Who’s the greatest actress of all time?  Or, the greatest super model?  And, what exactly does it mean to be “The Greatest of All Time?”  (G.O.A.T.)

Wiles is asking the question because we think your answers tell us something important – about ourselves, about our history and in many ways, about our values.   Penned by resident cultural curator Marc Alexander, each month, G.O.A.T. will raise the question and pose head-to-head clashes of some of our culture’s greatest icons, and we want you to JOIN THE CONVERSATION. This month, Marc muses over the greatest Christmas songs of all time.  Let’s spark some healthy debate, shall we?



By Marc Alexander


The holiday season is the most emotional time of the year. The days from the Friday after Thanksgiving until the day the champagne pops on a new year are fraught with feelings. Almost always tied into these feelings are the sounds of our favorite Christmas songs. Nothing can make us emote faster than hearing Bing, Burl, Stevie, or Nat crooning about White Christmases, Holly Jollies, or sleigh rides to Grannie’s through bad weather.

Music is as big a part of the holidays as the meals, the malls, and that rarely seen relative who pops up at the family dinner. Strings of broken flashing colored lights, ubiquitous tinsel and songs of the season on the radio let us know that Christmas is once again on-and-popping. But which Christmas song is the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.)? Which song stirs you the most and gets you in the holiday frame of mind?


On my iPod there are thirty-five Christmas albums – which include more than two hundred songs. I have jams from Elvis singing “Blue Christmas” to The Peanuts Christmas Album, to the one where the German shepherd barks out Jingle Bells. So, by myself, I’m more than qualified to tell you what Christmas song is the G.O.A.T. But, being a lazy writer is not my calling card, so I polled all two thousand two hundred and twenty seven of my Facebook friends to help me narrow it down.


The results were pretty predictable.  Songs like “Let it Snow” by Boyz II Men, “O Holy Night” by Nat King Cole, and “Someday at Christmas” by Stevie Wonder were repeatedly mentioned, along with some others that have rocked the Yuletide airwaves for decades. But, there were a couple of surprises, too, like The Ronettes’ “Frosty the Snowman” and Robert Goulet’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” As everybody who responded mentioned, all the songs were tethered to Christmas tree-smelling memories of days gone by. Out of all the favorite songs mentioned, the two that were typed the most were Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” – both of which received the longest and the most descriptive responses. And even without my cyber-survey they were going to be my two finalists for the greatest Christmas song of all time.


“The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole is a pure and classy classic. From the first few bars when the violins ease in, to the moment that his silk-on-suede voice melts over the music, Nat King Cole owns our attention. His clear voice and annunciation allow us to memorize and sing (if we want) along quite easily. The song reminds me of black and white pictures of men in suits and hats arm-and- arm with ladies in dresses and heels walking down big avenues in my grandparents’ photo albums.


But when compared with the energy and deep 1970’s soul of Donny Hathaway’s classic “This Christmas,” Mr. Cole’s song feels a tad bit dated. Donny Hathaway’s song is from scratch and not a cover. He not only talks about the spirit of the holiday, he alludes to a new romance with the lyrical promise “I’m going to get to know you better.” Now what’s a better Christmas present than that?  In his inimitable style he is able to convey everything that is soulful about the holiday.   Co-written with Nadine McKinnor, “This Christmas” can transform the Scroogiest Grinch into a happy elf when the horns kick in and Donny admonishes everyone to “shake a hand, shake a hand.”


On a personal note, Donny Hathaway’s song is like a harmonic time machine for my senses. When I listen to it, I can literally feel the biting cold of the downtown Philly air and smell the hot pretzels being sold on the street as my mom took me down to Wanamaker’s Department Store to see Santa Claus back in my long ago youth. “This Christmas” is a song that is so tight and so cherished it spawned a movie. Its depth, its joy, and its “firesides blazing bright”, make it the greatest Christmas song of all time.


Agree?  Disagree?  Make your argument – I dare you.

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