Five alternative Christmas albums for your playlist

Tired of the same old festive soundtrack? Folk singer, collector and author Sam Lee gives us his seasonal playlist, filled with atmospheric alternative Christmas songs that you won’t hear in the supermarket

Published: December 7th, 2021 at 4:09 pm
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It's that time of year when I get messages from all over the shop, asking, “Sam, do you know any non-religious folk songs for Christmas?” Where does one even start?

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Britain has a stunning legacy of secular ancient songs, mostly forgotten and buried beneath the tinsel of today's popular repertoire. But step beyond this and you’ll find a wealth of unique ‘vernacular’ ways of celebrating Christmas, and the ancient pagan festivities that converge with it in this midwinter period.

For me, keeping connected to the deeper meaning of midwinter – while healthily avoiding the corrosive nature of commercial Christmas – is greatly helped by listening to music that will never get to number one. If you want to explore some wonderful sounds and voices from distant lands and times past, here are some gems that have preserved the rarest ways we have sung through the darkest time of year.

Listen to Sam Lee's Alternative Christmas Playlist on Spotify


Five albums of alternative Christmas songs

English Village Carols: Traditional Christmas Carolling from the Southern Pennines - 1999

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Starting locally, here are some recordings from the Pennine Pubs that throughout December keep a unique repertoire of songs in full chorus. Includes songs you may know, but many you won't, and some blinders that mess about with what a carol should sound like.

Listen on Spotify

Leave and berries in frost

Ukrainian Christmas Songs - 1956

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A charming collection of choral voices from children and choirs in one of the world's finest singing nations. An album of unusual and yet very familiar carols, sung with enormous cheer and glee.

Sample and buy

Cantos de Las Posadas and Other Christmas Songs - 1963

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Las Posadas (‘the shelters’) are songs about that very theme and are popular across the Spanish and Latin world. This album of Mexican recordings charts these stunning songs, which were traditionally carolled from house to house by those seeking shelter within the community. One of the most glorious and winter sun-filled records.

Listen on Spotify



Christmas Songs - Anúna - 2009

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Back in familiar lands but with unfamiliar songs sung in both English and Irish Gaelic and sung by one of the country's finest choral ensembles. Anúna capture the tranquility and magical stillness in their renditions of some of the great folk carols and Irish language psalms.

Listen on Spotify

Christmas in the Philippines, Bayanihan - 1960s

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One of the most unlikely – yet charming – records of local Filipino and appropriated versions of English songs. This album gives a fantastic insight into how Christmas has been one of the most successful cultural exports that has assimilated itself into new lands in such bold and characterful ways.

Listen on Spotify

Authors

Folk Singer, song collector and author Sam Lee is an award-winning, Mercury Music Prize-nominated musician who has been instrumental in shaping the landscape of the folk scene in the UK, and connecting music with environmental and conservation awareness.

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