Authors's note: I originally wrote this story during the locked-down Christmas of 2020. Now, in 2021, we're not sure what the holidays will bring, between booster vaccines and new variants. It's still uncertain out there, but at least these tunes will help you—including six new tracks to knock this playlist over the one-hour mark.
How do you make your holiday zoom party feel a little more like the real thing? Treat it the way you would an IRL gathering—which means building the perfect party playlist. This is no small order, people: The background music of the evening sets the tone of how things unfold. It fills gaps in conversation. Ideally, it gets butts moving at some point—and helps get them moving out the door at some point, too. (There's a reason why many a bar plays Semisonic's biggest hit at the end of the night without a trace of irony.)
But since this holiday is bound to be even more stressful than the usual December (sorry but it's true), we here at Team Coast are giving our gift to you a little early: A pitch-perfect playlist of carols and classics, by everyone from Jenn Grant to Ben Caplan to, yes, Mariah Carey. These are the only songs we've ever had help our heart grow three sizes while partaking in eggnog drinking or tree trimming. Here's hoping they do the same for you.
“O Holy Night” by Ben Caplan
The thundering folk star himself goes for Baroque with this holiday standard, making it the prime opening slot on this playlist: Its slow-building anticipation is perfect for waiting for the first guests to arrive.
“The Banister Bough” by Chilly Gonzales feat. Feist
Collaborations between Canada’s premiere songbird and musician-producer Gonzales are always solid gold (see the Gonzales-produced Feist album Let It Die for proof). This, the duo’s first-ever holiday hit, proves no exception as it tickles your every vertebra with warm piano and soaring vocals.
“Make You Mine This Season” by Tegan and Sara
When it’s time to kick the party into high gear, this glossy synth-pop gem is what you need—especially since it sounds so in the wheelhouse of the Quinn twins you’d barely know it was a holiday track if you weren’t paying attention to them sing “you’re the only girl I’ve got on my list.”
“Kisses for Christmas” by Christina Martin
Warm, jaunty and mid-tempo: Martin’s new holiday single is not only a catchy-as-hell reminder of what matters most this time of year—it’s also the perfect mood music.
“Downtown Christmas Eve” by Jenn Grant
If you ever doubted that a holiday song could double as a baby-making anthem, well, you’ve never heard Grant’s ode to life in a winter wonderland.
“Jingle Bell Rock” by Serena Ryder
Not since Regina George has someone made this rock ’n’ roll song slap so hard.
“It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” by Anne Murray
The grand dame of Nova Scotia’s folk tradition is back with the sort of album made for tinsel-edged days. Get into it as she tackles silver-throated standards like this one.
“Merry Xmas Everybody” by Sloan
This John Lennon-feeling 2012 holiday hit still holds up.
“Little Road to Bethlehem” by Don Brownrigg feat. Rose Cousins
A slow, sweet folk lullaby that’s perfect for deep conversation.
“Then It Snowed” by Gabrielle Papillon
A soaring, pop-tinged song that will make the moment feel like it stepped straight out of your favourite holiday movie.
"Coventry Carol" by Ben Caplan
Caplan's 2021 holiday hymnal is heavy on the pipe organ, adding a dramatic flair to the proceedings that's perfect for the most extra time of year. An electro edge and unfurling song structure make it an unexpected and striking addition to your playlist.
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” by Destiny’s Child
Transport yourself to the days of girl power and butterfly clips with this early 2000s holiday staple.
A piano-soaked, vibrato-stoked original telling Santa to keep the rabid consumption to himself, thanks, is a reminder why we love Smith’s smooth brand of R&B: Lyrics about everyday life, creamy vocals and honeyed backing music mixing into a sweet sonic shot.
The country crooner gives a banjo-ified storybook of a song celebrating the season, yes, but also the big guy’s work ethic. You’ll feel this ear worm drilling in hard while your toes tap.
Quiet Parade, the Halifax fog rock mainstay, loves December so much it wrote a whole EP of holiday tunes. Here, its cover of the wistful tune Darlene Love made into a hit is the perfect excuse to look for enthusiastic consent under the mistletoe—instead of texting your ex ‘happy holidays.’
A synth-y sadcore anthem from Halifax’s genre alchemist waants helps even the biggest grinches get into it.
Jerry Granelli, the drummer who helped this jazz trio make history as the first to sleekly style children’s entertainment with deliciously grown-up music, had a longstanding tradition of performing the 1965 album A Charlie Brown Christmas each year. His death earlier in 2021 is still reverberating within Halifax’s music community—and this instrumental number is the perfect moment to pause and celebrate the one-man scene incubator and daring improvisationalist.
Lam's cover of Joni Mitchell's cerulean classic is bound to shed a tear or two—but after the year we've just had, that's called catharsis, honey.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” by Kasey Musgraves
Do a solid for your single pals and play this one so they can have their own meet-cute at your holiday fete.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey
The GOAT of holiday hits helps end your party on the perfect, vibrato-soaked note.