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Best Christmas Compilation Albums

Updated on May 13, 2014

Like to mix things up with your Christmas music? Me too.

With dozens of awesome holiday albums now in my collection, I find it painful to have to wait 'til after Thanksgiving--as the hubby mandates--to play Christmas music. So I've taken to sneaking weekly doses of it as early as Nov. 1. (Gotta get past Halloween!)

Many of my all-time favorite Christmas CDs feature just one fabulous voice--Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole--from start to finish. But I also really love great Christmas compilation albums. The mix they bring to the holiday table is perfect for partying with friends and family. Compilations cater to diverse tastes, introduce us to wonderful new sounds by tucking lesser-known gems between more celebrated tunes, and remind us of the broad reach of Christmas joy. After all, how many other musical "themes" can bring together classical, jazz, blues, country, pop, indie, lounge, world & other genres under one festive umbrella?

Here, my 20 personal picks for best Christmas compilation albums. Enjoy!

(photo: Amanda Munoz cc ~ cropped for shape)

Now That's What I Call Christmas!
Now That's What I Call Christmas!

Is this the bestselling Christmas compilation ever? Not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised. With 36 songs covering a multitude of genres, this truly delivers something for everyone. Have your Christmas White (Bing), Blue (Elvis), or Holly Jolly (Burl). Revisit the improbably cool Crosby-Bowie "Little Drummer Boy" collaboration. Yearn for peace with John & Yoko. Give Santa a rockin' welcome to town with Bruce. Yeah, there are some odd picks here (Britney? Michael Bolton?), but it packs a lot of value for under 20 bucks.

 
The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas: Holiday Memories
The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas: Holiday Memories

It's not Christmas without "The Chipmunk Song," right? And Judy Garland's silken, wistful "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- along with loads of other classics.

 
A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector
A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector

Arguably the best Christmas album, period, this almost doesn't feel like a compilation, as Spector's epic Wall of Sound is such a unifying force. But make no mistake, this gathers several talented contributors into one unbeatable musical experience.

 
What A Wonderful Christmas
What A Wonderful Christmas

I've only had this one for a couple of years, but the first time I heard it was a "Where have you been all my life?" moment. Every Louis tune is great, but it doesn't hurt that his "friends" include Dinah Washington, Louis Jordan, Lena Horne & Duke Ellington.

 
Ultimate Classical Christmas Album of All Time
Ultimate Classical Christmas Album of All Time

I don't play a ton of classical music over the holidays but am always grateful to hear it at relatives' homes. It's just so beautiful.

 
Christmas In the Country
Christmas In the Country

Seeing Willie Nelson in concert this summer--speaking of crossing genres; wow!--inspired me to want more country-tinged holiday music. Besides Willie, this one also features greats like Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker & Charlie Rich.

 
Platinum Gospel - Gospel Christmas
Platinum Gospel - Gospel Christmas

"When Was the Baby Born" is one of my favorite upbeat holiday songs, and the version on this compilation does it proud. Plus, I'll listen to just about anything featuring The Blind Boys of Alabama.

 
Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One
Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One

Time-travel back to the Mad Men era without all the show's depressing subplots. You won't need a martini to feel festive with this one.

 
Reggae Christmas From Studio One
Reggae Christmas From Studio One

Ever been on a tropical vacation for Christmas? Now you can be, without leaving home.

 
Blue Yule
Blue Yule

Sonny Boy Williamson, one of the blues greats my better half introduced me to, is in very good company with this CD. I've been sneaking pre-Thanksgiving listens in the car to this recent addition to my collection. I liked this enough to get a copy for my dad as a Christmas gift, too, along with some gourmet bacon. (Blues & bacon - what's not to love?)

 
Yule Struttin': A Blue Note Christmas
Yule Struttin': A Blue Note Christmas

My sax idol Dexter Gordon and super-suave Chet Baker are among the highlights of this sophisticated mix.

 
World Christmas
World Christmas

African rhythms are a perfect match for the celebratory holiday spirit, plus who can resist the Gipsy Kings?

 
Verve Presents: Very Best of Christmas Jazz
Verve Presents: Very Best of Christmas Jazz

You really should get brilliant pianist Oscar Peterson's whole Christmas LP, but barring that, catch him here with Ramsey Lewis, Shirley Horn & other luminaries. Warning: Don't expect the standard mellow version of "Greensleeves" when John Coltrane is involved :)

 
Hipsters' Holiday: Vocal Jazz and R&B Classics
Hipsters' Holiday: Vocal Jazz and R&B Classics

What's the number-one Christmas song my kids request each holiday season? Pearl Bailey's "Five Pound Box of Money," introduced to them years ago via this compilation, which we received as a very savvy gift.

 
Wonderland: Cool December
Wonderland: Cool December

You know that really fun, hip person who makes holiday music compilations packed with quirky gems to gift to lucky friends and family every year? This is just like what he or she would put together.

 
Christmas Gumbo
Christmas Gumbo

The Nevilles are here -- let's get this party started.

 
Christmas A Go-Go
Christmas A Go-Go

Little Steven Van Zandt put together this super fun garage, punk & rockabilly inflected collection, wisely kicking things off with Keith Richards. Go!

 
The Alligator Records Christmas Collection
The Alligator Records Christmas Collection

"Deck the Halls with Boogie Woogie?" Yes please :) You know you're in for fun with the Alligator label.

 
Maybe This Christmas Tree
Maybe This Christmas Tree

This is my favorite of the "Maybe This Christmas" compilation series. An indie-rock crowdpleaser that's not too obscure and retains more of a holiday "feel" than some edgier indie collections do.

 
Where Will You Be Christmas Day
Where Will You Be Christmas Day

I love this eccentric collection of Christmas Americana, recorded from 1917 to 1959. How can you miss with Leadbelly, Bessie Smith & Lightnin' Hopkins on the roster?

 

My favorite indie rock Christmas compilation is virtually impossible to track down :( -- but ebay sometimes still delivers. Check it out!

Which are your favorite Christmas music compilations? Your favorite genres? And how early do you start cranking these holiday tunes?

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