If your Christmas playlist needs another voice—someone besides Mariah Carey to get you in the spirit of the season—there are plenty of varieties of carols, hymns, and festive tunes to choose from.
Even the newest Christian Christmas albums offer a shiny array, from jazzed-up classics and sing-along worship songs to haunting seasonal reflections.
Here are six recent releases that have earned their place among our beloved favorites. (And check out this Spotify playlist to hear all the recommendations from the picks below.)
Fragile by Nichole Nordeman
This is not an album that candy-coats the holidays. Nichole Nordeman’s title track “Fragile” is an intelligently woven medley that wistfully draws the favorite carol “What Child Is This?” into conversation with Sting’s “Fragile.” The result is a remarkably fresh version of this age-old tune and particularly relevant to contemporary life. The entire 41 minutes of production is silky smooth, and its movement in mood is sublime. Lyrics dive deep into the struggle with reconciliation and loss: “So I will swallow hard to say this / It might be a little rough / If the world wants peace for Christmas / Might it not begin with us?” But it still finds room for joy as well as plenty of beloved carols in Nordeman’s iconic style, including “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Cue up this album as your soundtrack for drinking cocoa on Christmas Eve and catching up with family while candles flicker in the background. Or, even better, give it to a neighbor to start a conversation about faith, doubt, and life.
Christmas by Phil Wickham
Phil Wickham’s guitar-led Christmas album is the perfect tonic for the frantic Christian contemporary worship leader looking to revamp the carols service. If there’s a time and a place for this kind of cliché, surely Christmas is it. The album offers a wide range from the slightly offbeat or quirky to the atmospheric and even cathedral-appropriate. The real surprise pearls are songs such as “Away in a Manger” and “Angels We Have Heard on High,” which become jubilant, singable, and oh-so-cool. These carols are in an ethereal contemporary mood but still traditional enough for Grandma. She’ll never know it’s a new album because Wickham’s versions feel like the way these songs were meant to be sung, with the band’s musicality and the layered vocals producing a timeless sound.
Peace by Audrey Assad
Audrey Assad’s Peace banishes all traditional carol tunes, replaced them with an evocative collection of seven seasonal pieces. An ode to winter, the metaphor hangs heavy on the hearth, so to speak. Assad’s beautiful voice sings out, “You came like a winter snow / Quiet and soft and slow / Falling from the sky in the night / To the earth below.” There’s a lot of beauty in this project spurring listeners to think through the way winter might testify to God’s gift in Jesus. The reflective song “Your Peace Will Make Us One” also rings out in singable, happy solidarity into the cold night air. For those in the Northern hemisphere, at least, embarking into this kind of contextual theology makes sense. And for the rest of us in the Southern hemisphere, we will just happily pretend. Who doesn’t love snow?
And on Earth, Peace by Salt of the Sound
And on Earth, Peace by Salt of the Sound is a play on sound, poetry, and Scripture to mesmerizing effect. A collaboration by husband-wife duo Anita and Ben Tatlow, the album reworks the biblical Christmas narrative in beautiful and simple ways. These tracks draw upon carols but seldom reference the traditional tune. However, just as you think the songs must have grown wings and flown away to a mystical land, there are moments of familiar nostalgia: “O come let us adore him Christ the Lord.” This album could make you believe unicorns attended to the baby Jesus in the manger.
Lovkn Christmas: Awaited One by LOVKN
LOVKN’s Awaited One begins with the Doxology. In more than one sense Steven Lufkin’s album is a bold declaration with explicitly Christian lyrics focused on the Christmas event. The relationship between listener and God are crystalized in lines like, “I’ve been looking all my life for the answer / Now I find the answer here in the eyes of love / Today is a little reminder / that Jesus is alive and the King of all peace is come.” He deserves some commendation for rhyming lines that don’t come across as corny. And for the catchy upbeat folk treatment on “We Three Kings” as well as more reflective ballad “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Think classic Mumford & Sons but in the key of Christmas-y.
Behold by Lauren Daigle
Going back just a few years, a notable mention goes to Lauren Daigle’s 2016 Christmas album Behold, which dances back in time to perfect the Christmas jazz standard in songs such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “White Christmas,” and “Winter Wonderland.” Her vocal is sublime, relaxed Louisiana in all its gloriousness. I’ll wear my gown and you wear a tuxedo, and we’ll meet by the Christmas tree.
Tanya Riches is a worship leader; the writer of songs such as “Jesus What a Beautiful Name” and “Hear Our Prayer”; and a scholar studying Hillsong Church and Pentecostal worship. She lives in Sydney, Australia.