At Christmas time, my family traditionally engages in a mild battle of wills over what goes on the stereo. My father is a collector of Christmas music (both secular and religious), and when we're at my parents' place, he is the acknowledged Master of the Playlist. But this year, my family is coming to stay with me...so I have to come up with some tracks to put on!
My favorite Christmas music is the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. Actually, pretty much anything that Vince Guaraldi touched is good Christmas fare -- it's quiet, pleasant jazz that can happily fill the background. To get started with Guaraldi's catalogue, check out the Peanuts stuff (get the newer remastered CD's with bonus tracks!), then check out 1964's The Latin Side Of Vince Guaraldi, which is pretty much the best cocktail party album ever.
Moving past Christmas jazz, I enjoy Sufjan Stevens's Christmas EPs, which were recently released on CD (previously they were mostly available via illicit web downloads). The new under-$20 CD box set (which has five discs!) includes Sufjan's Christmas albums recorded each year since 2001, featuring banjo, vocals, and lots of indie rock Christmas cheer. These EPs feature a mix of traditional songs and originals, all with that great Sufjan Stevens feeling. Check out the box set, and try the MP3 listening/download links (in the right-hand column) to get an idea of the sound.
Finally, for some free old-time Christmas recordings, check out Vintage Christmas Wax: Revisited, a collection of free links to online MP3s recorded on wax cylinders -- including tracks recorded by the Edison Concert Band in the very early twentieth century! (Thanks to Whitney at Pop Candy for the link!)
Try the NPR story A Very Tolerable Christmas for samples of the Sufjan Stevens material, plus great music from Low and The Weepies.
So what music do you play at Christmas? Share your suggestions in the comments!