GW Today’s Holiday Playlist 2023

Settle into the holiday spirit with this mix of classics and sleeper hits, chosen by students, faculty and staff.

December 14, 2023

Record player in front of fireplace surrounded by wrapped gifts

(The Retro Store/Unsplash)

Nothing sets the holiday mood like the right music. GW Today asked members of the George Washington University community to tell us about some of their favorite wintertime and holiday tracks.

“The Christmas Song,” Nat King Cole
Colette Coleman, vice provost for student affairs and dean of students

CC: Why? Well, one listen can answer that question. First, it’s Nat and his voice is amazing. And second, it signifies the magic that many find in this season/time period.  

“Feliz Navidad,” José Feliciano
Manuel Cuellar, associate professor of Spanish literature and culture
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS)

MC: I first heard it over the radio when I was growing up in a small rural town in Mexico. My father always worked in the United States to provide for us, and this bilingual song reminded me of his presence in this country. By singing along in English (without really knowing what I was singing for the part that reads “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas”—I only understood Merry Christmas after I was further along in elementary school) I thought my dad would hear those words and understand them, creating a musical connection in my head and heart as a child. My dad only managed to acquire a basic level of proficiency in English to be able to work in the fields first and then at a restaurant. And now, I work as a professor in the U.S. Hearing this bilingual song playing on the radio in the U.S. always makes me smile and think of my childhood days longing to see dad who would come visit for Christmas!

“8 Days (Of Hannukah),” Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Shawn Shafner, M.F.A. student
Corcoran School of the Arts & Design

SS: Let’s be honest—most Hanukkah songs are kind of boring. But Sharon Jones is one cool cat with real style, and this song has a delicious, funky groove. Perfect for frying latkes.

“O Holy Night,” Jonathan Butler
Cheryl W. Thompson, associate professor of journalism
School of Media and Public Affairs

CWT: My favorite Christmas song, hands down, is "O Holy Night." It was my mother's favorite, and the choir sang it at Midnight Mass every Christmas Eve. Whenever I hear it, I think of her, how touched she was every time she heard it, and our family's amazing Christmases in Chicago.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Darren Criss
April Rongero, marketing manager, Office of Communications and Marketing

AR: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is the perfect mix of weepy nostalgia and sweet optimism—the complicated feelings of the holidays, the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. It's the smiling face with a tear emoji. Plus, there’s a cover for all tastes, even ones by my faves OK Go and Darren Criss!

“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from “The Nutcracker,” Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Nils Olsen, assistant professor of organizational sciences

NO: Why is this piece of music special to me? My niece, Annika, has performed in “The Nutcracker” a few times while training with the Danish Royal Ballet & Ballet West, and I always think of the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" when I think of the holidays!

“White Christmas,” Frank Sinatra
Patrick McCann, first-year student
School of Engineering and Applied Science

PM: We don't get a white Christmas in California—I'm from the San Francisco Bay Area—and I love Frank Sinatra.

“Give Love on Christmas Day,” The Jackson 5
Debra Bright, associate vice provost of student affairs

DB: One of my fondest holiday memories as a child was my mom playing “A Motown Christmas,” a compilation album, while we decorated the Christmas tree each year. A tradition we continue to carry on in my household today. I remember dancing around to all the upbeat holiday tunes, but when "Give Love on Christmas Day" played it always caused me to stop and reflect on the true spirit of Christmas. The lyrics are beautiful and a reminder that truly the greatest gift we can give each other is love. Something everyone in this world needs, yet doesn't cost a thing.

“The Christmas Song,” Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy
Susan Jones, professor of clinical law
GW Law

SJ: May they rest in peace and in the power of their musical gifts. Eva Cassidy and the father of D.C.'s go-go music, Chuck Brown, are amazing talents whose two voices singing “The Christmas Song” are simply magical.

"Celebration," Kool and the Gang
Jim Diehl, alumnus
B.S. '67

JD: Celebration is an activity we all partake in during Christmas.

“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” Bruce Springsteen
“O Tannenbaum,” Vince Guaraldi
“Last Christmas,” Carly Rae Jepsen
“My Only Wish (This Year),” Britney Spears
“Christmas in Hollis,” Run-D.M.C.
“Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” David Bowie and Bing Crosby
“Hallelujah” Chorus from “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration,” dir. Quincy Jones
“This Christmas,” Donny Hathaway

GW Today editorial team

GWT: Happy holidays from our headphones to yours!