I'm one of those people who loves Christmas music. Yes, I'm an atheist, but Christmas has a very strong secular side, which is really the only side I ever cared much about anyway. Granted, there are some very lovely Christmas hymns. Much of classical music was written in honor of someone's imaginary friend in the sky. That doesn't make the composers any less talented nor the songs any less able to produce goosebumps. However, my favorite Christmas songs are of the secular variety. Whether religious or secular, I have compiled a list of my top 10 Christmas songs for 2011. You won't find "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," or "Jingle Bells" among my top 10. I don't care much for the kiddie songs. You also won't find any latter day pop or rock Christmas tunes. Christmas songs must first and foremost sound Christmasy. They must evoke emotions or bring back memories. They must feel like Christmas and put me in a Christmas mood. So, in reverse order, here are my favorites.
10. "Somewhere in My Memory" by John Williams
This is the classic theme song from the movie Home Alone, by John Williams. Some songs simply have a Christmas feel about them, even before you hear the lyrics. This is one of them.
9. "When Christmas Comes to Town" by Matthew Hall and Meagan Moore
This is a sweet and beautiful little Christmas song from the movie, Polar Express. It is sung very competently by two children.
8. "All Through the Night" by Olivia Newton John
I love this duet version. It's not officially a Christmas song, but one of the lyrics is changed slightly to make it one. It is a traditional Welsh folk lullaby.
7. "I'll be Home for Christmas" by Michael Buble
Written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent from the point of view of a WWII soldier, it was made popular by Bing Crosby in 1942. It's mellow and melancholy and certainly evokes a lonely Christmas feeling.
6. "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole
The is a classic Christmas favorite written in 1944 by Mel Torme. It is subtitled "Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire." It's mellow and beautiful and has always been a favorite of mine.
5. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by James Taylor
Judy Garland sung the original version of this song in the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis. Later, Frank Sinatra recorded a version with modified lyrics. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, it has become one of the most-recorded Christmas songs in modern times.
4. Ding Dong Merrily on High by Blackmore's Night
I love the song, but I especially love this version. This group does it in contrapuntal style, reminiscent of Pachelbel's Canon. It's a beautiful rendition.
3. Christmas Canon by Trans Siberian Orchestra
Speaking of Pachelbel's Canon, the Trans Siberian Orchestra performs a brilliant vocal version of this Baroque favorite that is just right for the holidays.
2. Song for a Winter's Night as sung by Sarah McLachlan
This song was written by Gordon Lightfoot and has been recorded by several artists. In my opinion, the very best version is the one performed by Sarah McLachlan and appears on the soundtrack of the 1994 version of Miracle on 34th Street. Although not technically a Christmas song, McLachlan's version evokes a quiet, melancholy feeling with its ethereal quality and haunting accompaniment.
1. Christmas Time is Here by Vince Guaraldi Trio
This song, of course, was featured in the 1965 TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, but has since been recorded by numerous artists. It is the quintessential feel-good Christmas song. It brings back memories of Christmas past. It evokes a feeling of childhood. And its haunting and melancholy melody brings a sense of Christmas nostalgia and coziness like few other Christmas songs can produce. There are lots of good versions out there, including by Diana Krall, Kenny Loggins, Mel Torme, and my favorite, Sarah McLachlan.