36 alternative December songs to diversify your holiday playlist

Master students create a diverse, inclusive music playlist

You can set your watch by it: as soon as December arrives, the same music blares from the speakers everywhere. All music streaming services create special December Playlists, and every time you go to the supermarket, you hear Mariah Carey's hitting her signature high notes. In that respect, December is actually always the same old song. Together with her students, computer scientist Anja Volk therefore came up with The Alternative December Playlist. "We have this stereotypical idea of what Christmas and December should mean to us, but everyone experiences it differently. And music should reflect that".

Music for emotion regulation

During the Sound and Music Technology course, part of the Game and Media Technology Master's programme, Volk gave her students the task of compiling up an alternative, more diverse playlist. They did this using their own context. "The students particularly thought about what they themselves wanted to hear during December, and why," says Volk.

Some need heavy metal for cheering up, others want to wallow in sad music

In her research, Volk is specifically interested in the field of 'music and wellbeing' in which the ability of music to regulate our emotions plays an important role. And not everyone needs the same music to enhance their mood, when they are feeling low. "It always depends on your specific context, which music you really need at that moment," Volk explains. "Some people thrive on heavy metal to cheer them up, while others listen to extra sad music in sad moments to fully feel the emotion in a cathartic way." And it is precisely this conjunction, and this diversity, that Volk is interested in. How can you personalize music recommendations for emotion regulation for different people in different circumstances?

It simply cannot be the case that everyone gets that ‘warm December feeling’ when listening to Christmas songs

December: a time of joy, or of stress

The month of December is pre-eminently a month in which music plays on our emotions. Think of Wham!’s Last Christmas, or Mariah Carrey's classic earworm: they are all songs that are supposed to get us in a certain ‘Christmas mood’: a warm mood, infused by glühwein, happy families and gifts. But for some people, December is a period of stress, of chaos and family-related disputes. Christmas songs stir up that feeling. Moreover: not everyone even celebrates Christmas, or sees ‘December’ as a festive month, because of their religious or cultural background. "All this to say is that everyone experiences these songs in such a different way, that it can't be the case that everyone gets that ‘warm December feeling’ when listening to Christmas songs. It is therefore important to broaden the image of what December means to us. And one way to do that is to offer a more diverse range of music" explains Volk. 

Listen to all 36 songs of 'The Alternative December Playlist'

It is high time for a playlist in which there is also room for other tastes. Volk and her students have all provided their own song and accompanying context. The students investigated how a diverse December Playlist might look like, one that hopefully reaches out to people in different circumstances and with different experiences of the December month. Below are all 36 songs, and stories about them. All songs can be listened to via YouTube. You can check the playlist as a PDF (with clickable links to the songs), or you can scroll down to see all the songs. 

The Alternative December Playlist (PDF)

The Alternative December Playlist (the full list, links included)

Prefer not to use PDF? Below you can find all songs of the Alternative December Playlist, including all Youtube links to the songs

  1. If you are preparing a Christmas dinner with a close friend/parent/girlfriend/sibling, try Just the Two of Us by Grover Washington Jr.
  2. If you need a break from the small talk or arguments with family members you don’t particularly get on with, try Uncomfortable Christmas by CMAT & Junior Brother.
  3. If you need a very fun and cheerful song without the standard Christmas caroling vibe, try Holly Jolly Christmas by Michael Buble.
  4. If you are feeling overwhelmed at New Year’s with the world around you falling apart, try Froukje’s Groter Dan Ik.
  5. If you want to chill out at the end of the day to a different take on a well-known winter song, try Let It Snow by Filous.
  6. When it’s cold and dark outside and you just want to sit inside with a blanket wrapped around you, put on a candle or a small light and enjoy the instrumental song Licht by Hiroyuki Sawano.
  7. If you are spending Christmas alone, away from your loved ones, try She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye by Mickey Newbury.
  8. If you want some Japanese Rock Christmas Vibe rocking you into the Christmas mood, try クリスマスソング by Backnumber.
  9. When you're taking a walk outside on a winter day, just after it has snowed, and the ground is covered in white, we recommend The Fairytale of New York by The Pogues with some Irish Vibe.
  10. Whatever your situation might be, Somewhere Only We Know by Lily Allen will give you a warm feeling.
  11. When you feel lonely during these dark times or taking a walk in the dark, try My December by Linkin Park.
  12. When you’re missing home or simply missing the sun, try the popular Maltese song Xemx, performed by The Tramps, a love song where a lover is compared to the sun.
  13. If in the evening, before you go to bed, you need to hear something beautiful, soothing and moving, try Aniron by Enya.
  14. If you are homesick, or want to be somewhere else, try River by Katie Melua.
  15. If you want a summer Christmas Vibe from Curacao and Aruba, try Papa Noel by Janiro, Basic One.
  16. If you want to dive into the message of peace on earth at Christmas, try the Iraqi Peace Song by Lori Tennenhouse, combining Arabic and English verses into a solemn lullaby.
  17. If you want to feel Christmassy but are tired of the usual songs, try Jingle Bells by Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir.
  18. If you like a funny rock song for Christmas, try Don't Shoot Me Santa by The Killers.
  19. If you hate Christmas, your family problems or both and you want to dampen the mad/sad feelings that come with it, try De Staat and immerse youself in minimalistic music by Louis Andriessen.
  20. If you want to get into the excitement of someone who has known all his life only  “Halloween”, and is now discovering for the first time “Christmas land”, try What’s this with Danny Elfman.
  21. If you just want to sit with a blanket on the couch and listen to something that is not a Christmas song, but carries you through a journey that goes through lights and shadows, try Lights and Shadows by OG3NE.
  22. If you think your Christmas is bad, just let this Christmas message Chiron Beta Prime from the Andersons cheer you up. They have it much worse.
  23. If you’re looking for some Christmassy laughs, Carols of the Bells by the Muppets is a safe bet.
  24. For the more satire-loving nihilists among us, Tom Lehrer’s Christmas Carol is a great choice when you’re getting a bit sick of the cutesy themes of the standard Christmas songs.
  25. It is Christmas Eve, it just turned dark and you're thinking about the past. Welcome to the Black Parade (My Chemical Romance) helps you to get into that spirit, as it goes from calm to chaotic to calm.
  26. If you need just a palette cleanser from all the cheery atmosphere, try Soliloquy (Protest the hero).
  27. Try Hell's carol from Hopsin to rap you into the eagerness about opening your presents.
  28. If you want to get nostalgic with Tom Waits, try his Chrismas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis (and Silent Night).
  29. If you do not like Christmas music, try this Hip Hop Big Bag by Tyler the Creator.
  30. If you're sitting by the window looking at the (hopefully) snow outside, clutching a nice warm cup of cocoa or glühwein, then try The Weather by Lawrence.
  31. Its Christmas Eve and you’re feeling nostalgic and want to listen to a well-known Christmas song, try It May Be Winter Outside by Love Unlimited.
  32. If you need the proverbial candle during dark winter nights, try Invisible by Zara Larsson, helping you to remind that often it is the little acts of kindness that make the biggest difference.
  33. I you want to put yourself in the mood to dance, let loose and have fun, try The Big Bang by Rock Mafia.  
  34. After a long day when you want to zone out and experience some music that you can actively listen to, try God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in the instrumental version of this old English traditional Christmas carol (with Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Jim Kerwin & Joe Craven).  Contrast this experience with the amazing vocal version by Pentatonix.
  35. When all the stress around the holidays and your family/in laws are starting to get on your nerves and you just need a minute to yourself and want to ponder the need for silence, try Car Radio by Twenty One Pilots.
  36. If, at last, you really want to simply enjoy silence, then try John Cage’s 4:33 with the Berlin Philharmonics.