Christmas music stirs up as much fake outrage as pineapple as a pizza topping, whether it's complaints about stores blaring "Silent Night" before Thanksgiving or the false notion that songs about holiday cheer downright stink.
For us undercover elves with more cosmopolitan tastes, some of the best Christmas songs of the past 30 years happen to be sung by country artists. We're talking about Kenny Rogers and Wynonna introducing "Mary, Did You Know" to a secular audience and Alan Jackson arguing that it's better to give than receive with Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Country fans' holiday playlists grow each year with selections like these: Wide Open Country's five favorite holiday tunes of 2020.
5. "Howdy Christmas," Scarlett Burke and Hailey Whitters
Hopefully, this December 11 release didn't get lost in the deserved excitement about Taylor Swift and Sturgill Simpson's new albums. It's a fun, witty take on celebrating a very Tennessee Christmas that'll leave listeners two-stepping around the tree. Actor, singer, songwriter and podcast creator Scarlett Burke co-wrote the song and recruited duet partner Hailey Whitters to up the twang quotient.
As in past years, there's plenty more original material by fresh faces for your holiday listening pleasure, from Creature Comfort's COVID-19 pandemic-themed "Christmas in Quarantine" to Nicole Atkin's rock 'n' roll throwback "Every Single Christmas."
4. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," Sierra Ferrell
Sierra Ferrell has a ball singing Brenda Lee's Christmas classic "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" in her own new old-fashioned way. Her exploration of rock 'n' roll and teenage culture's impact on late '50s holiday hits also includes a take on Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock."
3. "Hello Christmas," Dion and Amy Grant
"Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer" singer Dion recruited contemporary Christian music mainstay Amy Grant for "Hello Christmas," an original song that captures the yuletide cheer and childlike wonder at the heart of established holiday classics.
The former leader of the Belmonts also recorded a new Christmas song titled "You Know It's Christmas" with guitar great Joe Bonamassa.
2. "Pretty Paper," Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson
Dolly Parton's first holiday album in 30 years, A Holly Dolly Christmas, includes a guest appearance by fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Willie Nelson. From its orchestral accompaniment to the inclusion of two of the most familiar singing voices in all of popular music, this version's as comfortably familiar as a Christmastime trip back home.
For an equally stunning take on the Nelson classic, check out vocal powerhouse and genre-defiant artist Tami Neilson's recent recording.
1. "O Holy Night," Carrie Underwood
Most press coverage of Underwood's first Christmas album, My Gift, focuses on two duets: John Legend collaboration "Hallelujah" (a new song and not a tribute to Shrek) and that adorable version of "The Little Drummer Boy" featuring a cameo from her 5-year-old son Isaiah.
Yet if you've given the holiday album a spin, streamed HBO Max's My Gift: A Christmas Special From Carrie Underwood or caught the ACM co-Entertainer of the Year's recent appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, then you know that the American Idol winner turned Grammy-winning superstar's complete and total ownership of holiday standard "O Holy Night" outshines more ballyhooed tracks.
Also, we'd be remiss to not applaud Ruston Kelly's "dirt-emo" depiction or Lindsay Bowman's spirit-lifting take of Christians' reason for the holiday season.
Five picks and a few scattered honorable mentions hardly scratch the surface of this year's best Christmas songs by country, folk and Americana artists. Country superstars (Alan Jackson's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"), up-and-coming artists (Lizzie Cate's "Christmas Eve") and bluegrass pickers (Tony Trischka and Michael Daves' "Christmas Cheer (This Weary Year)") helped make the build-up to a socially-distanced Christmas a little more bearable. Shoot, there's even a song by Hasting & Co. and Joe Denim about White Claw and bridesmaids!
We include those and other noteworthy selections on our exhaustive country Christmas playlist for 2020.