Holiday Cheer Brought to You by Radiotopia

Get in the holiday spirit with a playlist of Radiotopia episodes that bring you stories of everything from icy business empires to coping with your family during the holiday season. Grab a toasty blanket and snuggle up to the full playlist now, or pull a Song Exploder and take the playlist apart, piece by piece, below. Warning: This playlist is bring-your-own-cocoa.


The Truth, “Mall Santa”

A disenchanted mall Santa gets a surprise gift from SantaCon. After a drunken encounter in a bar and a train trip to Scarsdale, mall Santa remembers what he liked about his job in the first place.

Ear Hustle, “Ear Hustle Bonus: Songs from S1”

Since listeners responded so enthusiastically to the music in season one of Ear Hustle, the team highlighted a few of the songs, and musicians who performed them, in this bonus episode — just in time for the holidays. Featuring a special holiday song by Antwan Williams, the show’s sound designer.

The Allusionist, “How the Dickens Stole Christmas”

Charles Dickens wrote about the plight of the impoverished and destitute members of British society. So how come his name is a synonym for rosy-cheeked, full-stomached, fattened-goose, hearty merry “God bless us every one” Christmas?

Mortified, “I Was a Teenage Grinch (& Other Tales of Holiday Cheer)”

Were you a Christmas Grinch or a hopeful Who? Two stories of kids at Christmas (and Hanukkah). Featuring a special appearance by Mara Wilson (of Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda).

Strangers, “Isn’t It Nice”

Lea Thau brings the year full circle with a new story about Jared in St. George, Utah, who was the subject of her very first episode in 2017. She reflects on the beautiful difference a year can make, even for someone who thought his whole future had disappeared. If you need a bit of hope this holiday season, or want to make some changes for the new year, this one’s for you.

The Kitchen Sisters Present, “Black Cake: Emily Dickinson’s Hidden Kitchen”

Black cake, gingerbread, slant rhyme, secret loves, family scandals, poems composed on the back of a coconut cake recipe — journey into the steamy, myth-laden, hidden world of poet Emily Dickinson through her kitchen. Filled with mystery, intrigue and readings by Patti Smith, Thornton Wilder, Jean Harris and an array of passionate poets and experts.

The Heart, “Mr. Claus + Mrs. Claus”

You’ve got a squeeze on Christmas Eve? You know you’ll have their lovin’ — but what about ol’ Mrs. Claus? Her man’s out — she’s got nuffin’! In The Heart’s retelling of “The Night Before Christmas,” join lonely Mrs. Claus as she searches for affection in the most unlikely of places.

The Truth, “Naughty or Nice”

An elf named Spark has just been promoted to the “Naughty or Nice” division of Santa’s workshop. But when he finds out how Santa determines if you’ve been bad or good, he makes it his mission to change the system.

The West Wing Weekly, “In Excelsis Deo”

Richard Schiff joins Josh and Hrishi to talk about “In Excelsis Deo,” the season one Christmas episode of The West Wing. His performance as Toby in this episode earned him his first Emmy win. (Also featuring hilarious stories about Schiff’s The West Wing audition.)

The Memory Palace, “On the Shores of Assawompset”

The story of Princess Wootonekanuske, the last living descendant of Massasoit, the Wampanoag Native American who met the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts, inspiring the American tradition of Thanksgiving.

Criminal, “Call Your Mom”

It’s the holiday season! You should call your mother!! But Criminal is here to remind us that there are plenty of things we don’t share with our mothers. Dark, sad things. Unless, of course, you’re both in the business of death.

Mortified, “Dear Santa, I Want a Headbanger”

In honor of the holiday season, Mortified presents the story of a sheltered middle-schooler who writes to Santa Claus and asks for a boyfriend. “Dear Santa …”

The Allusionist, “Xmas Man”

Be wary of listening to this episode around young children, as there may be life spoilers. Historian Greg Jenner traces the origins of that mythical beardy man who turns up in December with gifts. Helen Zaltzman also ensures her permanent removal from everybody’s Christmas card lists.

Radio Diaries, “Busman’s Holiday”

The story of William Cimillo, a New York City bus driver who snapped one day in 1947, left his regular route in the Bronx, and drove his municipal bus down to Florida. Because everyone deserves a vacation, every now and then.

99% Invisible, “The Ice King”

In the mid-19th century, decades before home refrigeration became the norm, you could find ice clinking in glasses from India to the Caribbean, thanks to a global commodities industry that has since melted into obscurity: the frozen water trade.

Criminal, “Just Mercy”

As a law student, Bryan Stevenson was sent to a maximum security prison to meet a man on death row. The two men talked for hours. It changed Stevenson’s life. He’s spent the last 30 years working to get people off of death row, but has also spent the final hours with men he could not save from execution. He argues that each of us is deserving of mercy.

Ear Hustle, “Looking Out”

The need to nurture and show love for another living being (or, in San Quentin parlance, “looking out”) is an essential human impulse. Away from your family and friends in prison this can be difficult, if not impossible.

Mortified, “Merry Gift-mas”

Celebrate the holiday season with misadventures of adolescent gift giving. And don’t be like Ralphie, from A Christmas Story. Spend a little time appreciating the adorable pink bunny suit you’ve got, before it’s too late.

Strangers, “Altruism”

Does true altruism exist? Here are three stories that say yea, nay and just maybe … explore the world of selfless concern for your fellow man with Lea Thau’s Strangers.

The West Wing Weekly, “Noël (with Bradley Whitford and Ellen Totleben)”

Dive into the season two Christmas special of The West Wing with Hrishi Hirway and Josh Malina. And for a truly wonderful rewrite of “Carol of the Bells,” check out the original description of this episode.

The Allusionist, “Winterval”

A word has become shorthand for “the war on Christmas: Winterval. It began in November 1998, when newspapers furiously accused Birmingham City Council of renaming Christmas after it ran festive events under the name “Winterval.” The council’s then-head of events Mike Chubb explains the true meaning of Winterval.

The Memory Palace, “Relics”

This episode was commissioned by Freepoint Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This episode tells the story of the ice trade at Fresh Pond, across the street from the hotel, and makes an excellent companion to the 99% Invisible episode on this playlist.

Mortified, “It’s a Family Affair”

In honor of the discord that shows up around the Thanksgiving table, The Mortified Podcast presents tales of kids who don’t quite the concept of family togetherness. Hilarity ensues.

Song Exploder, “Lin-Manuel Miranda — Almost Like Praying (feat. Artists for Puerto Rico)”

In the spirit of giving, hear the story behind Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Almost Like Praying,” the proceeds of which have been used to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. He recruited an all-star cast of singers, rappers and actors to put vocals on the track — 22 artists in total. And all of it was done in just eight days.

The Kitchen Sisters Present, “Hunting and Gathering with Angelo Garro”

Blacksmith Angelo Garro forges and forages, recreating in wrought iron and in cooking the life he left behind in Sicily. The Kitchen Sisters join Angelo along the coast of Northern California as he follows the seasons, harvesting the wild for his kitchen and his friends.

Love + Radio, “How to Argue”

We know it’s not always sunshine and butterflies when you’re cooped up inside with your family during the holiday season. In this episode, Love + Radio asks Daryl Davis the question: “How should we argue?”

Millennial, “Three Turkeys and Some Egg Rolls”

Holidays are stressful regardless, but things get more complicated when you’re bringing someone home with you and even more stressful when you’re the person they’re bringing home. How do you successfully maneuver your significant other’s family? Make it into a game.

The Truth, “Mirror Lake”

A couple heads to a frozen lake in search of wintry childhood memories. They find a mis-memory and much more than they bargained for.

The Allusionist, “Getting Toasty”

When you spend the winter in Antarctica, you’re prepared for it to be cold. You know nobody will leave or arrive until springtime. And you’re braced for months of darkness. But a few weeks after the last sunset, you might find you can’t string a sentence together. And even if you can, that sentence may only make sense in Antarctica.