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Tiny Desk Playlist: The Holiday Concerts

Pandemic life has short-circuited many holiday traditions, as intergenerational family togetherness has given way to Zoom calls, while Black Friday shopping has given way to the sweet, sweet absence of Black Friday shopping. But it's also provided a golden opportunity to reboot your routines: to start baking Christmas cookies, or craft handmade greeting cards, or lock down a pact with your family to leave the tree up until summer. These are heady and challenging times, so what's to keep you from declaring that Christmas, for you and yours, now takes place from Dec. 23 until June 23?

OK, so here's another new tradition for you to stuff in your stocking: What if, from now on, you spent the Christmas season gathering up your immediate family — or sealing yourself in a virus-proof bubble, whichever — and hunkering down to watch every Tiny Desk holiday concert ever recorded?

The Tiny Desk series has existed since April 2008 — long enough for our holiday sets to become traditions unto themselves. In fact, you can watch the moment they became a tradition here, as the charming U.K. folk-pop band Fanfarlo closed their December 2009 set with a cover of Low's "Just Like Christmas." (Speaking of traditions, the Christmas tree I hastily scrawled onto a piece of looseleaf paper for the occasion still hangs at the Tiny Desk, crumpled but mighty, a dozen years later.)

Ever since, we've made an official holiday Tiny Desk concert happen each year, starting with Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O in 2010 and including everyone from Sharon Jones to Amy Grant to Hanson to HMSTR. (Now, that's range!) We've even recorded the occasional one-off holiday song, as we did with Wyclef Jean's cover of "Feliz Navidad" or Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers' "The Strangest Christmas Yet," both of which we captured for 2017's The Big Tiny Desk Holiday Special.

The Tiny Desk has sat mostly empty due to the pandemic since March 2020, so we weren't able to decorate this year — though we're keeping the spirit alive in our Tiny Desk (home) concerts series. Still, my scrappy little hand-drawn Christmas tree continues to hang, waiting for us to return and start dreaming up holiday traditions as yet unimagined.

Tiny Desks In This Playlist

  • Matt Wilson (read more)
  • The Music Tapes (read more)
  • The Polyphonic Spree (read more)
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band (read more)
  • HMSTR (read more)
  • Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (read more)
  • The Oh Hellos (read more)
  • Hanson (read more)
  • Amy Grant (read more)
  • Los Lobos (read more)
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    Stephen Thompson
    Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)