How to create a perfect holiday playlist

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Holiday music and eggnog have this in common—they should be wrapped in the proper season. Break them out during a mid-summer celebration only if you want to immediately poop the party. Fortunately, you can ensure that your holiday music is played at the right time—and in the right way—during the holidays. The avenue for doing so is iTunes’s smart playlists.

Tag your tuneful gifts

The more thoroughly you tag your holiday tunes, the more likely you’ll hear the music you desire. Start by assigning the Holiday genre to your seasonal tunes. If you’ve purchased this music from the iTunes Store, it’s already tagged with this genre. If you obtained the music elsewhere—from CDs that you’ve ripped, for example—you’ll have to assign the genre manually.

To do so, select all of your holiday tracks and press Command-I. If a dialog box appears that asks if you want to edit information for multiple tracks, click Yes. Within the Multiple Item Information window, select the Info tab and under Genre select Holiday from the pop-up menu. (If there is no Holiday entry in this menu, simply type Holiday into the Genre field.) Click OK and all of your tracks will be tagged with the Holiday genre (as you start typing the word Holiday, it should auto-populate—helpful if you have lots of genres to scroll through).

At this point, you can create a very simple holiday smart playlist by choosing File -> New Smart Playlist (or holding down the Option key and clicking on the Plus (+) icon in iTunes’ bottom-left corner) and, in the resulting window, configuring the playlist to read Genre Contains Holiday. Click OK and all your holiday tracks appear in the playlist, ready to enjoy.


Like every other musical genre on earth, holiday tunes come in many flavors—traditional, modern, classical, soul, and jazz, to name a few. And not all of them are appropriate for all occasions. For a holiday party you want something upbeat or traditional rather than dirge-like. And if mom and dad have been up half the night assembling the gifts brought by Santa, they may not wish to have the gift opening accompanied by King Diamond’s No Presents for Christmas.

This means additional tagging of your holiday tracks. And there are multiple ways to do that. One is to create a new genre—Holiday (Soul), for example. To do so, all you need to do is select the appropriate tracks, once again press Command-I to bring up the Multiple Item Information window, select the Info tab, enter the custom genre you want to use in the Genre field, and click OK.

Use iTunes' Info window to enter track tags

The advantage of using this method is that you can create a couple of different smart playlists that display holiday music. You can, for example, create a smart playlist that grabs all of your holiday tracks by using the Genre Contains Holiday condition I cited before. The contains condition ensures that any track that includes the genre entry Holiday will appear in the playlist. If you want to get more specific, you can create a different smart playlist that uses genre contains Holiday (Soul) to find that specific subset of holiday music. Or you could create a Genre Contains Soul condition, which plays all of your soul tracks, including the seasonal ones.

Another way to do this is with the Grouping tag, which allows you to add another layer to your catalog. So, using this example, enter Holiday in the Genre field and Soul in the Grouping field. Then compose a smart playlist that reads:

  • Genre Is Holiday
  • Grouping Is Soul

Be sure that the Match pop-up menu at the top of the window reads Match All Of The Following Rules. If it reads Match Any Of The Following Rules, then you get a playlist that contains both holiday and soul music. Using this kind of scheme you can easily split your holiday music into sub-genres—rock, traditional, gospel, sacred, secular, classical, and so on.

Now, let’s add a third layer by adding information to the Comments field. For example, let’s suppose you’d like to listen to traditional holiday music, but only those tracks with no vocals—so, string quartets sawing away at “Silent Night,” but not Bing Crosby crooning the same roasted chestnut. Locate your traditional instrumental holiday tracks, press Command-I, and in the Multiple Item Information window choose Info. Enter Traditional in the Groupings field and Instrumental in the Comments field.

You can now create a smart playlist that reads:

  • Genre Is Holiday
  • Grouping Is Traditional
  • Comments Contains Instrumental

Of course with the Comments field at your command you can get really persnickety. Include comments along the lines of traditional, instrumental, secular, sacred, be-bop, maudlin, and Rat-Pack and you can generate dozens of smart playlists that offer holiday playlists for every taste.

A complete holiday smart playlist

More? Sure, depending on your patience and exacting nature you can delve into the Year tag. Doing so allows you to create smart playlists that produce music produced in a particular era. For example:

  • Genre Contains Holiday
  • Grouping Is Lounge
  • Comments Contain Oddball
  • Year Is In The Range 1990 to 2000

Come January

While devoting this much effort to tagging your tunes may seem like a bother—particularly when you’ll serve up this music for only a couple of weeks—tagging your holiday tunes is, in truth, a gift you’ll give yourself that lasts the whole year through. And it is because when the new year rolls around, you’ll be heartily sick of hearing these tracks. Tag them as holiday tunes, however, and you can create smart playlists that weed them from your other-11-months music collection—Genre Is Not Holiday will be a godsend when you’re ready to listen to “real” music.

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