I was deployed in war zones over a couple of Christmases while in the military and the CIA, was stationed in Europe for a Christmas, and I would dare to say that nearly 100 percent of veterans have faced similar Christmases (and other holidays) away from friends and family, and away from their homes in America. While stuck in the snows of Kosovo, or the mountains of Afghanistan, one of the things that always kept me tethered to my family, Christmases in the States, and to the “real” world in general, was Christmas music.

I am a sap for Christmas music. I admit it. I listen to songs from my childhood, and I am instantly warmed by thoughts of Christmas mornings, eggnog, and time with family. This was especially heightened when I listened to Christmas music in a war zone. Now that I have kids, I have built a whole new set of songs that carry meaning for me and my family, as we have listened to them year after year since my sons were born.

On that note, I would recommend to all the readers of SOFREP that you take an hour or two this holiday season to make a good ole’ fashioned mix CD (old school!) and send it to a service member deployed overseas. They will hopefully take as much comfort from, and find as much joy in, the familiar tunes as I did while serving far from home.

To help you with this endeavor, I offer the following list as a suggested starting place for a mix. These are all modern, and all great songs. Disclaimer: Ever since I bought their first Christmas song while in Afghanistan in 2006, I have been hooked on The Killers’ annual charity Christmas album. So there are lots of their songs in here. You’re welcome!

  1. “Christmas in L.A.” by The Killers, featuring Dawes. This song, like so many of The Killers’ Christmas tunes, approaches the holiday from left field, while perfectly capturing the feeling of being displaced over the holidays.
  2. “Christmas Lights,” by Coldplay. In true Coldplay fashion, this song is simultaneously somber and uplifting, poignant and joyful.
  3. “Fairytale of New York,” by The Pogues. The Irish troubadours made a Christmas classic that you can hear 200 times a day on the radio in Ireland during the season. It’s got cursing, jail time, Christmas lights…everything a good Christmas song needs.
  4. “Joseph, Better You Than Me,” by The Killers, featuring Elton John and Neil Tennant. Once again, the Killers approach Christmas from an angle few of us ever consider: What must Joseph have been thinking regarding his wife’s virgin conception?
  5. “When the Bells Start Ringing,” by My Morning Jacket, featuring The Head And The Heart.  A slow, ambling country Christmas song. Like a lot of people nowadays, My Morning Jacket associate Christmas with The Killers, and say so in this song.
  6. “Joel, The Lump of Coal,” by The Killers. This is the newest (2014) song from the band, and an instant classic. You know once your kids start asking for it after one listen, you have a keeper. Sung from the point of view of a sad piece of coal condemned by a mean Santa to ruin a young boy’s Christmas, it ends with Christmas joy, in true Killers fashion.
  7. “Winter Song,” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. This is a lovely “winter” song, more than a Christmas song, but it still evokes the feeling of the holiday and warms the heart.
  8. “Boots,” by The Killers.  This one aims for, and hits squarely, the heart. It harkens back to Christmases with the family, snowy boots out on the doorstep, Dad reading by the fire, and Mom making Christmas dinner in the kitchen.

Okay, there you have it. This is a good start to build your own Christmas playlist for a deployed soldier, airman, marine, or sailor. Throw in some classics (Crosby, Martin, Como, Sinatra), and you will ensure that, at least in what they hear over the holidays, our troops will be home for Christmas.