In 2011, I winnowed a growing iTunes holiday music catalog into a song-a-day Christmas Playlist. It was a fun project that sustained conversation, debate, and good cheer on Twitter for the month of December. Thanks to @pipcorin, @dhudgins, @seani@dowbiggin@timlauer, @fally@jenfloyd08@mwacker, and @MaggyTheBrave for the camaraderie that year.

I’m doing it again. The only rule is that the 2018 list can’t include any duplicates from the 2011 list. This year, it’s 33 days between the holidays, but I’m staring with a “day zero” bonus tonight: Santa Stole Thanksgiving, Jimmy Buffet — This was a surprise find on my final pass through this year’s possibilities. “Santa, he’s the turkey after all.”

You can hear the full #RachelChristmasPlaylist2018 on Spotify.

And now, this year’s list, one song shared per day:

  1. Friday, November 23: You’re Mine, Jeremih — Connor and Miles had Chance the Rapper and Jeremih’s Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama on repeat last Christmastime. I fell in love hard with Stranger at the Table. That led to listening to both artists throughout this year and it seemed perfect to start with a fellow Chicagoan, Jeremih today.
  2. Saturday, November 24: Mele Kalikimaka, Kacey Musgraves — I like her voice and the guitar slaps/handclaps that modernize Bing’s classic version.
  3. Sunday, November 25: Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight), Ramones
  4. Monday, November 26: All My Christmases, Jillian Edwards Chapman
  5. Tuesday, November 27: Merry Christmas Darling, Leslie Odom, Jr — Happy birthday to my little sister, Laura! Sing it, Leslie.
  6. Wednesday, November 28: No Te Pongas Triste, Carlos Vives — My favorite sing-a-long the past few years.
  7. Thursday, November 29: Run Run Rudolph, Chuck Berry
  8. Friday, November 30: A Holly Jolly Christmas, Burl Ives
  9. Saturday, December 1: If We Make it Through December, Merle Haggard — Happy December! I love the weight of this song (and the The Hag’s one-of-a-kind voice).
  10. Sunday, December 2: The Chanukah Song, Adam Sandler — Happy Hanukkah
  11. Monday, December 3: Jingle Bells, Wynton Marsalis — Wynton’s young daughter, Oni, is on vocals in this version. She’s fantastic. Brooks Brothers posted a nice video of the set on YouTube.
  12. Tuesday, December 4: Candy Cane Lane, Sia
  13. Wednesday, December 5: Brothers, Paul Williams — Today’s pick is in memory of our mom, who made every Christmas warm, bright, and over the top. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas was her annual favorite. <3
  14. Thursday, December 6: Man with the Bag, Jessie J — Kay Starr does a great original track of this song, but Connor helped me settle on Jessie J’s recent version after eleventy billion listens on our drive to PDX after Thanksgiving.
  15. Friday, December 7: Winter Wonderland, Allen Toussaint — I remember waking up three years ago to the news that Allen Toussaint had died. I spent the rest of that week listening again to his albums I had purchased over the years (yes, my Allen Touissaint musical crush is as old as “purchasing music”). I originally had Shirley Horn’s Winter Wonderland for today and stumbled on Touissaint’s version as a related listen. It’s 90 seconds of piano bliss. A happy find.
  16. Saturday, December 8: Christmas Fais Do Do, Marcia Ball
  17. Sunday, December 9: Ocho Kandelikas, Pink Martini
  18. Monday, December 10: We Need a Little Christmas, Lucille Ball — I was so very excited to find the original Mame film and broadway versions on Spotify this year.  Lucille Ball’s film rendition made the final cut, with all due respect the legendary Angela Lansbury’s Broadway recording.
  19. Tuesday, December 11: Melancholy Christmas, Amy Grant — For the happy season that can be lonely too, a song that captures the insecurity and isolation….
  20. Wednesday, December 12: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Brett Eldredge — This didn’t make the final list until the run-through with Connor on our drive to PDX. It’s growing on me.
  21. Thursday, December 13: The Christmas Song, The Raveonettes — When I heard this song, I immediately thought it was one Corin would put on her Christmas Playlist.
  22. Friday, December 14: Frosty the Snowman, Willie Nelson — Pretty Paper is the obvious choice for a Willie Christmas pick, but I like his Frosty version.
  23. Saturday, December 15: May Ev’ry Day Be Christmas, Irma Thomas — I got to see Preservation Hall Jazz Band in concert this fall. I stood for a couple hours to keep my spot in the front row, at the stage; it was so worth it. Irma Thomas adds the perfect vocals.
  24. Sunday, December 16: Father Christmas, The Kinks
  25. Monday, December 17: Petit Papa Noël, Mary J. Blige — The prettiest song on this year’s list, from one of my favorite artists. I catch myself singing or humming it often during the day.
  26. Tuesday, December 18: Santa Claus is Back in Town, The Mavericks — One week until Christmas! Todays was a battle between the Mavericks and Jimmy Fallon and The Roots’ Wonderful Christmastime mash-up. Both great picks.
  27. Wednesday, December 19: Please Come Home for Christmas, B.B. King — The very best version of this song—from another legend who we lost in 2015. He and Allen Toussaint are surely jamming together again now.
  28. Thursday, December 20: Santa Tell Me — Ariana Grande
  29. Friday, December 21: That Spirit of Christmas, Aloe Blacc and LeAnn Rimes — It’s the first day of holiday break, our annual night for watching Christmas Vacation. Miles is away at a basketball tournament, so it’ll keep for a few days this year, but this song has been a favorite since I heard it watching Christmas Vacation the first time with my parents thirty years ago. The original, by Ray Charles, is my favorite…but this Aloe Blacc/LeAnn Rimes version has been growing on me this December.
  30. Saturday, December 22: Do You Hear What I Hear, Heather Headley — I got to know Heather and her family in Fort Wayne, when she was stunning us all with her voice and stage presence at Northrop High School. Soon after those years, she came back home a Tony-award winning artist. I love her voice and the cadence she brought to one of my longtime Advent meditations.
  31. Sunday, December 23: Home, Blake Shelton, Michael Bublé
  32. Monday, December 24: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Loretta Lynn — There are dozens of artists who have recorded this, including a gem by David Hasselhoff, Yancey! Wynton Marsalis does an amazing version, Chris LeDoux too. But none of them top Loretta’s grace and lilt in her reading. Merry Christmas Eve.
  33. Tuesday, December 25: Joy to the World, Aretha Franklin — And heaven and nature sing. Merry Christmas. 

You can hear the full #RachelChristmasPlaylist2018 on Spotify.

The coda: It’s late evening on Christmas. We’ve celebrated, cooked, eaten—and eaten, and eaten—and are now all settled in the family room with dogs and video games and the last of the Christmas movies. I have a few extra songs to round out the playlist. The first is my favorite song for Christmas afternoon: 364 Days to Go, by Brad Paisley. The next, with no prompting by my friend Darren Hudgins, is Andy Williams’ It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. As my sons finish up this busy phase of school, sports, and activities, they’re spreading their wings to fly away. I’m grateful for a few quiet days together for reconnection and recharging. The final song of this coda is What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve. Here’s to 2019.