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Come all ye (indie) faithful

Sufjan Stevens's 5-disc holiday set has plenty of singer's quirky style

Among the fun titles on Sufjan Stevens’s ‘‘Songs for Christmas’’ is ‘‘Come on! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!’’
Among the fun titles on Sufjan Stevens’s ‘‘Songs for Christmas’’ is ‘‘Come on! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!’’

Leave it to Sufjan Stevens to make Christmas music exciting, even desirable, to people who normally don’t like Christmas music. On his new box set, ‘‘Songs for Christmas,’’ the critically acclaimed indie singer-songwriter works hard to win you over, starting with the packaging.

There are stickers; five CDs of traditional and original music; a handsome songbook with lyrics, chord charts, and stories by ‘‘Santa Sufjan’’; a Christmas essay by Rick Moody; and even a pullout family portrait of Stevens clutching an inflatable Santa with someone who’s not his wife and cute kids who belong to someone else.

If you’re rolling your eyes, keep reading — and listening.

‘‘Songs for Christmas’’ originated as a personal project for Stevens back in 2001, when he began recording Christmas EPs for his friends and family. Packaged together, they’re now five albums, divided by the year they were recorded and each given a seasonal name: ‘‘Noel,’’ ‘‘Hark!,’’ ‘‘Ding! Dong!,’’ ‘‘Joy,’’ and ‘‘Peace.’’ Of the 42 songs, 17 are originals written by Stevens, and you’ll know them by their quirky titles: ‘‘Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!).’’

Stevens’s new songs fit more into his own repertoire than in the traditional Christmas canon, though he makes a solid case that holiday music needs more glockenspiel and electric organ. Consider this Christmas music for hipsters huddled around a puny tinsel tree in their Williamsburg apartments.

True, ‘‘Songs for Christmas’’ is not for skeptics. A kernel of interest in Christmas music surely helps, but it’s still hard to resist this album’s charms. You’d be surprised just how much you’ll feel like dancing on ‘‘Come on! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!’’ I didn’t want to do the Elf Dance, but the spirit, not to mention the banjo and tambourine, moved me.

If you’re still not convinced, Stevens spells out his intentions on ‘‘Get Behind Me, Santa!,’’ an imagined dialogue between ‘‘the Christmas Curmudgeon’’ and ‘‘Santa Claus and his busy-body elves,’’ who extoll the virtues of the season:

‘‘Take it easy what you gotta be so absurd!/ You make it sound like Christmas is a four-letter word/ It’s a fact of life whether you like it or not/ So put your hands together and give it a shot!’’

James Reed can be reached at

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