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Christmas Music That Doesn't Suck

Christmas can be tough. Though often considered "the most wonderful time of the year," the holiday season brings significant challenges for many, who are far from loved ones, or have recently lost a loved one, and it can be pretty rough--and sometimes being close to family can actually be the rough part. 

Whatever the reason, when the holiday season is trying, it doesn't help that the music surrounding us is often just terrible. Not merely 'not great.' Terrible. I'm talking "Last Christmas," "Wonderful Christmastime," terrible. 

But despair not, in this sea of awful music, pumped into the air incessantly around us for another couple of weeks, there are a few shining beacons: Christmas music that is actually a pleasant experience, maybe even uplifting or joyful, that has the potential to get you into the holiday spirit in the best and most genuine ways. Here is some not merely palatable, but truly enjoyable Christmas music, to help brighten up your holiday season:

Sufjan Stevens has released two epic sets of music for the holidays: 'Songs for Christmas' and 'Silver & Gold', both of which are terrific. They're an eclectic mixture of somber, haunting carols and bizarre, upbeat reinterpretations of old classics that makes for an exciting musical journey that will have you crying and laughing in the span of a few minutes. Both sets are quite long, with over two hours of music each. (The best part about that is that you can pick and choose your favorite tracks to create your own, personal Sufjan Christmas playlist. And everyone needs one of those, obviously.)

While an album for an animated Christmas special may seem like a peculiar thing to recommend, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' by the Vince Guaraldi Trio is truly an exceptional work. A mostly instrumental album, it features three talented jazz musicians tearing up some of the best Christmas songs, and playing a few beautiful originals written specifically for the animated special. Guaraldi was both a successful pianist and arranger, which is quite apparent on this album. One specific reason I enjoy it so much is because the arrangements are comforting and soothing. It invites you to sit back, relax, and really get cozy. 

 Last for now is Ella Fitzgerald's 'Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas'. This is definitely the most traditional presentation of Christmas music here, but if you're going to listen to anyone croon Christmas classics, it should be the First Lady of Song. Most Christmas albums are extremely over-sung, which is primarily what makes them unappealing in the first place (think of Mariah Carey yelling that all she wants for Christmas is you for three-and-a-half minutes, and you'll know what I mean). Ella has such a light, velvety touch when she sings, it perfectly complements the musical material. Her voice is simply one of the greatest ever to be recorded, and if you are hosting a party or setting the mood for a Christmas date, this is a perfect choice. 

I hope that this music, especially if you are having a hard time or feeling cynical or unhappy, convinces you that there is Christmas music out there worth listening to. One note of caution: the most important element for enjoying Christmas music through the whole season is moderation. It's easy to overdo it, so listen responsibly. Happy Holidays!