The holidays don't begin for Clint Holmes until chestnuts roast on that open fire.
"The first time I hear Nat King Cole sing ('The Christmas Song') I go, 'Ah, it's Christmas,' " Holmes says of the 1944 classic co-written by Mel Torme.
We are as set in our Christmas music habits as we are with the turkey or the tree. "We all still listen to the same 10 songs over and over," Stratosphere headliner Frankie Moreno says.
"Whenever someone tries to do something new, nobody wants to hear that. They want to hear the old stuff. That isn't the case for modern music, but for Christmas, it absolutely is."
Christmas favorites that stem from centuries-old hymns play alongside 20th-century inventions such as "White Christmas," which Bing Crosby recorded for "Holiday Inn" in 1942, and "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer," released by Gene Autry in 1949. Both arrived in time for the mass production of vinyl records to create new traditions.
The mall doesn't stray far from the classics, but we are more open to new songs and ideas when we buy a Christmas album by a favored star -- time will tell if Justin Bieber's "Mistletoe" joins the ranks of the classics -- or when said stars perform them live.
We polled Las Vegas-based singers for their holiday favorites and came up with a cold winter's nights worth of tunes both familiar and less so.
Holmes' annual Christmas shows are no small efforts. He chuckles to recall seeing a "Christmas show" by one standards crooner with only three Christmas tunes. "How do you get away with that?"
But he explains his wall-to-wall effort simply: "You only get to sing these songs once a year."
Spouse Kelly Clinton and 8-year-old granddaughter Asia lend a hand to the Saturday and Sunday shows at the Suncoast, along with a video clip of the singer's mother, Audrey, who died in October at age 95.
But the real showstopper is a song called "William the Angel," which locals came to love during Holmes' long run at Harrah's Las Vegas.
Holmes didn't write it, but "I don't even know if anyone else actually sings the song," he says of the tune he got from writer Rob Mathes in 1998, when the two worked in Atlantic City. "My dad was in hospice and I was driving from New Jersey to Buffalo to see him every time I wasn't working," Holmes recalls.
"On this particular night Rob gave me this CD of this song he had written. I put it on in the car and probably because of the mindset I was in, it affected me. I remember playing it 20 times in a row on an eight-hour drive. I kind of relate it to my dad's last days."
The voice of The Smithereens is an audiophile with a special love for vintage pop. No wonder the Riviera's "Confessions of a Rock Star" singer remembers his older cousin handing down a 7-inch single of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" when he was 10.
"It was kind of new at the time, but it became an evergreen, a perennial like right away," he notes. "It was just delightful for a child to hear that. I would listen to it all year round."
Years later, when Capitol asked The Smithereens to record a Christmas track, he remembered the Cadillacs' rollicking party take on "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer." "I dug out the old single. We did our version but we stayed faithful to the Cadillacs' original arrangement."
The singer who alternates the role of Christine in "Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular" also sings Saturday in "A Holiday Celebration" with the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and again at 2 p.m. Sunday at Community Lutheran Church, celebrating her new "Holidays from the Heart" album with pianist Philip Fortenberry.
It's a Christmas to be thankful for after Hertzenberg risked losing her singing voice to thyroid cancer (as told in the Review-Journal on Nov. 27). "It's hard to find beautiful Christmas songs that people don't already know," she says, so it was a gift to discover the Melissa Manchester-penned "There's Still My Joy" on iTunes.
"The recording sessions were kind of a haven, a place to go and forget about everything else that was going on," she says of finishing the album before her throat surgery.
Only a great impressionist can tackle both parts of the Bing Crosby-David Bowie duet "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" from Crosby's "Merrie Old Christmas" special in 1977 (Bowie was 30; Crosby was 73 and died between the taping and the broadcast).
"When I was a kid and I saw it, it was meaningful because it was such a pretty song," Fator recalls. "As I got older I realized what an incredibly odd thing that was, David Bowie stopping by Bing Crosby's house."
Fator hopes to have his own classic with his original "Christmas in Las Vegas." "We thought of all the iconic things about Vegas and about Christmas and blended them all together," he explains. "Both of them are incredibly iconic worldwide."
If your Christmas party is dry as shortbread, close your eyes and imagine the retro-crooning burlesque star of "Absinthe" inviting you to a very special celebration.
"I have a burlesque act written around 'Santa Baby' by the beautiful Eartha Kitt," she explains. "Every year I have a tree-trimming party that kicks off with a bare tree and ends up with a bare me!"
As the song goes on, each item of clothing gets transferred to the tree to become an ornament. "On the last note of the song, I light the tree for its stunning finale. ... 'Tis the season!"
"I guess I'm a little more of a traditionalist, although that's not a big surprise I guess," says the singer-dancer who revives the classic-Vegas headliner show on Fridays at the Las Vegas Hilton.
But along with his Nat King Cole, Faugno likes "songs that go back to, I guess, pre-America Christmas," such as "Ave Maria."
"My grandmother used to love that song. We would sing it together at church."
The "Jersey Boys" alumnus also is one of the actors to portray Frankie Valli heard on the new "Seasons Greetings: A Jersey Boys Christmas." "I think they did it in a pretty clever way," he says, "to hear seven different guys who all play the same role, singing in their own original voices. You can tell each person apart."
The Australian quartet isn't limited to Motown classics when December comes.
Phil Burton says the Frank Sinatra version of "Let It Snow" has "such a relaxed and easygoing feel about it. ... He sings it in such a cool way that you can't help but swing along."
Group-mate Toby Allen enjoys the challenge of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" if not the song itself. "As much as I dislike the idea of beginning this incredibly drawn out carol, it always surprises me how satisfying it is to actually complete it."
When the retro-styled crooner hears "White Christmas" he thinks of Harry as much as Bing.
Harry would be his grandfather, Harry Read. "He loved Nat King Cole and kind of sounded like him. These songs have so much warmth in them to me. In fact, I can almost taste his perfect Christmas dinner, especially his crispy roast potatoes."
The Stratosphere entertainer was aware he was "treading a real fine line" when he cut his own Christmas album. "If you say, 'I'm gonna be unique and make my own thing, people just don't want to hear that. They'll listen to it once and say 'That's cool,' but they're not going to pull it out with the stockings and the fake poinsettias every year."
But Moreno thinks he hit the happy medium with a New Orleans version of "Frosty the Snowman." "I keep it very traditional and just change the rhythm behind it."
He's also fond of his own "Plenty of Mistletoe." "It's written very old school about a guy who's had the hardest year (because) a girl dumped him a year ago. It's going to be a classic someday, when I'm dead."
No one picked a song synonymous with Christmas crooner Andy Williams, but the male idol of "Peepshow" shares Williams' secret affinity for "Mary, Did You Know?" along with "The Prayer."
Strickland performed both songs in a sentimental hometown concert in Charleston, S.C., before moving to Las Vegas. "My family, friends and fans still rave about this performance to this day and still listen to the recordings," he says. "These two songs hold a special place in my heart as it was a time of change in my life that I will never forget.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.