Manheim Steamroller wins this category hands down. We have all of their albums, and we never get tired of them. If I had to pick a favorite, though, I would probably go with Fresh Aire Christmas simply for their hauntingly beautiful version of "O Holy Night."
A Christmas Experiment by The Canadian Brass is full of bright, happy carols, and is sure to uplift the mood in any gathering.
Christmas Eve by David Lanz is a lovely album of peaceful piano music that I desperately wish I could play myself. (HA!)
I adore A Christmas Portrait by The Carpenters. Karen's voice is so velvety soft that it seems perfectly made for "Christmas Waltz" and "The Christmas Song."
Ultimate Christmas - Normally, I'm not a huge fan of Christmas collections. I'd rather have the entire album by an artist in order to fully explore what they have to offer. This album, though, brings together many of those classics that everyone knows and loves - from Judy Garland to Bing Crosby with a few modern classics tossed in for good measure. (The amazon link, though, lists the original composers, and not the performers.) Whitney Houston's "Joy to the World" never fails to bring me to my feet in praise, and Carly Simon's "The Night Before Christmas" always makes me smile.
A good friend of mine gave me a copy of When My Heart Finds Christmas by Harry Connick Jr. my sophomore year in college. I happen to love the album for itself (can't even pick a favorite song!), but the memory of that gift doesn't hurt! Oooo....and when I looked Harry up to do the link I discovered a new Christmas album. I have to have that too!
Once upon a time, I was an opening cast member of our local Disney store. While there I purchased Disney's Season of Song. Believe it or not, it's not at all what you would expect from Disney. Instead of Mickey and the gang, you get gorgeous instrumentals, classical carolers and a variety of traditional music from the Nutcracker to the Messiah.
Martina McBride sings with real conviction in White Christmas. Her music is powerful - without ever becoming too much. Again, 'O Holy Night' is a favorite, as are 'Do You Hear What I Hear' and 'Silent Night.' Unlike many Christmas albums, you can tell she believes what she is singing. (I am annoyed, however, that she's since re released the album with new songs on it.)
On the other side, Jewel's Christmas music tends toward the soft and gentle. Joy - A Holiday Collection is notable for Jewel's gentle duets with her mother, a medley that contains 'Go Tell It On The Mountain' and the message in 'Hands.' My personal favorite, though, is 'I Wonder and I Wander.'
I would be remiss if I didn't include Reba McEntire's Christmas Collection in this category. 'One Child, One Day,' ' Mary, Did You Know?' and 'The Angels Sang' are my absolute favorites on the first CD, and Reba's versions of 'Silent Night' and 'Away in the Manger' on the second are magical.
Most Enjoyable Cheese:
God Bless him, Michael Ball is one of my all-time favorite Broadway performances. His Michael Ball Christmas, though, sounds like it was produced by a lounge lizard, and I love every minute of it!
Kristin Chenoweth just came out with A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas. While there are some truly lovely songs on this album - check out her Holiday version of 'Sing' - a lot of it is overwrought and cheesy. Lesson to self about Broadway stars?
Best Childhood Memories:
A Charlie Brown Christmas and 40 Years - A Charlie Brown Christmas....seriously, what's not to love! As someone who slept with her stuffed Snoopy every night from the age of 3 until she traded him in for something better - a husband - I can't think of anything better to raise my own children on. God Bless Charles Schultz for insisting that his Christmas special would be about the true meaning of Christmas!
My husband brought home A Christmas Together - John Denver and the Muppets last year. We both grew up on The Muppet Show, and one of our dearest Christmas traditions is the annual viewing of A Muppet Christmas Carol after decorating our tree.
Music I Can't Stand:
Two words - Santa Baby. Unacceptable anyway you listen, although Eartha Kitt is kind of ok.
Likewise, Elvis's Blue Christmas makes me shudder.
There are a whole bunch of artists - like Mariah Carey - who's Christmas albums I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.
While some of the Transiberian Orchestra's stuff is nice, overall I find it way too maudlin and overwrought for comfort. (Sorry Honey!)
The Big One:
My mother has celebrated the holiday season every year for the last 35ish years by performing Handel's Messiah with the Independence Messiah Choir, just as her father before her performed with this incredible choir. I grew up attending rehearsals with her, assisting with attendance records (Mom's been in charge of attendance and seating for at least 25 years), babysitting for choir members and presenting the soloists with roses at the end of several performances. (With three of my most memorable dresses!) I've no idea how many times I've heard the Messiah performed, and I'm grateful that this has been such an important part of my life. I have a copy of their 75th anniversary performance that is part of our family's holiday tradition, although there are many, many beautiful versions available.