I’ve already posted about how much I adore Christmas music. I am so in love with it that I can’t let myself listen to it outside of December. I guard the preciousness of my Christmas music – even from myself!
Unfortunately, my taste in Christmas music does not seem to resonate with the commercial market. I don’t want to offend anyone, but to be honest, I kind of loathe most modern Christmas music. I don’t like being told to have a “holly jolly Christmas” because I don’t know what that means! And the empty jingly songs about family and peace and being home for Christmas seem a bit mindless. Also, I don’t like chestnuts.
I love old carols, like the Wexford Carol that I brought up in my first Christmas post. I like songs that capture that tangle of emotions I still can’t sort out about the mystery of the Advent. How do I even begin to process it? Is it joyful? Well, yes. But is it also solemn and grand? Definitely! Is it peaceful and sweet? Also, yes. Is it mysterious and incomprehensible? Yes and yes.
When I tell people my favorite Christmas movie is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I get funny looks, but it’s for the same reason. The deep magic, the wonder, the joy, the sacrifice, the powerful and awesome glory when Aslan is on the move comes the closest to how I feel about Christmas.
Few songs can capture that feeling and almost no contemporary Christmas songs have managed it.
One beautiful old Christmas song that touches on the deep magic of the Advent is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Talk about old, this one was originally written in Greek and is over 15 centuries old! It is not a well known piece and that’s a shame. When I listen to the words, delivered to a medieval French melody, I feel myself drawn into that tangle of emotions – that magic of the true myth of Christ’s coming. There are many versions to choose from. Here’s just one.
Here’s another, a little more traditional. I love them both!
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
King of kings, Yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, In human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful.
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
As Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six-winged seraph,
Cherubim, With sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to His presence
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia! Lord Most High!
Another lesser known but beloved Welsh song sung beautifully by Aled Jones (look him up if you don’t know him!) is “Tua Bethlehem Dref” that resonates with majesty and glory. The melody is solemn and worshipful. Sung in the original Welsh, you probably can’t follow along (I certainly cannot even after studying the language for a year!). However, there are various translations of the hymn online.
I hate to sound like I cannot tolerate any new Christmas music. I am always on the search for something new. After listening to about a dozen different versions of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” even I am ready for something new. It’s just so hard to find something that gives me the sense of wonder that I am looking for. One album that fulfilled that hope was Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Irish Christmas album. Not only did they reinterpret the good old carols, but they wrote some of their own. My favorite is “O Savior of Our Fallen Race” for the same reasons as the two I’ve already shared. I will say that “How Suddenly a Baby Cries” is fantastic as well.
I know my preference for Christmas music is not everybody’s. I think we all have to process and connect with the Christmas story in our own way. This is mine.
What, in your opinion, is the best Christmas song out there? Hopefully, I haven’t stepped on too many toes…