If you’re having the kind of year that I’m having, you need to take Christmas music with you or the season will pass you by in a hurry. So I’m grateful for the Christmas playlists that friends have been sharing with Looking Closer. Dusty Henry’s favorites are now a part of my Christmas soundtrack. And I keep going back to the long, long list of imaginative playlists that I collected last year.

For more than 15 years, Anne and I attended Green Lake Presbyterian Church in Seattle. For some of those years we were blessed, Sunday after Sunday, by the beauty of what musicians Nathan and Sarah Partain offered. They now serve at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, where Nathan is director of worship and culture.

PartainsBut their musical reach goes far beyond the sanctuary of their church. Earlier this year, I turned to their latest album (which was recorded under the moniker Jaywalker) for comfort, hope, and healing as we were all wounded by the violence in Charleston. When I wrote about tragedy, I shared some of them: You can listen to Jaywalker here.

I celebrated my birthday this year in Nashville, and one of the highlights was a rare opportunity to spend time with Partain family at the home of musician Kenny Meeks (Sarah’s father). Our friendship is deeply rooted in our shared faith and our passion for music. So I’m not surprised that they responded to my questions about favorite Christmas music with a generous playlist full of inspiring stuff.

Here’s what Sarah has written about their holiday soundtrack.

I’ve grown up listening to many different Christmas records. When we moved to Tennessee in 1986, Amy Grant’s “Tender Tennessee Christmas” became a staple around the house, as we missed the snow of Michigan yet tried to feel comfortable in our new southern home. Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and George Winston’s “December” were in regular rotation, especially if it snowed! And I’ve always loved the music of “The Nutcracker” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” even from an early age.

The past few years, my Christmas playlist has been about the same with some additions here and there. This year, the old favorites are there as well as some new discoveries.

1) O Tannenbaum — Vince Guaraldi Trio

I love this song and soundtrack so much. Every time I hear those first few notes of the piano, I immediately get excited about what’s about to happen. There is a warmth and creativity about it that’s rich and inviting. For music for a children’s show, it’s incredibly complex and musical, something we rarely find today. I heartily agree with Linford Detweiler who said it is the greatest Christmas record of all time!

2) Glory to God in the Highest — Nathan Partain: Listen here.

This is a recent addition to my favorites. Its rich short story-like verses that end in a pinnacle of Christ’s birth, weave together stories throughout time and is a reminder of what Advent and Christmas are about.

3) Bethlehem’s Stable — Kenny Meeks

This is a song that my dad wrote in 2006 as a submission to Grassroots Music in Huston, TX. I love the simple recording that has a cool bluesy richness and great story telling that draws you in to the vulnerable story of Mary and Joseph welcoming Jesus into the stable.

4) O Come O Come, Emmanuel — Sixpence None the Richer

I love this beautiful version of this song, with soft singing and an interesting twist to the arrangement.

5) The Spirit of Christmas — Ray Charles

Last year, I noticed this song in one of the scenes of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, and soon started listening to the whole record by the same name. It has a great vibe and groove, as does the whole album. Charles’ versions of “Little Drummer Boy” and “Rudolph” also have a bluesy funk to it that is great for an impromptu Christmas kitchen dance party!

6) Rain for Roots — Waiting Songs: Listen here.

This is Rain for Roots’ third album and it’s only been out for a few weeks. The songs are geared toward kids, with easy words and melodies to sing along with, but again, have such a richness and depth in content and music that adults will appreciate. Their records always quickly become a family favorite and this one is no different!

7) Come Lord and Tarry Not — Music from the worship team at Green Lake Presbyterian Church, circa 2004

Our time at Green Lake Presbyterian Church was one of great spiritual growth and discovery. One of the things that was vital to worship there was that the songs were written for that specific body of believers for a specific time and place. It was also the first time we began to explore singing songs other than straight Christmas carols on Sunday mornings and focused more on Advent-centric music. Nathan re-wrote the music to this song and the whole worship team got together one Saturday to do a big live recording of the top 5 non-traditional Christmas songs in our church at that time. This song is my favorite one that came from that recording session.

8) Come Thou Fount — Sufjan Stevens

I admit that I am not a huge fan of Sufjan Stevens but I do like his Christmas music and feel that he does it well. This version is so simple yet lovely and I love thinking about this song as an Advent song, too.

9) White Christmas — Bing Crosby

There’s something about this classic record that is so enjoyable and festive to listen to, and I like to put it on while decorating the tree or baking Christmas cookies!

10) Silent Night — Low

This is another new discovery and again, really enjoy the warm and simple production and performances. This version is beautiful and peaceful and reminds me of the end of a candle-lit service every time.

11) White Winter Hymnal — Fleet Foxes

A friend of mine once posted on Facebook that one could listen to Fleet Foxes in any season of the year and it would somehow be perfect. I totally agree! This song in particular feels like a festive antique Christmas card or movie, with its rich lyrical imagery and haunting melodies.

12) Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) — U2

From one of my favorites comes a soulful song that’s a refreshing break from the sugar holiday pop tunes. I also like that little touch of heartache that’s being felt and the yearning for one’s loved one to return.

13) It’s Christmastime, Again — Tom Petty

The first time I heard this was during my first Christmas season working retail. It was on the Christmas soundtrack that we played over and over in the store. Again, it was a welcome and fun change up from the run-of-the-mill cheesy Christmas songs!