When all you want for Christmas…is a new song.

Most years, it’s not uncommon to hear holiday music emerging from every television commercial, radio station, and storefront shortly after Thanksgiving. And these past few years especially have been so in need of a jolt of joy that we don’t blame cheer-seekers for pressing play immediately after Halloween.

But if the early onset of celebratory songs has left you wanting to pace yourself, if every cover of “Jingle Bells” sounds as cloyingly familiar as the last, that’s a valid feeling, too! (I personally would prefer no one touch Donny Hathaway’s original “This Christmas,” but the covers are abundant. We can’t win ‘em all.) Luckily, you can still get into the spirit of the season—without raining on anyone else’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade—with some other soundtracks. 

Here are a few of our favorite playlists to listen to while enjoying all the to-dos and ta-das the holidays have to offer.

Music for Cooking

The jingly nature of upbeat jazz classics and grandiosity of big band music are perfect.

Though we’re not all able to host big dinner parties this year, that doesn’t mean we can’t still cook luxe, hearty meals for ourselves and our cohabitants. (On my holiday menu at home is a butternut squash pasta in a garlic cream sauce. You’re welcome for the inspo.) And while there may not be any actual sleigh bells ringing on these songs, the jingly nature of upbeat jazz classics and grandiosity of big band music are perfect for keeping us happily moving through our kitchens—especially when the tunes come from treasured vocalists we already associate with the holiday season, like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Judy Garland. 

🎶 The Playlist To Listen To | Cooking With Swing

Music for Gift-Wrapping & -Receiving

Even if we can only afford small gifts this year, the precision and care with which we wrap them can make a big difference when it comes to expressing our appreciation for our friends and family. Much like how intentional our choice of stationery and stamp can be when writing a letter to a loved one, the same can apply to our wrapping paper and ribbon options.

Similarly, if you’ve been working from home for the last year and are eager to create some distinction between fall and winter (like you’ve desired among your living room, bedroom, and “office”), decorating distinctly and with mindful motives can be essential to getting into the holiday spirit.

The peacekeeping sounds of acoustic songs rarely feel like an interruption.

To stay thoughtful yet focused, try listening to the peacekeeping sounds of acoustic songs. Unobtrusive, they rarely feel like an interruption. And because vulnerably honest and inviting vocals are often at their forefront, consider these singers welcomed guests after what has felt like such a lonely year.

🎶 The Playlist To Listen To | Acoustic Winter

Music for Celebrating

When the time finally does come for celebrating, even if done so over video chat, let’s lean into the most saccharine of sentimentality. Why not? Dance around, clink your champagne glass (against a mirror if you’re alone!), and press play on songs that are unapologetically joyful. You’ll recognize them by their very transparent titles 😉, like Sam Cooke’s “What A Wonderful World,” Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” and Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” These are the kind of songs that lend themselves well to singing along—loudly—and couldn’t we all use such a release?

🎶 The Playlist To Listen To | Uplifting Soul Classics

Music for Relaxing

Once the gifts have been opened, the candles lit, and the mulled wine made, there are few things that feel more relaxing than finally settling in under the glow of those twinkly string lights. (Mine are actually wrapped around my living room bay window all year long.) This is usually when the busyness of the day comes to a close and we can not only undo the top button of our pants to make room for our full bellies—no? just me? okay.—but can also reflect on the joy that the day, year, or season has brought us.

Try the slow-moving and meditative sounds of choral music.

Even if these holidays don’t feel as busy or populated as years prior, we can still create time and space for this calm contemplation. Consider creating a meditation corner. And then try swapping the classic “Silent Night” for something similar, like the slow-moving and meditative sounds of choral music. Naturally, the genre’s spiritual association makes for a great guide to practicing gratitude.

🎶 The Playlist To Listen To | Peaceful Choir

Music is known to both reduce stress and release our ‘feel-good’ hormones, so while this holiday season may feel a bit different from years prior, that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace and even create joy wherever and whenever we need it most. Happy Holidays!

What sounds and songs do you play during the holidays? Share in the comments below!


Danielle Cheesman was born and raised in New Jersey, where she lived until moving to Philadelphia to study journalism at Temple University. She has spent her years writing and developing editorial visions for music, art, and lifestyle brands. Now residing in Los Angeles, you can usually find her taking pictures, making playlists, or cuddling her pup. Say hi on Instagram!