It’s been 19 years since the release of Mariah Carey’s hit song “All I Want for Christmas,” and lately, there’s been some discussion about the lack of great, contemporary holiday music. Coming up with a new, original hit is a difficult task, thanks in large part to its immense history: people have been celebrating the winter holidays with song for much longer than recorded music has been around, creating a vast canon of holiday music from all parts of the world. Above, Smithsonian Folkways and Esri have collaborated to provide a sampling of their music collection, taking listeners on an audio journey from the beaches of Hawaii to the snow-covered villages of England in an exploration of the diversity of holiday music. But across the world, these songs also have one thing in common. They reflect the intimacy of a holiday celebration—simple instruments, a chorus of voices and songs sung as part of a family gathering. Familiar names dot the Americas (Woody Guthrie, the Seeger Sisters) but other parts of the world hold holiday surprises. In Uganda, a Jewish congregation sings their version of Psalm 150, and in Hawaii, Puerto Rican musicians bring sounds from their Caribbean home to the tropical Pacific. In Germany, the old folk song “O Tannenbaum” represents the original iteration of the English classic “O Christmas Tree”—but the German lyrics don’t mention Christmas.
Use the map as a playlist to listen to 30-second samples of all the tracks (full songs can be purchased through the Folkways website) or pick a region and explore its unique holiday sound.
(Thumbnail image on Smithsonian.com courtesy of Wikicommons)