10 Best Alternative Christmas Songs

Entertainment

Sufjan Stevens wears a Santa hat and stands near a decorated Christmas tree

The older I get, the more cognitive dissonance I have regarding the passage of time. I feel like my days are spent thinking about work and where I’m gonna go on the weekend. So when December rolls around and there’s suddenly Christmas music playing wherever I go, I get such violent whiplash. It (almost) disturbs me.

I mean, how are we supposed to feel all “holly jolly” when there’s, you know, things going on? At least, that’s how I feel. I love what Christmas music can do for people who enjoy it, but for me, it just feels like a reminder that time isn’t slowing down and there’s always something after the next thing. Good grief.

I take a lot of comfort in songs that are Christmassy, but also aren’t so “traditional” and “American,” if you catch my drift. Whether they’re sorta meme-y or genuinely lovely, these alternatives to Christmas classics might just help you feel more grounded during the holidays, too.

“White Winter Hymnal,” Fleet Foxes

This is a classic. It’s one of those songs that you’ve probably heard in coffee shops during December, but never looked into. I have a special fondness for this song because I got my mom into Fleet Foxes when I was in high school, and now I hear it every year during the holidays.

“Christmas Time Is Here,” Khruangbin

I love Khruangbin. They’ve got such a chill, funky sound to them. And I love what they did to this song. It’s largely stripped down with minimal vocals; the lead guitar is the main “vocal,” which works wonders. Truly, they said, “What if we just made Christmas relax a little?” And it worked.

“That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!” Sufjan Stevens

Sweet Sufjan loves Christmas, so he’s got entire albums dedicated to the holiday. The songs range from his typical contemplative melancholy to his also-typical bombastic ballads. I’m going to link a few more of his songs, but I wanted to open with this one because it validates the (very real) sadness many people go through this time of year. Christmas is weird. You want to believe that you and your loved ones can manifest that traditional joy just by wishing it, but it takes effort, and people are messy.

“Joy to the World,” Sufjan Stevens

On the flip side, you have Sufjan making an utterly beautiful cover of what I consider to be one of the dumbest songs ever written for this holiday. I say “dumb” because it’s one thing to bark at people that peace and love on planet earth is a good thing, but it’s another thing to actually mean it. And you can tell Sufjan means everything he says.

Honestly you should just listen to this whole album. I can’t keep listing songs from it because that would be cheating, but seriously, it’s good.

“Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? Well You Deserved It!” Sufjan Stevens cover by Peach Pit

This is another classic Sufjan Christmas song, but covered by another beloved indie act, Peach Pit. Peach Pit has such a distinctive sound, even amongst the more generic indie rock acts, and they really add a lackadaisical, bummer-y feeling to this song. It’s a bop!

“Flowers in December,” Mazzy Star

Come onnnnn, it’s Mazzy Star. This is such a beautiful, lowkey song. It makes me want to cuddle up with my dog and stare out the window: a perfect December activity.

“Frosty the Snowman,” Fiona Apple

Miss Fiona Apple is the only one who could make me feel jolly listening to such a silly little song. Her classic brassy voice and plucky melodies are all here, front and center, and when I listen to this song while doin’ some cookin’, I feel like my brassy, plucky self again. Thanks, Fiona!

“A Change at Christmas (Say It Isn’t So),” The Flaming Lips

You know, I’ve been a fan of the album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots for years and years, but I never thought to listen to its 20th Anniversary edition. This song is featured on it, and it’s got that classic Flaming Lips vibe. The lyrics are perfect—totally earnest and reflective of how many of us feel—and the sounds are just so sweet and subtly energetic.

I’d say you should listen to the whole album as a result, but, uh, I’m gonna recommend that you don’t, because you’re gonna start off listening to “Do You Realize??” and then you’ll just end up crying all day.

“The Little Drum Machine Boy,” Beck

Let’s be real, there’s something pretty sterile about Christmas as a whole. Sometimes you gotta remind yourself that the world isn’t a pure, wholesome place in order to enjoy it fully. Thankfully, we have Beck—the freakiest, funkiest white boy to ever do it—to bring us way back down to reality.

“Feliz Navidad,” Nathan (a.k.a. Matt Watson)

Sometimes a bitch just needs to laugh through the existential angst, and Matt Wats—I mean, Nathan‘s yearly Christmas albums always do the trick. I listened to the entire new album while working yesterday. Couldn’t tell you if it made my work better or worse. I just know it lifted my spirits.

Merry Christmas Nathan, please for the love of god take a cough drop.

(featured image: Asthmatic Kitty Records)

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