Welcome to our most festive Five by Friday yet! Christmas is this weekend, and we’re excited to spend time with our family and celebrate. We’ve been mainlining Christmas carols (and cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies) all month, and this week we’ve decided to tell you about our favorites. As usual, we’ve avoided duplicates, but this time around we didn’t even have to deliberate. Please enjoy our selections and let us know your favorites in the comments!
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While I could easily have populated this entire list with just Pentatonix and Piano Guys covers (by far my two most favorited groups to cover Christmas carols), I gave myself two rules for making this list: no repeat artists, and no repeat songs. Otherwise you’d have gotten a bunch of Carol of the Bells covers and nothing else (sorry Trans-Siberian Orchestra).
Shoutout to the Homer Slockenheimer version of “O Holy Night,” which I allllllllmost included on this list because it’s not truly Christmas season until I listen to it (and laugh until I cry), but I decided to keep my list to legit versions instead of this (amazingly awful) parody.
5. “December Song,” Peter Hollens
This is a new favorite, and one of Peter Hollens’ few original songs. I loved its instantly memorable melody and beautiful lyrics the first time I listened to it, and have enjoyed it more each time after.
4. “Celtic Carol,” Lindsey Stirling
Lindsey Stirling covers are at their best when she’s allowed to put her unique twist on established tunes, infusing them with her infectious energy, and her Celtic Carol is a prime example. I love how she weaves together the different carols here, and how much happiness and light (sometimes literally) she brings to each of her videos.
3. “Carol of the Bells,” Pentatonix
I love nearly all of Pentatonix’s Christmas covers, but this is the one that started the obsession. I can’t get enough of their spin on the classic Carol of the Bells, and have listened to this one more times than I can count.
2. “All I Want for Christmas is You,” Chase Holfelder
I only feel “meh” about the Mariah Carey original of this song, but I am completely obsessed with Chase Holfelder’s grunge-y minor-key cover. Especially the part at the end where he holds the youuuuuuuuu layered over the “all I want for Christmas is you baby”s. I may sometimes listen to just that part on repeat. No shame.
1. “Angels We Have Heard on High,” The Piano Guys
Absolutely everything about this cover is stunning, and I can’t help but feel overcome with holiday cheer each time I listen to it. Utter perfection.
I have a serious Christmas music problem. Right now, I have a playlist on my phone with over 800 songs and it plays non-stop from Thanksgiving to New Years. Every year I check out the new releases and usually end up buying at least one or two new albums (this year’s was the amazing Leslie Odom Jr.’s Christmas album, a purchase which I absolutely do not regret). So, it was quite the challenge to select my top five favorite versions out of all those songs. But somehow I did, and while I apologize to those who were left off (“Mary’s Boy Child” by Harry Belafonte, “All I want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey, and “Ave Maria” by Josh Groban, just to name a few), these five earned their spot.
5. “Mary Did You Know,” Pentatonix
This is the newest release to make my list, but Pentatonix hit this song out of the park in 2014 and it quickly topped all other versions.
4. “Joy to the World,” Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Our family has a policy of not playing any Christmas music in the house until after Santa arrives in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But as soon as he arrives, this is the first CD that we put on, and when those opening trumpet notes ring out through the house it immediately feels like Christmas to me.
3. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” 98 Degrees
This is such a classic Christmas Carol, but the boys of 98 Degrees made it their own with the slow, deep tones they use. It’s an absolutely enchanting version and it still gives me chills when I listen to it.
2. “Silent Night,” Sister Hazel
“Silent Night” has long been my favorite Christmas Carol to sing. I have fond memories of singing it in church on Christmas Eve with the lights off and the candles lit, the nativity scene on stage barely visible in the flicking candlelight. I’ve loved many versions of this song, but it’s the Sister Hazel version that can practically bring me to tears with the opening chords.
1. “O Holy Night,” ‘N SYNC
I have a weakness for a capella music and a weakness for boybands, which is why this song ranks so high on my list. I used to not be the biggest fan of “O Holy Night,” as it was typically sung by loud and powerful sopranos and I just never connected with it. But this version got me. I listen to it on a loop multiple times over the weeks leading up to Christmas.
I’m notorious for being the last to add to the Five by Fridays almost every single time, and what that usually means is that Sarah and Lauren have inevitably picked at least something I was hoping to snag for my own list. But not this time! Due probably to my first-generation upbringing more than anything else, some of my favorites are songs that I’m betting neither Sarah nor Lauren has heard. So as not to be the weird alienating European at the bottom of the list, though, I’ve declared to myself that I am only allowed two foreign numbers. My apologies to Finland for leaving out like, everything.
5) “Silent Night Medley,” Hanson
Way back in 1997, I was 13 years old and a massive teenybopper. I only ever took minor sides in the BSB vs ‘NSYNC wars (I still maintain that NSYNC had better singles, but BSB have the better overall discography), I ate up the Spice Girls first album like it was candy, and when Hanson showed up, I was exactly the right person to fall right into the craze. When they released their Christmas album, Snowed In, you can bet I bought it. This medley is hands down the best song on that album, and is the one track from that album that really persists in my Christmas shuffle from year to year. It combines “Silent Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “O Holy Night” in a glorious mashup, and in all honesty, it’s probably the best thing they ever did (until maybe Mmmhops).
4) Heinillä Härkien Kaukalon
Here’s the first of my two Finnish additions to this list. You may not know too much about Finland, but it’s probable that you know Finnish people are really into heavy metal. So into it that their heavy metal artists have been pulled together to create a Christmas album, Raskasta Joulua. This track is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time (it’s actually a French carol, “Entre le boeuf et l ‘âne gris”), and I really love this arrangement of it, not only for the awesome musical styling, but also because there’s just something so damned Finnish about it that I can’t help but love it.
3) “Mary Did You Know,” Straight No Chaser
This is definitely the most recent addition to my list of favorites, but boy did it shoot up the list fast. I saw Straight No Chaser live a month ago (seriously, just a month ago) and they performed this a cappella version of “Mary Did You Know” and when they were done I had tears all over my face. It’s amazing.
2) “O Holy Night,” Josh Groban
Josh Groban has one of the most beautiful voices in the world and “O Holy Night” is my favorite (English) Christmas carol of all time, so the combination of the two is pure magic. I am convinced that Josh Groban was put on this earth to sing us Christmas songs, and this song is one of the reasons why.
1) “Sylvian Joululaulu,” Turku University Choir
This is my favorite Christmas song of all time. It’s a beautiful, melancholy story about homesickness, and as such it’s probably your one guaranteed shot at making a Finn cry. We’re a stoic people who keep our cards close to our chest, and this song is often lauded as Finland’s most beautiful Christmas carol. For the curious, I’ve found a translation here. And I’ll admit without shame that just putting together this part of my Five by Friday has gotten me a little leaky in the eyes.