10 holiday songs to explore the meaning of the season

What does holiday music mean to you?

10-holiday songs that you should know. This list contains songs that we know and some we may not be familiar with as a reflection of what the holidays can mean to different people. Graphic made in Canva by Mercy Sosa.

Mercy Sosa

10-holiday songs that you should know. This list contains songs that we know and some we may not be familiar with as a reflection of what the holidays can mean to different people. Graphic made in Canva by Mercy Sosa.

Most people associate certain feelings with the festive winter months. Over the years, those feelings become intertwined with the sights, sounds and smells we experienced during that time. 

Holiday music is defined by its relationship to our emotions and the tunes serve as a catalyst for the season. Wherever you are, physically, mentally, or otherwise, these tracks can bring you back to that place, wherever the holidays exist for you.

“It has to be nostalgic,” said Bryan Rodriguez, a senior management information systems major at Sacramento State.

1. “My Favorite Things,” the recording done by John Coltrane

“My Favorite Things,” is a tune originally performed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “The Sound of Music.” In 1961, saxophonist John Coltrane released his rendition as the title track to his album, “My Favorite Things.” The tune has become a jazz classic filled with nothing but holiday spirit.

2. “All I want for Christmas is you,” by Mariah Carey 

This track was released by Mariah Carey in 1994 and is currently number one on Billboard’s Holiday 100 chart. The upbeat anthem at 150 BPM is much quicker than most holiday tunes, this is a large part of its unmatched energy. 

The sleigh bells ringing and Mariah Carey’s singing makes this song the embodiment of Christmas.

“‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ is my favorite holiday song, Mariah Carey goes crazy,” Srinjay Verma, a third-year computer engineering major, said.

3.  “Winter” by Vivaldi

“Winter” by Antonio Vivaldi was published in 1725 and is the fourth violin concerto in his series, “The Four Seasons.” This piece paints a violent winter storm through intense repetitious buildup and a strong lead violin that steals the floor upon its entrances.

4. “Carol of the Bells”

This dramatic Christmas Carol was published by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914. The music draws inspiration from a Ukrainian New Year’s folk chant and its ethereal soundscape has stood the test of time.

5. “Let It Snow”

This holiday classic, written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1945, sets a comfortable mood with laid-back lyrics that illustrate a white winter day. According to Sammy Cahn, the song was written in Los Angeles during a heatwave as he and his Broadway songwriter friend Jule Styne used their imaginations to help relieve the heat.

6. “If We Make It Through December,” by Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard released this track in 1973 as the lead single on his Christmas album, “Christmas Present.” The major key and bouncy guitar juxtapose the mellow fiddle and melancholic lyrics to create a beautiful ballad about the struggles of a working-class man in the last month of the year.

7. “The wind was blowing,” by Arny Margret

This stripped-down ballad by Arny Margret is a mystical portrayal of emotion. While it does not feature lyrics directly tied to the holidays, it holds its spot here as a tune that can depict a sorrowful connection to the winter months, as some may have.

8. “Feliz Navidad,” by Jose Feliciano

This cheery classic brings mariachi to the masses. Jose Feliciano’s simple lyrics and upbeat horns make this track one of the most exciting holiday staples.

9. “Once Upon a December,” by Stephen Flaherty

This piano ballad from the 1997 animated film “Anastasia” offers a journey through a harsh winter wonderland of complex harmonies, quick delivery and constant key changes that keep the listener on their toes.

10. “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to you)” by Nat King Cole

The relaxing delivery on this classic by Nat King Cole is the star on top of the holiday music tree. The tune is one of the most popular Christmas tunes of all time, as it remains a classic among the classics.

“As soon as it comes on, everyone knows it, songs that you hear every year,” Verma said.

Holiday music is always evolving. As our relationships with the holidays change, the music will reflect that. This list offers a variety of ideas as a look into what holiday music is and what it can be.