Posted by: Nathan | December 14, 2006

My Favorite and Underrated Christmas Music

Jason’s post inspired me to reflect on my favorite seasonal music, but it wasn’t until I watched E’s boy Rick Steves‘ “Christmas in Europe” special (it was darn cool by the way) that I realized why I’ve been a little distant from Christmas music of late: the only Christmas music I hear much of now is about Santa, Rudolph, or winter. Steves was going to different european nations and witnessing their holiday tradtions and music, so much of which is centerd on the Son of God. So you can keep your “Frosty,” “Santa Baby” and “Winter Wonderland” (how generic can you get?). Forget “Jingle Bells” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” I’m after beautiful, peaceful and meaningful Christmas (emphasis on “Christ”) music. Here’s what I came up with.

–“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” I don’t know the words to this tune, or even if it has words, but it’s gorgeous and you have to love the title. It may not be only a Christmas song (I’ve heard it at weddings), but it sure works that way. My favorite recording is the Night Heron Consort’s upbeat version heard on A Celtic Celebration.

–“In the Bleak Midwinter.” This tune has one of those melodies that makes you close your eyes because it’s so sweet. Beautifully written, and it’s about the Christ child. What more can you want?

–“The Holly and the Ivy.” Sure, it gets a good amount of play, but it’s another pretty tune with Christian words. Additionally, I love the traditional feel it has; Christmas isn’t just a holiday for our time–it’s existed for centuries, and this song reminds me of that. Plus, I just like it.

–“Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.” Another achingly good melody. I’ve always liked this song: “Beautiful is the mother / Beautiful is her Son.”

–“Traditions of Christmas.” This one is a Chip Davis (of Mannheim Steamroller fame*) original, and it is quintessential Christmas for me. Peaceful, thoughtful, gentle and soaring, this song interlaces a flowing bassoon and violin countermelodies that give instant peace and joy. You’ll find it on A Fresh Aire Christmas, which is Steamroller’s best Xmas album.

–“O Holy Night.” Such a great message and it’s so beautiful. If you haven’t heard Mariah Carey’s version on her Christmas album, it’s worth it just for the up-octave finale. A fantastic Christmas hymn.

–“Carol of the Bells.” This one gets a lot of attention now because it doesn’t mention Christ and because it’s beautiful; I like it for the latter reason. J and I sang it in high school choir, and it’s a great choir number. Repetitious? Sure, but it works.

–“Christmas Lullabye.” As if “Traditions” weren’t enough, Davis wrote this lovely song for Mannheim Steamroller’s third Xmas disc Christmas in the Aire. As its name suggests, it is soothing and simple, and it puts your heart at rest. Best listened to with eyes closed or by the lit Chrismas tree.

–“Still, Still, Still.” The rest of the year is devoted to hustle, worry and stress. This song slows you down; after all, if you can hear the falling snow, you simply can’t be rushing around maxing out your credit card of last-second gifts. It’s a lovely song to boot.

–“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” This song has more theology per line than any Christmas carol that comes to mind. You find it in pretty much every verse: “Mild he lay he glory by / Born that man no more may die” and “Veiled in flesh the God-head see / Hail the incarnate Deity.” Wow. That gives me shivers. I always enjoy singing this one.

–“This Christmastide (Jesse’s Carol).” You may not have heard this one; I first encountered it in high school choir. It’s just a jewel of a Christmas song. Again, there’s the simple melody elegantly wrapped in interwoven harmonies all singing of the birth of the Lord. If you haven’t heard it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s hard to track down, but I think you can find it on Amazon.

–“Welcome to Our World.” Chris Rice’s acheivement is beautiful and poignant, and it works just as well with or without the words.

So there you have it. I love a lot more Christmas music than this, but these are in the stratosphere (maybe the Hyperion?) for me. You’ll notice that the majority of them are peaceful songs, and that’s because I need to be reminded that Christmas is a time of peace. One of the reasons why Christmas is losing popularity is because it’s becoming synonymous with stress. Don’t let that happen to you! Slow down this Christmas season whenever you can, breathe in deeply, and put on some gentle, beautiful music. You won’t regret it.

*Mannheim Steamroller has the best Christmas music bar none. If you don’t have any of their albums, find out what you’re missing. Each album is creativly and expertly arranged with superb instrumentation and elegance. They often write extra themes into the songs, but I find the additions usually don’t subtract. As previously mentioned, Fresh Aire is the best in my mind, but Christmas and in the Aire are close behind. I’m still warming up to Extraordinaire.


  1. Today is a crazy-busy day for me, so I haven’t read the whole post, but I get the gist. If you don’t already have it, beg, borrow, and steal to get Chris Rice’s ‘The Living Room Sessions: Christmas’. It is one of the few truly worshipful Christmas CDs out there. It’s great!

  2. Yes, that is a great one. I have it…umm…semi-legally…or not…from Nate. Thanks, Nate! I burned it from him while we lived in the house in New Brighton. Man, that seems like an age ago.

  3. Yes, Nathan, you are a true connosieur of Christmas music! Just like all things Christmas, even Coffee Mate. 🙂

    Some of my favorites are the same, others different. I also like Jesu and Bleak Midwinter and Carol of the Bells a lot. I also like:

    Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming (from madrigal days)
    Angels We have Heard on High
    Jesus, Born on this Day (also from Mariah Carey’s album)

    and probably a bunch of others I can’t remember right now because, unlike you, I am terrible at generating lists like these!
    See you very soon!

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