- Dan Connors
More Christmas Songs to feed your soul at the holidays and all year long
Recently, I did a deep dive into Christmas music videos. During the holidays Christmas music is everywhere, so much so that it goes in one ear and out the other. But forcing myself to watch the accompanying videos has brought many of them back to life, especially when I learn the stories that are behind them. I blogged about this earlier, with 25 classics that touched my soul and/or fancy. I had so much fun in that journey that I decided to do it again.
I'm not a particularly religious person, but I've always loved the spiritual elements of the holiday season. To me, Christmas is about finding light and love in a time of darkness and cold (no coincidence that it occurs around the time of the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year and launch of the harshness that is winter. At this time of year we laugh at darkness by lighting up our houses and trees, celebrating evergreen plants, and turning to those we love. Songs that capture that spirit, whether through the nativity story, the sappiest Hallmark movie, or a personal journey stand out from most of the music from the rest of the year.
Holiday music covers a wide range, from religious to secular tunes, and from fun to somber ones. Watching dozens of music videos is like entering a rabbit hole that keeps on going. Here I picked some more that were most significant to me, and I likely will be adding to it as time goes on. Email me with your suggestions if you like.
Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)
Credited to John Wade in the 18th century, this Christmas standard was originally sung in Latin. It tells the story of the nativity and is more commonly heard in its English version these days.
The song was most powerful to me when used in the movie Joyeaux Noel, that told the true story of the Christmas Eve truce of 1914. French, Scottish, and German soldiers laid down their arms and joined together in peace in that movie thanks to the message of this song, though no one knows how it really started. I'm also amazed by the lit candles that served as lights for Christmas trees back then- no fire hazard there.
Angels We Have Heard on High
This is a French song of unknown origin, but it has risen to the top of traditional Christmas Carols chiefly on the strength of one word- Gloria. The "O" in Gloria goes through 16 notes while it is being belted out during the chorus. Given the proper singers, it can be wonderful.
I had to include Pentatonix on this list somewhere as they are the group most associated with Christmas since their debut in 2011. Singing entirely a capella, they nail most of the songs they attempt.
The Bells of Christmas
This obscure song by Canadian composer and singer Loreena Mckennitt is best known for its appearance in "The Santa Clause" movie. It is short and easily missed, but it sets the magical stage for the entire movie. The lyrics are just as impressive as the rousing chorus at the end of the song.
In the silence of the night
When the snow lies soft and still
You can see a magic light
And hear the ring of Christmas bells
Though the night seems long and dark
It is the earth just gone to sleep
The stars that dot the sky above
Hold you in their precious keep
So close your eyes and come with me
The Christmas bells will lead you home.
Now with song we fill the night
While magic dances in the light
To wish you now and all the year
The joy that comes with Christmas cheer
Hear our voices fill the air
To drive the winter's cold away
And so our hearts with all will share
The love that comes with Christmas Day
The love that comes with Christmas Day
The Christmas bells will bring you home!
Pachelbel's Canon, first composed in 1680, has become one of the most popular classical pieces for ceremonies such as weddings and graduations. It's soft melodies lend a seriousness and grace to any proceeding.
In 1998 The Trans-Siberian Orchestra added new lyrics and instruments to the Canon to create an even more transporting and magical tune just for Christmas.
From the many gushing You Tube comments on this song:
"There isn't another song on this earth that sounds so beautiful & relaxing to me than this one. This is a masterpiece! The perfect combo of the childrens choir, the soft piano, & violins. It makes me cry sometimes but it's a good cry. It's difficult to explain."
This slow, beautiful song believe it or not tells the story of a violent, sad event. Written in the 16th century, this carol tells the tale of many children under age two who were slain by King Herod when he heard of the birth of Jesus. Called the Massacre of the Innocents, this event is mentioned in the bible but disputed among biblical scholars as to its truth, with many claiming it as a myth and legend.
Don't Save It all For Christmas
First performed by Celene Dion in 1998, this song is almost an anti-Christmas song. It pleads with people to love each other all year long, and not just at Christmas, which is a worthy goal. Celene's version is stirring, but I prefer the work by One Voice Children's Choir, because seeing the smiles on kid's faces as they sing this is precious.
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
A Christmas standard, this uptempo carol tells of rejoicing and angels at the news of the nativity.
Hark! The herald angels sing "Glory to the new-born king Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled" Joyful all ye nations rise Join the triumph of the skies With angelic host proclaim "Christ is born in Bethlehem" Hark! The herald angels sing "Glory to the new-born king"
My favorite version of the song remains the surprisingly emotional conclusion of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown spends the entire show looking for the spirit of Christmas, only to find it in a little tree and a big song.
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Singer Andy Williams became synonymous with Christmas for his annual variety specials on television during the holidays. It all began in 1963 with the release of this song, a cheery recounting of all the joys of the season. Notice in this video how all the dancers remain totally still until Andy sprinkles magic dust on them.
Jingle bells is NOT a Christmas song. Nowhere in the song does it mention Christmas. Yet it has become one of the most popular holiday songs ever, covered by multiple artists and lyrics so simple that children love to sing them. Written by James Pierpont in 1857, it tells of the simple joys of riding in a horse-driven winter sleigh. Lesser known are the three latter verses that tell of a suitor's attempt to impress his girlfriend only to fall out of the sleigh when the horse turned to abruptly.
For this song I choose the Muppets version, as they appeal to both adults and children, just as does the song.
O Holy Night
This song has a dark, unknown history for most of us. A beautiful hymn to the birth of Jesus, its words was written by an atheist and its melody by a French jew. The Catholic Church tried to ban it for its controversial third verse, which is still little known today.
"Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother And in His name, all oppression shall cease Sweet hymns of joy in grateful God has raise we With all within let's praise His holy name Christ is the Lord! His name forever praise we"
"The slave is our brother?" No wonder the church didn't take kindly to this song back when slavery was a thing. The song was brought to prominence during the civil war by an abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight.
Here is the Queen of Christmas, Mariah Carey with the more common, but oh so soulful version.
This song is a popular one with symphony orchestras at Christmas time. It is simply a seasonal one that celebrates winter much the same as Jingle Bells. It was composed in 1949 by Leroy Anderson and covered by a variety of musicians like the Ronettes and Gwen Stefani, who've added their own lyrics to the tune.
Where Are You Christmas
Faith Hill released this song in 2000 to go along with the movie adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. While the movie is silly in a Dr. Seuss kind of way, the song is very touching, as the singer laments lost memories from Christmas's in the past. But it finishes strong as she realizes that Christmas never really goes away.
"If there is love in your heart and your mind You will feel like Christmas all the time
Oh, I feel you Christmas I know I've found you You never fade away, oh The joy of Christmas Stays here inside us Fills each and every heart with love"