The 15 Best Christmas Songs You’ve Never Heard

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A few weeks ago, I made a confession about my music collection. And now I have another, not so shocking one: I love Christmas music. I am generously helping to keep the novelty Christmas albums on store shelves by buying multiple copies each year. If radio stations played Christmas earlier than Thanksgiving week, I’d be the first to know. I’m not even above a good version of “White Christmas” in the middle of August to make me feel a glimmer of cold air on the horizon.

But I do understand that hearing "Jingle Bells” six times in a day covered by the usual suspects—Michael Bublé to Nat King Cole to Mariah Carey—could turn most people into a Grinch. So I dug deep into my archives to give your poor, over-saturated ears a break with this unique mix of what might become your new holiday favorites:

“What Will Santa Claus Say? (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’)” by Louis Prima

Louis Prima was a great trumpeter and band leader, so it only makes sense that Prima would know how to get people dancing at Christmas with this great little ditty.


“Santa, Teach Me to Dance” by Debbie & the Darnels

A quick internet search reveals The Darnels were a '60s girl group, but I don’t know much more about this song’s origins. All I know is I heard it on a local radio station once on a road trip and I haven’t stopped humming the catchy doo-wop-esque tune since.

“It Must be Santa” by Bob Dylan

I didn't used to associate Bob Dylan with Christmas. And then he came out with this accordion-driven tap-your-toes number in 2009. Listening to this song and not singing along with The Animaniacs-like lyrics is impossible. Warning: this song is advanced Christmas music; don’t put it on repeat unless you’re truly full of cheer, ready for all to hear.

“Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk this Christmas)” by the Decemberists (John Denver cover)

Every mix album needs a slightly maudlin, sad song that you don’t actually realize is sad until you look up the lyrics.

“Nutmeg” by John Legend and Stephen Colbert

Obviously, Christmas music isn’t immune to subtle (and not-so-subtle) sexual innuendo. John Legend doesn’t go for subtle in this catchy, silly song from 2008’s A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All, and listeners should thank him for it.

“Christmastime (O Yeah)” by Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies get in on the Christmas music madness with their popular 2004 album Barenaked for the Holidays, which features a fellow Canadian—that aforementioned omnipresent crooner Michael Bublé. Don’t let that detail deter you from listening to their quirky songs. This cut is one of my personal favorites, although their singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus never fails to crack me up.

“Mary’s Boy Child” by Harry Belafonte

I realize the King of Calypso isn’t exactly your first thought when you reach for Christmas music, but he should be. This song, first recorded in 1956, was a hit on the UK charts. It’s a beautiful song and one I think should be added to everyone’s lists.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Johnny Cash

Yes, I’m cheating a bit since Johnny Cash’s Christmas music is sometimes heard on the radio. However, this 1963 hit song based on the 1863 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow deserves more play today as a quiet antidote to the many over-orchestrated songs that invade your ears each season.

“10,000 Watts” by Crystal Antlers

Who doesn’t like a good rock out to the lyrics “Ho Ho Ho”? This Southern California band will make even the most reluctant teenager smile on Christmas Day.

“Yingle Bells” by Yogi Yorgesson

Yogi Yorgesson is the “comically exaggerated Swede” played by the entertainer Harry Stewart. It’s the only version of “Jingle Bells” I allow in my car. Thank you, Dr. Demento.

“Donde Esta Santa Claus?” by Augie Rios

I just recently heard this song for the first time, but I already think it will replace “Feliz Navidad” on my playlists. That's how adorable this 1958 song sung to his “Mamacita” is.

“Elohai, N'Tzor” by Pink Martini

Leave it to Pink Martini, the multi-genre “little orchestra” band, to offer something unique. The song is based on a Jewish prayer and it’s a thoughtful, reflective tune.

“The Christmas Song” by the Raveonettes

I stole this song by the Danish indie rock duo from a friend’s party mix. It never fails to remind me in a weird way of one of my favorite movies—That Thing You Do.

“Space Christmas” by ‘Allo Darling

I listened to a ton of odd Spotify playlists so you wouldn’t have to wade through the random muck. And thank goodness I did because I discovered this breathy little gem of a song.

“My Dear Acquaintance (Happy New Year)” by Regina Spektor (Peggy Lee cover)

No Christmas album is complete without a look ahead at the year to come. And I think these lyrics are what we especially need to hear in these darker months: “And a happy new year to all that is living / To all that is gentle, young, and forgiving.”

May these songs renew your holiday spirit!