Get into the spirit while pottering on with your Christmas tasks by plugging into these fun festive-focused podcasts.

Whether you’re counting down the minutes until you can legitimately bust out the Christmas decorations, or you’re more of a reluctant merry-maker who needs a little coaxing into the spirit, a Christmas podcast can work wonders for enhancing or putting you in the mood. Though usually devotees of Radio 4 while getting on with our kitchen-based tasks, at this time of the year we find that nothing beats a blast of unrestrained Christmas joy.

It is, perhaps, illuminative of our collective national restraint that most of these festive podcasts hail from across the pond, with one outlier coming in from Australia and just two from these shores. But no matter. After all, the Americans do Christmas brilliantly, and we’re happy to jump on the abandoned festive joy bandwagon for a few weeks of the year. Here are our picks to get you singing Bing Crosby on a loop.

Christmas Past

Christmas Past is a website that all good cheer obsessives should click on without delay. Its raison d’etre? To shine a light on some of the quirkiest or most comforting festive traditions of bygone years. Did you know, for example, that in Victorian times, almost every household had a copy of Mrs Beeton’s The Book of Household Management (1861), which contains pearls of wisdom such as ‘…meet old Christmas with a happy face, a contented mind, and a full larder; and in stoning the plums, washing the currants, cutting the citron, beating the eggs, and mixing the pudding, a housewife is not unworthily greeting the genial season of all good things.’ Or that the French have a tradition of whipping up 13 desserts to be eaten between Christmas Eve and the 27th, in honour of the number of people at The Last Supper? Nope, nor us. But what we really love is the podcast, and specifically being read traditional Christmas stories, such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl by presenter, Brian Earl. So soothing and redolent of childhood.

Weird Christmas

‘Christmas is weird. It used to be even weirder. This is proof.’ And with these words, Weird Christmas sets out it stall. It all began when its host, Craig Kringle, developed an obsession with Victorian Christmas cards, which he would then share with his friends online. It gained momentum, and before long he decided to start a podcast to delve into strange traditions and odd facts surrounding the festive holiday. We learn, for example, that the 25th of December is – relatively speaking, here – a fairly late date allocated for Christmas, its first record being in AD 336 (more than three centuries post Jesus’ birth). That’s according to podcast guest, Cambridge professor Colin Humphreys, who pins the tradition we’ve come to know on an earlier pagan festival, the Peace of the Invincible Sun, which gave thanks to the indomitable sun after its comeback from the shortest day of the year on 21st December (sun, was then swapped for the invincible ‘son’, in this case, of God). We also learn about the Victorian predilection for scary ghost stories at this time of year (clue, it started as an aural tradition in the 17th-century and gained pace with greater literacy and higher incomes); why A Christmas Carol was a financial disaster; and how elves, witches and reindeer all have their role in the Christmas story. Settle in with a cocoa and tool yourself up with some wonderful festive facts and tales. It comes out monthly.

The Christmas Stocking

The Christmas Stocking, presented by Lee Cameron, is a lovely option for those who want just a bite-sized portion of Christmas magic delivered to their headphones. Most episodes deliver a shot of good cheer in just ten minutes, and each features at least one festive song. Learn the origins of favourite tunes, some traditional and some not-so-traditional. We like the tale of ‘Silent Night’, which was, we’re told, written on Christmas Eve in Austria in 1818 when a church organ was broken and no one could come and fix it thanks to heavy snow. An assistant priest at the church remembered a poem he’d written and asked the organist if he could come up with a melody and they could play it on the guitar. The organist – Franz Gruber – came up with the lullaby and they sang it together for the first time that night. As it turns out, the broken organ is a fictitious addition to the story, but the rest remains true. Lee explains the background of recession and war, thus illuminating the lyrics we sing year on year. Lovely, interesting stuff.

Celtic Christmas Podcast

Resuming every November for just a few episodes each in the run up to Christmas, this one is for lovers of Celtic festive music. There is no chat, just continuous merry music from brilliant Celtic bands, making it a great one to stick on for a ceilidh-style party, to whip up Christmas crafts or cook to, or to dance around the kitchen, glass of something warming in hand.

Merry Podcast

This is one of the longest-running Christmas podcasts out there and we think its longevity is thanks to its genuinely interesting discussions surrounding not just Christmas quirks and traditions, though there is plenty of that, but the big topics. One such question is, ‘What was Christmas before Christ?’, since the celebrations already took place (historians dismiss such traditions as pagan; Merry Podcast says ‘not so fast’). And what was Christmas really like during World War Two? It asks, ‘What would you do, as a young man or young woman aged 19 or 20, away from home for the first time at Christmas with the knowledge that you might never return?’ and delves into letters and stories from those for whom that was a very stark reality. This is the place to seek festive cosy refuge if you need to know things like where the stocking tradition comes from, and why we seem celebrate earlier and earlier each year (a clue: history says the opposite is true). A real festive gem.

Christmas Podding

A departure from all the stateside podcasts, Christmas Podding comes from Australia. We love the hosts, Liam Renton and Vanessa Gibbon, who present a chat show about their festive loves and ask all the big questions: should you get a present for your pet? Is it ok to have more than one tree? Are Christmas Brussels sprouts a dish, or a festive punishment? The duo first bonded at work when they realised that they both adored the movie Love Actually, and realised that there was only one thing for it: to start their own Christmas-themed podcast. Both are radio show presenters in their day jobs, which makes listening to this assured and professionally irreverent pair bantering seem a very natural, easy pleasure. It’s also slickly produced, meaning no crackling or rustling or background noise of any kind. For Christmas lovers, it doesn’t get much better.

A Christmas Carol

‘A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, biting, clutching, covetous old sinner’. That, according to Mr Dickens, was what his ant-hero, Ebenezer Scrooge, was – before the redemptive visitation from a trio of ghosts on Christmas Eve, of course. Simply, this is a reading of perhaps the most classic Christmas tale of all time by a host of actors. This story deserves an outing each year, but if you don’t have time to pore over it yourself, why not listen here while getting on with making the brandy butter?

Driving Home for Christmas

‘Hapless gambler Daf is about to embark on the biggest challenge of his life. He just doesn’t know it yet. He and his long suffering girlfriend Shelley are plunged into chaos when Daf’s grief-stricken Mam throws their perfectly laid Christmas plans into complete disarray. She’s not taking ‘no’ for an answer when she declares that she needs the whole family at home with her for Christmas this year in Aberystwyth.’ That’s where this daft yet heart-warming BBC Wales Christmas drama begins, and along the way the characters pack in a whole lot, from questioning the point of a rotisserie to finding the meaning of true love. It’s a silly listen, but fun writing from BBC Wales which pulled off a Christmas miracle in getting five writers in five locations across the country to come together to tell this story of traditional family dysfunction at the most wonderful time of the year. If you can’t be silly at this time of year, when can you?


10 Podcasts To Make You Cleverer
10 Top Christmas Children’s Books
8 Festive Vegan Recipes

By Nancy Alsop
December 2019