Barbra Streisand is many things: a singer, an actress, and perhaps most prominently, a Jew. Yet she’s also an American, which means she hasn’t escaped one of the most time-honored, consumer-driven traditions of our fine country: releasing a Christmas album. In her case, make that four Christmas albums. She’s certainly not alone — Jews like Carole King, Barry Manilow, and just this year, William Shatner have all dropped hot Christmas jams — but there’s something especially incongruous to me about my favorite Funny Girl quadrupling down on Christmas.
I’m actually the kind of Jew who genuinely enjoys Christmas music, so I decided it was time to give Babs’ Christmas repertoire a full listen. Below, I take you through them chronologically and offer a grade for each so that you can decide which Barbra Streisand Christmas album you’d like to ring in the holiday with this year.
A Christmas Album (1967)
This album opens with a true banger, appropriately titled “Jingle Bells?” Note the question mark: I like to read this as a nod to Babs’ skepticism to be entering into the Christmas sphere as such an iconic Jewess. But there’s no doubt, by the end of this fast-paced take on the classic “Jingle Bells” ditty, that Streisand is diving headfirst into the Christmas spirit, no holds barred. What a champ.
Unfortunately, that was the peak for me. The rest of the songs on this album stay pretty classic and traditional — her renditions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Sleep in Heavenly Peace (Silent Night)” are slow, heartfelt, and highlight Streisand’s stellar voice, but I’m going to be honest: They’re also pretty boring. Her version of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music is slowed down, turning the original upbeat bopper into a moody romantic croon (I prefer the original). Definite bonus points for doing “Guonod’s Ave Maria” in Latin, and I will say closing out the album with a very dramatic, nearly operatic rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” is a power move I can get behind.
A Christmas Album remains one of Streisand’s best-selling records as well as one of the best-selling Christmas albums of all time. Still, I’d say it leans a little too Christmas-y and not enough Babs-y. It would be a full letter grade lower if not for “Jingle Bells?” Grade: B. Listen Here
Season’s Greetings from Barbra Streisand… And Friends (1969)
Sadly, this one is not on my music streaming service of choice, so I couldn’t actually listen to it. However, it appears to be a handful of songs from her first Christmas album (see above) and some other recordings from, well, her friends. Guest tracks include Doris Day doing “Silver Bells” which is a classic and just very good, Jim Nabors’ “Jingle Bells” (they should have included Babs’ version instead), and some medleys from Andre Kostelanetz and his orchestra (who is, you guessed it, another Jew). If you’re looking for a Barbra Streisand Christmas album that isn’t too much Barbra, this one’s for you. Grade: C
Christmas Memories (2001)
I must start with the name of this album, which makes me wonder, does Barbra Streisand actually have any Christmas memories? Unclear.
Anyway, like the one that came 34 years before it, this record is mostly covers of classic Christmas songs, though Streisand is definitely taking more liberties this time around. We open with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which starts slow and soft, but about halfway through, a smooth jazz beat comes along which had me grooving in my office chair. Up next is “A Christmas Love Song,” which is not a cover but may as well be — it pretty much sounds like every other Christmas song out there. We get a cover of “I Remember” by Stephen Sondheim (a Jew… you do realize that most Christmas songs were written by Jews, right?). It’s pretty melancholy, which can be said for most of this album. Some critics speculated that the darker mood was on purpose, as this was released a month after 9/11, though she started recording the songs that previous July, so I’m going to start a new theory that Barbra was actually just sad about having to do a Christmas album.
Gotta be honest: I had to skip ahead on several tracks, as they just weren’t doing it for me. Exceptions were “Grown-Up Christmas List” which has a live orchestra and a stirring beat, “Closer” which was dedicated to Streisand’s dear friend Stephen Weiss who passed away earlier that year (fun fact: he was married to designer Donna Karan), and “One God,” which I like to think of Babs’ subtle nod to that *other* monotheistic religion not being represented on this record. Grade: C+. Listen Here
The Classic Christmas Album: 2013
This one’s kind of cheating. It’s just Babs’ first two Christmas albums, combined into one. Not much else to say. Grade: B-. Listen Here