The Julie Ruin's Kathleen Hanna: My favorite Christmas song is "Away in a Manger." It's pretty depressing with lyrics like "no crib for a bed" and talk of a baby having to sleep in the hay, but it's the first song I ever learned the lyrics to. Whenever my parents went in the backyard or left me alone for even like five minutes, I would jump into our bay window and sing it at top volume. I was six and I really gave that song my soul. Later "Silent Night" became my jam and I left the manger behind.
Lewis Watson: My most loved is "Driving Home for Christmas" by Chris Rea. It reminds me of that Christmas smell and open fires with the family. It also has the lyric "top to toe in tailbacks"and I have no idea what that means.
The Dap Kings' Sharon Jones: "Silent Night" is classic and hauntingly beautiful, and it was the first song I ever sang in front of an audience. I was eight, dressed as an angel in front of my church congregation. I remember singing and not feeling nervous or scared. Afterward, people came up to me telling me that I had a gift. That was a big moment for me.
Escort's Dan Balis: I'd have to go with Bob Geldof and Midge Ure's schmaltz spectacle, "Do They Know It's Christmas" for Band Aid. It features a parade of coked-out pop superstars raising money to fight Ethiopian famine, who earnestly deliver lines like, "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime."
Killer Mike: My song "A Christmas Grind." Reason: It talks about robbery and drug dealing -- that's how people pay for gifts where I'm from.
White Lung's Mish Way: My favorite holiday song is "What Christmas Means to Me," the second track off the Hanson Christmas album. My two sisters and I used to listen to that album and laugh. It started as a joke but now it's this dumb tradition. We get drunk on gin, blast Hanson and watch shitty Christmas movies. That song is a little joke between the three of us, and it makes me happy because my sisters are my two favorite people in the world.
Ronnie Spector: My favorite Christmas song (of mine) is the Ronette's "Sleigh Ride," because it has the horse neighing in the beginning. They had a real horse come into the studio. The horse made his final 'EEH-EEH-EEH-EEH-EEH,' they recorded it, then he took a big dump and everyone cracked up and scattered. But they were excited because they got him on tape!
The Julie Ruin's Kenny Mellman: Low's "If You Were Born Today." I remember clearly the first time I heard the opening lyric, "if you were born today, we'd have killed you by age eight." It is a rare thing for an opening lyric to be so perfect. It is a Christmas song that doesn't require you to wait for Christmas to listen to it. We often covered it in my old act Kiki and Herb, and it never seemed an inappropriate time of year to sing it. Heck, it was even more fun in July! I am waiting for the day it becomes a classic and the Muzak version (does Muzak still exist?) starts playing in malls across America the day after Thanksgiving.
Crystal Stilts' JB Townsend: "Father Christmas" by The Kinks. I heard this in the car one night when I was a kid and was enchanted by it. It stuck with me but I hadn't heard it in ages until I bought the single a few years ago. It's a pretty rockin' punk song. The lyrics are about Santa getting jumped by some kids who want money and are sick of toys. It was recorded in '77, so that kind of makes sense. I often play it when I DJ in the summertime. It's really amazing. Never fails.
Marnie Stern: "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," because it's actually a good song and very poignant. I also like "The Dreidel Song because I had to sing it all the time growing up, and also because there are no other famous Jewish Hanukkah songs that I can think of.
SZA: I was raised Muslim, so I never really had an extreme "Christmas song" experience with the exception of loving my mom's awesome Christmas rituals. She has this tradition of making apple cider from scratch every winter sand she usually starts up the fire place and plays random sleigh bell sounds and cliche Christmas mall jams, particularly "This Christmas" (the Luther Vandross edition). Then she cracks whole cinnamon sticks in boiling cider and the whole house smells like apple pie. That, along with the epic toastiness from the fire place, and I'm usually in heaven.