record player by Christmas tree

6 Spirited Songs to Add to Your Poetic Holiday Playlist

It’s officially time to listen to all the holiday music you can before the season ends. Like poetry, the best holiday songs transport their listeners, conjuring festive landscapes full of rich, multi-sensory imagery. Add these six songs to your music library this December.


1. “Merry Christmas” by Ed Sheeran and Elton John

Ed Sheeran and Elton John form an unlikely but iconic pair in this new Christmas release, which is certain to become a modern classic. On “Merry Christmas,” Sheeran and John employ the popular and striking poetic technique of juxtaposition, singing “I know there’s been pain this year but it’s time to let it go / Next year you never know, but for now / Merry Christmas.” The coexistence of struggle and celebration in “Merry Christmas” makes for a poignant ode to living in the moment. 



2. “Christmas Tree Farm” by Taylor Swift

While “Merry Christmas” encourages listeners to take in what’s around them, Taylor Swift’s cheerful “Christmas Tree Farm” fully embraces nostalgia. In the holiday bop—which Swift re-released this year as an “old timey” version—the singer gives fans a glimpse of what Christmas was like growing up on a literal Christmas tree farm in West Reading, Pennsylvania. “In my heart is a Christmas tree farm / Where the people would come / To dance under sparkling lights / Bundled up in their mittens and coats / And the cider would flow,” Swift illustrates. 



3. “Glittery” by Kacey Musgraves and Troye Sivan

Country queen Kacey Musgraves revels in the mystical romance of the holidays with “Glittery,” a track from The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show. The charming, lovestruck tune is Musgraves’s tribute to someone who “shakes [her] up and turns [her] upside down / just like a snowglobe,” making the symbolism, a popular literary device, a central component of the song. Throughout “Glittery” Musgraves returns to this comparison again and again, crooning, “You light me up like a starlight on a Christmas tree / Every single kiss is like a gift to me / And I love the way you decorate my heart.”



4. “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Whitney Houston

“Do You Hear What I Hear” offers a masterclass in imagery by engaging multiple senses. Houston soulfully details what the speaker of the song sees: “a star, a star dancing in the night, with a tail as big as a kite.” Rather than just relying on the visual, however, “Do You Hear What I Hear” also delves into auditory imagery, recounting a song “with a voice as big as the sea.” The song also depicts physical sensation, viscerally inviting listeners to “shiver in the cold” alongside a baby in the manger. 



5. “It’s Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries” by Carly Rae Jepsen

The best poetry subverts expectations and has a distinct tone of voice. Carly Rae Jepsen channels both in “It’s Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries,” a 2020 release that illuminates the minor crises and family dramas that often arise on holidays, but that few people discuss. “My boyfriend is a vegan, so they fed him fish. / My uncle made it worse by talking politics. / I had a few opinions that might have started a fight. / Well, it’s not Christmas till somebody cries,” Jepsen cheekily confesses, showcasing the appeal of injecting relatable humor and a little snark into lyrics. 



6. “River” by Joni Mitchell

Acclaimed songwriter Joni Mitchell delivers a cathartic and wistful Christmas heartbreak anthem with her 1971 release “River,” a track on her most beloved album, Blue. The song lets listeners into a private grief in the midst of public celebration and joy, with Mitchell vulnerably intoning, “It’s coming on Christmas. / They’re cutting down trees. / They’re putting up reindeer / and singing songs of joy and peace. / Oh I wish I had a river / I could skate away on.” The classic song narrates a breakup during the holiday season, crafting a strong emotional reality and inner world in the same way that poems do. 




Feeling inspired by these holiday songs? Check out our holiday writing prompts to pen some lyrical stanzas of your own.