Christmas classics that should be on your holiday playlist (and the best renditions)

Building your holiday weekend playlist? These soulful Christmas classics are sure to set the tone this season.

Christmas is one of the most popular holidays in the world. 

It is a time when families and friends get together and celebrate the spirit of the season. For Black gatherings, this time is usually accompanied by a soulful mix of holiday music that sets the mood and overall tone for a weekend that also often functions as an annual reunion. Bouncing between jazz, soul, R&B, and even pop, the playlist in a Black household inevitably features Black icons who have used their talents to fill the world with joy. 

From Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” to Boyz II Men’s rendition of “Let It Snow,” here are the seasonal classics you absolutely have to hear to make this holiday feel complete.

christmas songs holiday
Covers: Motown/20th Century Masters; Arista; Sony Legacy

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” – Mariah Carey

OK, this one might be obvious, but love it or hate it (only the Grinch entirely hates it), Mariah Carey’s undeniable Christmas hit is sure to be in regular rotation this weekend. As soon as the clock struck midnight the day after Thanksgiving, this tune marked the beginning of the monthlong Christmas season. First released in 1994, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has reached the number one spot on the Billboard charts every December for the past four years. But while there are now many other renditions of this popular song (including Carey’s duet with Justin Bieber), the only one that should be played is the original by the Queen of Christmas. 

“Let It Snow” – Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight

This holiday classic has been remade so many times, but there is one version that stands out above the rest in every Black household. The soulful rendition of “Let It Snow,” which was sung by Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight, is a staple throughout the holiday season and deserves to be played multiple times this and every holiday season. 

“Silent Night” – The Temptations

Cover: Motown

Originally sung by Joseph Mohr in 1818, “Silent Night” is one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time. It was around well before Christmas music was recorded and has been covered by artists across genres over 700 times. Black artists, like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Mary J. Blige, have all sung the Christmas ballad, but the version that is favored in Black households comes from none other than the mighty Temptations. The six-minute song features the full range of the group’s baritone-to-falsetto vocals and is a must-hear during the holidays.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – The Temptations or Jackson 5

It may be a kid-focused classic, but many Black artists have put their special spin on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” creating a version of the song to fit every Christmas mood. If you are looking for a more modern version, then the renditions from Destiny’s Child or Mary J. Blige might be your cover of choice. However, if a more traditional sound is what you desire, then either The Temps’ or Jackson 5’s covers—or both—should be your go-to for good vibes this holiday weekend.

“This Christmas” – Donny Hathaway or Chris Brown

Cover: Atlantic

Similar to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” there are both traditional and modern renditions of this song. The original upbeat, feel-good hit was co-written and sung by Grammy award winner Donny Hathaway, quickly becoming a holiday classic after its release in 1970. The original has withstood the test of time, but soon after the release of the Will Packer-produced film “This Christmas,” Chris Brown’s rendition of the classic allowed a younger generation to rediscover the lyrics in a special way. While many now prefer Brown’s rendition of the song, Hathaway’s original score remains a multigenerational favorite. 

“Someday at Christmas” – Stevie Wonder

Released in 1967, Stevie Wonder’s holiday classic muses on the endless possibilities of a Christmas in an idyllic but unknown future. “Someday at Christmastime” details the bright hopes and dreams of the unknown. The soulful Christmas tune encourages listeners that there are brighter days to come. 

“Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” –  James Brown

The King of Soul delivered a bonafide hit with “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto.” James Brown repeatedly asks Santa Claus to visit the “ghetto” and gift items to the Black community. It is the perfect song to play for the older generation that will resonate with the entire household. 

“Christmas in Hollis” – Run D.M.C.

Cover: Get On Down

Released in 1987, “Christmas in Hollis” is an upbeat hip-hop classic that will have everyone on their feet. The beat, lyrics, and overall tone of the song are indicative of the time, and therefore sure to spark nostalgia. Listening to this Christmas classic has the power to transport you back to a simpler time — one of leg warmers, Kangols, and acid-washed denim. 

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” – Jackson 5

This buoyant Christmas song reconnects every person to their youth, transporting listeners back to the excitement of waiting for Santa Claus as a child. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is a song that will absolutely be played on Christmas playlists everywhere this holiday season. But for Black people, there is only one group that can sing this song, and that group is the Jackson 5. 

“The Christmas Song” – Nat King Cole

Cover: Capitol Records

For Black people, Nat “King” Cole is the wonderful singer behind “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire).” His deep and smooth voice fills everyone with warmth and makes them want to snuggle up with some hot chocolate near a fireplace. This soulful Christmas song is bound to be played at every Black gathering this Christmas season. 

“The Preacher’s Wife Soundtrack” – Whitney Houston

If, instead of a playlist, you’d rather just press play, the hit soundtrack to the 1996 film “The Preacher’s Wife” is a one-and-done way to get the entire family into the holiday spirit. Whitney Houston’s soaring vocals elevate a series of Christmas carols and gospel hymns, reminding us of the true spirit of the season.

Kayla Grant

Kayla Grant is a multimedia journalist with bylines in Business Insider, Shondaland, Oz Magazine, Prism, Rolling Out and more. She writes about culture, books and entertainment news. Follow her on Twitter: @TheKaylaGrant.

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