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26 Must-Have Holiday Albums for Your Christmas Dinner Playlist

I am of the extremely biased opinion that nothing can make a good holiday great like just the right music.

It’s lucky for us, then, that there’s so much great holiday music available. And with music-sharing and purchasing platforms proliferating on the Internet, it’s at my fingertips (and at my check card’s mercy) all day, every day.

Music is also very much a group experience in my family, and I love to share my favorite holiday tunes and playlists with the people closest to me at gatherings and as part of gifts. I grew up with my grandparents playing Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” every year, and my grandmother also broke out the Christmas with the Chipmunks on vinyl for us. She played it even before we asked for it, which is how you know she truly loved children, because most adults I know aren’t excited about “The Chipmunk Song” on repeat for an hour.

My parents brought Elvis, Motown, John Denver, and Johnny Cash into my Christmas music scene, and those are still some of my favorites today. As I grew up, I found my own favorites, like A Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack, A Very Special Christmas, and Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas, to name a very few among many. Because the winter holidays are an experience shared by so many people with a variety of musical tastes, there is excellent music to be found in all genres. I tend to be pickier about newer additions to my regular listening rotation, but this year has been especially good for releases. Mary J. Blige’s A Mary Christmas is predictably outstanding, and I really like Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red, too. It’s a very diva holiday, I guess.

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I sat down and came up with a list of outstanding holiday albums that I thought might work across generations and events. Some are old, old favorites and some are pretty new (looking at you, Cee Lo.) Singles are another story for another list, and in this case I stuck to whole records.

26 Must-Have Holiday Albums for Everyone:

  • 26 Must-Have Holiday Albums for Your Christmas Dinner Playlist 1 of 27
    HolidayAlbumsCollage
  • A Mary Christmas, Mary J. Blige 2 of 27
    Amarychristmas

    Just released in October, A Mary Christmas is already at the top of my holiday music rotation. Guest artists include Barbra Streisand, Jessie J, and Marc Anthony. Here's the official "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" clip

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio 3 of 27
    A_Charlie_Brown_Christmas_(Rmst)

    Vince Guaraldi's jazzy music is synonymous with Peanuts, and A Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack is a holiday favorite for many families. I've carried my love for it into adulthood, and I'm guessing I'm not alone. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Merry Christmas, Mariah Carey 4 of 27
    Mariahcareymerrychristmas

     "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is my favorite holiday song, and one of the few songs I will stay in the car or in a store to finish listening to in its entirety. Here she is performing it with The Roots and Jimmy Fallon. This smash hit and a number of Mariah's interpretations of holiday classics make it a perfect party record.

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Christmas Portrait, The Carpenters 5 of 27
    ChristmasportraitGOOD

    Christmas Portrait is now a classic Christmas album, and was a popular Carpenters' TV special, too. Karen and Richard's version of "A Christmas Song" is a favorite in my house. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • The Essential Now That’s What I Call Christmas, Various Artists 6 of 27
    The_Essential_NOW_Christmas_(US)

    NOW made playlists for us before that's what we called them. (That made sense in my head.) The Essential Now That's What I Call Christmas truly is the most popular pop holiday songs, all in one place, including Elton John's "Step Into Christmas" and Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" and Andy Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." You should be able to please all generations with this one.  

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Once Upon a Christmas, Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton 7 of 27
    Once-upon-a-christmas

    How much does my family love Kenny & Dolly? A lot. Their Christmas to Remember special and the song of the same name are old favorites now. It's on Once Upon a Christmas, along with a mix of classics and originals.

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Home for Christmas, *NSYNC 8 of 27
    NSYNC-Home_for_Christmas_(album_cover)

    Anyone in your house love Justin Timberlake and the boys of *NSYNC? Bring back memories with Home for Christmas, which I nominate as the ultimate boy band holiday album. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • White Christmas, Bing Crosby 9 of 27
    WhiteChristmasLP

    Christmas isn't Christmas until Bing sings "White Christmas," right? At least it isn't for me. My grandmother loved this song and passed it down, along with several others. This movie soundtrack contains that classic, and many more. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Christmas, Pet Shop Boys 10 of 27
    Pet_Shop_Boys_-_Christmas

    This Pet Shop Boys' EP is a littler known Christmas gem, but it may bring as much joy to other Generation X-ers in your crew as it does to me. "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas" is one of my favorite holiday songs ever. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • A Very Special Christmas, Various Artists 11 of 27
    A_Very_Special_Christmas

    The first A Very Special Christmas compilation to benefit Special Olympics was released in 1987 when I was a senior in high school, and it's still in rotation at my house. My parents may not have thanked Run D.M.C. for "Christmas in Hollis," but I did then and I do now. U2's "(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home" and Stevie Nicks' "Silent Night" are other standouts, but I have to admit, I'm still pretty much in it for Run D.M.C. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • A Very She & Him Christmas, She & Him 12 of 27
    A_Very_She_and_Him_Christmas

    She is Zooey Deschanel, and he is M. Ward. A Very She & Him Christmas is a sweet, understated record that treats a number of Christmas classics with care. I love their rendition of "Christmas Waltz," for starters. Add this to your dinner party list, and let it stick around for hot chocolate and sitting in front of the tree later. I think everyone will like it. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Christmas Songs by Sinatra, Frank Sinatra 13 of 27
    sinatra-christmas

    I grew up on Frank's songs, and he's another multi-generational crowd pleaser. Invite him and Christmas Songs by Sinatra to your holiday dinner. I love Sinatra's "Ave Maria." 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Burl Ives 14 of 27
    RudolphTheRedNosedReindeer_Soundtrack_LP

    "Silver and Gold" is the winner here, but it's worth it to have the audio of the whole Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special. Burl Ives's voice is synonymous with Christmas in my house. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Under the Mistletoe, Justin Bieber 15 of 27
    Under_the_Mistletoe

    Of course there's a Bieber Christmas record, and it even includes a "SuperFestive!" duet on "All I Want For Christmas Is You" with Mariah Carey, along with appearances from Busta Rhymes, Boyz2Men, The Band Perry, and Usher. The tweens in the house need their own holiday options, too, and Under the Mistletoe should do nicely. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Wrapped in Red, Kelly Clarkson 16 of 27
    kelly-clarkson

    Dare I say that "Wrapped in Red," the single, would fit right in with Wall of Sound? I'm saying it, and oh to go back in time for a Kelly/Darlene Love duet. Clarkson's recent holiday release will fit right in with your party playlist. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • Someday at Christmas, Stevie Wonder 17 of 27
    Someday_at_Christmas_(Stevie_Wonder_album)_cover_art

    "Someday at Christmas" is a gorgeous, plaintive song, and Stevie knocked this whole 1967 record out of the holiday music park. So good ... so good for anyone of any age to listen to right now. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • A Christmas Together, John Denver and the Muppets 18 of 27
    Denver_and_Muppets_Xmas

    "The Peace Carol" and "A Baby Just Like You" are two sweet, sweet songs among many — including holiday classics — on this John Denver/Muppets holiday mashup

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Elvis’ Christmas Album, Elvis Presley 19 of 27
    Elvis'christmasalbum

    "Blue Christmas," "Peace In the Valley," "Silent Night," and "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" are among the gems on Elvis' Christmas Album. Everyone loves Elvis, right? (Or is it just me?) I love listening to this one on Christmas Eve. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Glee, The Christmas Album, Cast of Glee 20 of 27
    Gleechr

    Christmas with the Glee kids is always a good time. "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "O Holy Night" are my favorites on this first of three holiday collections.

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Wintersong, Sarah McLachlan 21 of 27
    SarahMcLachlanWintersong

    If you'd like a little moody wintry imagery thrown in with your holiday tunes, Sarah McLachlan's lovely Wintersong is the album for you. "Wintersong," "In the Bleak Midwinter," "Song for a Winter's Night" — they're all perfect for the season. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Funky Christmas, James Brown 22 of 27
    funky-christmas

    This fantastic collection of James Brown originals will get you in the holiday party spirit. "Let's Unite the Whole World at Christmas," "Christmas Is Love," and "Sweet Baby Boy" are good ones to get you started, but all of Funky Christmas is worth a spin. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • The Christmas Spirit, Johnny Cash 23 of 27
    johnny-cash-christmas

    Originals like "Gifts They Gave" and the title track live alongside classics like "Silent Night" and "The Little Drummer Boy" on Johnny Cash's Christmas Spirit

    Image credit: Amazon

  • A Christmas Gift for You, Various Artists 24 of 27
    Album_A_Christmas_Gift_For_You_From_Philles_Records_cover

    If you grew up with a girl group-worshiping mom like mine, "(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home" may be as much a ritual of the season as it is for me. This song alone makes my mother so happy it makes me tear up a little bit just thinking about it. The rest of Phil Spector's seminal Wall of Sound holiday record, A Christmas Gift For You, does the same thing for me, just because it's so, so good. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • CeeLo’s Magic Moment, Cee Lo 25 of 27
    ceelo-magic-moment

    The Muppets, Straight No Chaser, Christina Aguilera, and Rod Stewart pop up on Cee Lo's Magic Moment, and the results are more fun than your average holiday album. I love his versions of "Mary, Did You Know" and "All I Want for Christmas," and his cover of Joni Mitchell's "River" is unexpectedly gorgeous.  

    Image credit: Amazon

  • The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole 26 of 27
    christmas-song-natkingcole

    No family holiday is complete without Nat King Cole's Christmas Song — the song or the album. "Deck the Halls," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Joy to the World," and "The First Noel" are among the classic songs that round out the collection. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • Partridge Family Christmas Card, by the Partridge Family cast 27 of 27
    partridge-family-christmas

    I've told people my whole life that my name is pronounced like "Laurie on The Partridge Family," a reference that identifies me as the '70s child — and fan of this family band comedy show — I'll always be. A Partridge Family Christmas Card is absolutely one of the most fun Christmas records I've ever heard, and it holds up, at least in this house. Check out David Cassidy's vocals on "White Christmas." If you had a crush on him then, you'll remember why. 

    Image credit: Amazon

What are favorite holiday albums?

Image credit: Amazon

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