If you walk around any shopping district this time of year and you’ll find trees decorated with shimmering ornaments, wreaths adorned with winter berries and evergreen leaves, and window displays heavy on the icicle lights.

And, if it’s an upscale area with a sound system, there will likely be holiday music playing in the background.

The proliferation of holiday and Christmas albums can be overwhelming at times. It seems as though every modern musician has his or her own album covering classic holiday carols or adding a unique song celebrating the season to the Christmas song dictionary.

Of course, not all holiday albums are created equal. Some of these albums are more festive, more original or simply better arranged than others. To help you musically navigate this holiday season, the following is a compilation of five of my favorite holiday albums.

  1. Best Classic: The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole croons his way through The Christmas Song, creating an instant classic in “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You).” Cole’s baritone is smooth and hearty, ideal for both classic carols like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and modern takes on celebrating the holidays, like the giddy “The Happiest Christmas Tree.” Often accompanied by choir-like background vocals, Cole’s songs sound like the ideal soundtrack to every holiday party I ever have and ever will attend.

Honorable Mention: Merry Christmas, Bing Crosby

  1. Best Alternative: Songs For Christmas, Sufjan Stevens

When listening to Songs for Christmas, you might forget you’re listening to an album with the word “Christmas” in the title. And while this may seem off-putting, the ability of Sufjan Stevens to sing holiday songs that don’t make you want to hide your yule logs and spit out your eggnog is impressive. “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” touches on the reality that the holiday season isn’t always joyous and spending time with family and friends isn’t always perfect, a refreshing touch of reality in a holiday album.

Honorable Mention: A Very She & Him Christmas, She & Him

  1. Best Soundtrack: Elf

Zooey Deschanel (of the aforementioned She & Him) beautifully sings “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in one of the funniest scenes of the movie in which she unwittingly duets with Will Ferrell as Buddy The Elf. Elf’s soundtrack also includes classic’s like Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sleigh Ride” and Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby.” A well-rounded holiday album representing both the new and the old of holiday music, Elf’s soundtrack unites the movie’s charming childlike-wonder with its festive humor.

Honorable Mention: The Polar Express

  1. Best Pop: Merry Christmas, Mariah Carey

I mean, of course. If you haven’t ever gleefully sung along to “All I Want for Christmas is You,” something’s wrong. But, besides the obvious smash hit “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a holiday classic for the ages. Both romance and the holidays have their place in Mariah Carey’s album celebrating all of the good feelings of the season. This album is filled with happy, joyful pop — perfect for a holiday party, or as I do, playing as loud as possible while driving.

Honorable Mention: Under the Mistletoe, Justin Bieber

  1. Best Newcomer: A Swingin’ Little Christmas, Jane Lynch

That’s right. Not only is Jane Lynch, your favorite villain from Glee, still alive and well, she made a holiday album. Featuring Kate Flannery and Tim Davis with The Tony Guerrero Quintet, this album is heavy on the saxophone, which injects a jazzy sound. It’s upbeat, but not overly saccharine; it’s traditional, but not afraid to add its own spin. “Jingle Bells,” featuring Lynch on the refrain, is a well-paced version of the classic complete with lovely harmony and accompaniment from the group.

Honorable Mention: A Pentatonix Christmas

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Katrina Schmidt is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at schmidtk@terpmail.umd.edu.

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