In an especially disorienting year, we ache for the familiarity of gathering together as Christmas approaches. Luckily, music has a way of stirring up memories and encouraging us toward a future hope, and this year, there seems to be something for everyone.
These eight albums—from better-known Christian artists and some fresh finds—provide the inhale and exhale of Advent, reminding us to both celebrate and hold our breath in anticipation of the coming Christ. You can check out our Spotify playlist to listen to all of the recommendations.
A Tori Kelly Christmas by Tori Kelly
If you’re wishing that Sister Act had been a Christmas movie, look no further than A Tori Kelly Christmas. Known for her impossibly perfect vocal riffs, she puts a spin on Christmas classics that brings in R&B tempos, throwback beats and, of course, a choir of backup singers. It’s not only hype, though. Her rendition of “O Holy Night” is as vocally powerful as it is timeless. If you need some pep in your step, throw on “Joy to The World/Joyful Joyful” and crank up the volume. This album is ideal for getting tasks done or for a boost of energy as the days become shorter.
A Jolly Irish Christmas (Vol. 2) by Rend Collective
In their second release of the year, Rend Collective’s A Jolly Irish Christmas (Vol. 2) complements their 2014 Christmas offering. The 12-track album encompasses everything from classics like “The First Noel,” to an upbeat cover of the Irish carol “Christmas in Killarney.” The Northern Ireland rock band’s folky “Silent Night (Be Still)” adds a chorus that especially resonates in 2020: “Be still my heart / Be still my mind / May I still see the magic of that silent night / Fill me with wonder / Keep mystery alive / May peace on earth be my song tonight.”
A Drummer Boy Christmas by For King & Country
In A Drummer Boy Christmas, For King & Country proclaims Christ’s arrival bookended by a prologue and epilogue versions of “In the Bleak Midwinter,” even bringing Needtobreathe to join them in “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Pop harmonies and electrifying bridges make their Christmas covers stand out. The album’s inspiration came from the Christian duo’s performance of “Little Drummer Boy” at the Country Music Association’s “CMA Country Christmas.” Lucky for us, it’s the perfect soundtrack to brighten our dark winter.
Maverick City Christmas by Maverick City Music
Maverick City Music marries gospel style to CCM form to create music that leads the soul to worship. Especially as so many of us miss meeting in person, the voices on this album move the listener to sing along in a way that only church worship can. The group takes classic Christmas hymns and adds new choruses or lets the Spirit move as it extends them into a worship experience, as demonstrated in the “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee / Angels We Have Heard on High” medley.
Christmas (Deluxe) by Sandra McCracken
It’s no secret that Sandra McCracken is the singer-songwriter who brings undeniably Bible-centered lyrics to her enchanting falsetto. Though the original album released in 2019, McCracken released a deluxe edition of Christmas this year. She tells stories that make the listener feel at home: “We bless the seeds under the snow / We bless the patience, take it slow / We bless the limits, bless the tears / We bless the failures that brought us here”? This album is best accompanied by fresh snow, a crackling fire, or a cup of tea to unwind.
Advent, Pt. One by Sarah Sparks
Sarah Sparks has been writing music for years with soul and thoughtful, original lyrics. Her latest creation, “Advent, Part One,” is an eight-song collection that brings a balm to her listeners’ hearts and new life to old favorites. I especially loved her original “400 Years,” which says: “And in 400 years / not one word was spoken / and the prophets were silent / leaving us in the darkness / But then what should appear? / Do we hear a new sound in this silent night? / For the first time / not a silent night.” It’s a perfect album to spruce up the winter midday mundane.
A Seed, A Sunrise by Caroline Cobb
Caroline Cobb is less known but equally worthwhile. Her album “A Seed, A Sunrise” is an intentional voyage from Advent to Christmas, leading us from anticipation to full celebration. It’s the kind of album that moves you slowly to where you need to be when you feel stuck during this strange time. Songs like “Comfort, Comfort” remind us that Christ brings us much-needed salvation from what burdens us.
Christmas: Acoustic Sessions by Phil Wickham
Always a calming presence in music, Phil Wickham has given us a real gift in his acoustic album Christmas: Acoustic Sessions. We’re busy much of this month, trying to tie up loose ends and send Christmas cards and gifts, and this album beckons us to set things down and rest. If you need a slowdown, Phil is your ally. With his signature buildups and heart-lightening voice, this album gives us an extra dose of hope this season.
Listen to our playlist below to get in the Christmas spirit with CT’s holiday mix.
Melissa Zaldivar is an author, a Bible teacher, and the podcast host of Cheer Her On. She lives near Boston.