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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)

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.

 
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.

 
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?

 
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.

 

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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