgeous. I love playing a capella music like chant when I’m doing something strenuous or tedious, like writing a thousand Christmas cards. Every Chanticleer recording I’ve ever heard, including Beibl’s Ave Maria (which is my favorite piece of music of all time) is vocal perfection. They are just incredible performers and their arrangers do an amazing job too. Bonus: play choral music like this when your kids are overtired, or hyper. It’s calming and encourages their little ears to focus in and listen. Definitely a mood-changer in our house!

Chris McDonald Orchestra has an amazing big band holiday album called In the Mood for Christmas. This two-disc set is not Benny Goodman’s jazz band! These musicians are all ridiculously talented, and the arrangements sometimes make me laugh out loud, they’re so clever. If you like quality instrumental big band, check out these guys. I look forward to listening to this CD all year – some of the best Christmas music, for sure!

Curtis Stephan always writes incredible music for Christian audiences; he has a natural talent and a pure voice, as well as playing multiple instruments. (I should know, I grew up in his parish and he was my confirmation sponsor!). His holiday album Born to Us is some of the best Christmas music I can think of, because it keeps my heart in focus of the real reason for the season. “Welcome to Our World” always makes me cry in the best way.

Steve Schuch and the Night Heron Consort have such gorgeous instrumental arrangements that I can’t wait to get more of their stuff! Right now I just have their Celtic Celebrations 2 album, which I adore. It’s really refreshing to hear some familiar Christmas music with traditional celtic instruments; but what I love is learning the original songs. This album is what inspired this article listing the best Christmas music – I want everyone to know about this CD!

Diana Krall is one of my musician crushes: she’s so damn talented, as an arranger/writer and a pianist and a vocalist. Gah! I hate people who are good at stuff. And her album Christmas Songs is fantastic – it’s all the classics you love in a classy jazz setting. I just started listening to her a few years ago and I adore all of her work!

Last but certainly not least, I have to put the Swingin’ Barnyard Christmas album on here. I just found this by chance a few weeks ago and I instantly yelled “I must get this!” to my husband. It’s all your favorite holiday songs with animals on the farm! My personal favorite, of course, is “Chicken Feed Bluegrass as Jingle Bells.” (Spoiler alert, my husband was less-than-thrilled.)

And of course I have to add some selections that are “Christmas standards” around our house – if you don’t have this music, you should get it ASAP!

The Charlie Brown Christmas album by pianist and composer Vince Guaraldi is the first thing in my holiday playlist. I can’t help but smile when I hear the first track, the intro to “O Tannenbaum.” The tracks include the kids singing from the cartoon movie, as well as the original Charlie Brown theme, of course!

While it’s true that Michael Buble has a lot of Christmas music out, his album simply titled “Christmas” is my favorite. I love his rendition of tunes like “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas“, as well as the original “Cold December Night.”

The Mannheim Steamroller name is famous for amazing Christmas music all the way back to the 80s. I grew up with their albums as a soundtrack for my family’s Christmas season. The Fresh Aire Christmas album is what I must listen to while we decorate the tree.

The Muppet Christmas Carol soundtrack has to be on this list too! This movie makes me so happy, and my whole family – even my grinch of a husband – know all the words to every song. Hearing Sir Michael Caine and Kermit sing together will do your heart good.

The Nutcracker is a holiday staple in a lot of households – but do your kids know the story behind some of the best Christmas music? The recording I have is from the National Philharmonic Orchestra and it’s wonderful.

Additionally, your kids can see the full “movie” ballet of the Nutcracker, narrated by Kevin Kline, which was done in 1993 with the New York City Ballet, on YouTube below. This is a big kindergarten lesson I’d do in December, complete with ballet lessons and some bits of history thrown in! Plus, you millenials may get a kick out of the Nutcracker actor. (Sorry for the pixelation!)

Happy listening this holiday season! Let me know what selections I need to add to this list so that I can really make it the best Christmas music hub for families!

And be sure that you check out my holiday movie guide that’s safe and fun for the whole family!

The Best Christmas Music You Don't Have - Real Simple Mama