Once upon a holiday season, I worked in a gift shop with a young woman who was uncomfortably 8 months pregnant. The world outside was bitterly cold, snowy, and icy, and she had to waddle 15 minutes through all this to the nearest bus stop to get to work, where she then had to stand for 8 hours on her feet on a concrete floor in an old building with only a single heating vent and walls largely made of single-pane windows. She was not in the "holiday spirit," and listening to the nonstop overly chipper Christmas tunes we've all heard a million times on our store playlists drove her insane.
So I made a special playlist, hoping to help ease her stressful December. The bright look of utter delight and relief on her face when "A Hazy Shade of Winter" by Simon & Garfunkel came on the stereo is something that will stick with me. I still listen to this playlist, my "Crystmas" playlist (yay puns) every season. Being more than long enough to get us through an 8+ hour day, there are holiday songs on my list, but I strove to find nontraditional songs, or versions that were less well-known, and Hanukkah is featured alongside Christmas and secular tunes.
Here are 30 of my favorite non-holiday seasonal songs:
1) A Hazy Shade of Winter
Originally released by Simon & Garfunkel in 1966, this song was covered in 1987 by the Bangles as "Hazy Shade of Winter." I enjoy both versions.
This an older song by Peggy Lee with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. I like it for its swinging sound, exploitation of the cold to snuggle with your special person, and lack of Christmas.
3) What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Another old song from the 40's, covered by countless artists, that I appreciate for its lack of a religious holiday. New Year's is arguably a holiday (I do get the day off work), but a secular one, and one that, like Thanksgiving, is losing its importance in the retail world while more and more businesses stay open.
4) A Winter Romance
The title song from Dean Martin's 1959 album is about meeting his love in winter. The last few seconds include the tune for "Jingle Bells," a secular song originally intended as a Thanksgiving song that, like the Halloween "Soul Cake/A' Soulin" song, fell victim to Christmas absorption.
Mumford & Sons brings us into more modern times. This is a catchy, uplifting-sounding song with interesting lyrics.
Joshua Radin offers up a sweet-sad, pretty song devoid of holidays.
7) Song for a Winter's Night
Winter is not the happiest of seasons being so deathly cold in so many parts of the world and all. It's a time for solitude and reflection as Gordon Lightfoot has penned in these haunting lyrics.
8) Song at Midnight
Another New Year's pining romance song from Peggy Lee.
9) Our House
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sing about lighting a fire and snuggling cozily. That's how I wish to spend my winters!
10) Winter Time
Steve Miller Band would like to remind you that the leaves are brown in winter. I love the instrumentation in this one.
Gwen Stefani uses double entendre to perfection in this song from January of 2008. (January is kind of a late winter, though, Gwen...)
12) Cold Cold Heart
Cold. Just like winter. (Get it?)
13) Don't Gotta Work It Out
Looking for songs for this playlist is how I discovered Fitz and the Tantrums. Another song where it's cold outside.
This beautiful song by Norah Jones sounds Christmasy, but it's not, though it is included on a Christmas album.
15) In the Cold, Cold Night
Though Tracey Thorn covered this song on her 2012 Christmas album, again, not Christmas. In fact, that entire album has a lot of secular winter songs. I recommend it in general.
Basia Bulat sings another catchy breakup song. I guess people are looking to start the new year fresh - and single.
17) A Long December
How could I not include this mid-90's classic by the Counting Crows?
18) December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)
Here's a much happier December remembrance!
19) I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
This classic was written in 1937 and covered by pretty much every crooner ever. For a more modern take, try the Stuhr Remix of Kay Starr.
20) Wintertime Love
A hopeful winter romance song from the Doors. (Yes, those Doors.)
21) White Winter Hymnal
This song by Fleet Foxes in July of 2008 is pretty and makes interesting use of rounds.
22) A Winter's Tale
Let the sultry voice of Freddie Mercury ease your winter blues.
Idina Menzel includes this one on her CD Holiday Wishes. A non-Christmas song from a not particularly Christmas album, which is fitting coming from a Jewish artist. Also fitting: it's a Disney song.
24) I Am Blessed
Nina Simone is one of the greatest singers of all time. If you must have a more modern sound to this song, try the Wax Tailor Remix.
25) Hold Each Other
This is an adorable song by A Great Big World that I had on my wedding playlist.
26) Everything is Sound
A song about love and singing by Jason Mraz.
27) Sweater Weather
A winter song from SoCal by the Neighborhood, where it rains and people wear sweaters.
Tori Amos' song "Winter" is layered and filled with fairytale imagery. The piano gives it a very wintery sound.
Sarah Vaughn really warms up winter with this one.
This song by Don McLean has nothing to do with Hanukkah outside the metaphor of a dreidel, or spinning top. When you think about it, a dreidel is a pretty good metaphor for life, but this song is still not a holiday song.
Songs That Are Secular But Overplayed:
1) Jingle Bells
2) Let it Snow!
3) Sleigh Ride (original lyrics)
4) Frosty the Snowman
5) Winter Wonderland
6) Baby, It's Cold Outside
1) "Fairytale of New York" should be on every holiday playlist. If you're looking for a "work-safe" version, try KT Tunstall. (It's still Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, though.)
2) "Don't Shoot Me Santa" by the Killers is a fantastic song for people sick of conventional Christmas songs.