I love Christmas music. I guess I should say I love “holiday music,” but that’s not really accurate. Other people in my house don’t, however, so I suspect I will be spending the next month wearing headphones much of the time.
I don’t know what I believe in anymore, but Christmas music pulls something deep inside towards the surface. It may be memories of growing up in the Roman Catholic church: the Lenten and Christmas rituals are special. (The service of Lessons and Carols is my second favorite after Easter Vigil. I experienced it once at Westminster Abbey and it was magical.) Or it may be that, objectively speaking, much of it is so beautiful.
Here are my favorite religous Christmas songs:
- “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” The Barenaked Ladies and Sarah Machlachlan. (Best version of this song, period.) If nothing else, this version confirms that the chorus of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” flows seemlessly into “We Three Kings,” as I always thought.
- “Silent Night,” John Denver and the Muppets. (Yes, the Muppets, really. If nothing else it gives the history of the song.)
- “What Child is This,” a lot of different versions, but the Andrea Boccelli/Mary J. Bligh gives me chills. (Even if he does substitute “mother” for “virgin,” one of my pet peeves with most versions of this song.)
- “Angels We Have Heard on High,” Josh Groban and Brian McKnight. (Again, this one of my favorite hymns, so it’s pretty hard to screw up, but this is the best. Groban’s voice is so smooth, and McKnight’s raspy, they complement each other.)
- “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” Jordan Smith. (Yes, that Jordan Smith. The guy who won The Voice. His Christmas album is pretty good.) Sixpence None the Richer’s is also of note.
- “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” Darius Rucker. (I’m not sure if this is my favorite musically, but Rucker gets major props for singing all the verses of the song.)
- “Gaudete, Gaudete,” El Duende. (I sing along with this — the remnants of my college Latin lets me know what the words mean. Mostly. Some. A little. Whatever. It’s still beautiful in a medieval, minor key way.)
Secular “Christmas” music:
- “All I Want for Christmas is You,” Mariah Carey. (Of course. Even if it weren’t in Love Actually.)
- “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” tie: Judy Garland (the original from Meet Me in St. Louis) and James Taylor. (Both sing the intact lyric from the movie, which is a darker song than it is the way most people sing it.) The Twisted Sister version was amusing for about two weeks, after which it simply became annoying.)
- “Fifty Kilowatt Tree,” The Bobs. (I come from the South. I’ve seen houses like this.)
- “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” Straight No Chaser. (If you haven’t heard this, I am not going to spoil it for you.) Also of note: Straight No Chaser’s “Christmas Can-Can.”
- “Elf’s Lament,” Barenaked Ladies. (I hereby dedicate this to the good people at the South Bay Labor Council, where I used to work.)
- “The Christians and the Pagans,” Dar Williams. (I am not sure I agree with the theology of this, but it has good messages about the season.)
- “Merry Christmas from the Family,” Jill Sobule. (Family is great, right?)
- “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” Gayle Peevey (although Kacey Musgraves has covered this). (This drives my family nuts. Heh.)
Looking at these lists, friends introduced me to half of the songs. Which is pretty much in the spirit of the time.
It’s too early to wish y’all a Merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Yule, so I’ll just wish all of you a good, relatively stress-free December.