I only listen to Christmas music in December. It’s a personal choice. I only judge you November listeners a little (okay, more than a little, but I’m working on it). Limiting it makes it special. But in December, I am crazy about my Christmas music. Obsessive. Nothing else will do.
I am also really picky about my Christmas music. No offense, but those jingly, holly jolly (and other words ending in -olly) songs drive me absolutely insane. I don’t find meaning in them. They don’t make me feel jolly. They actually make me feel just a little tiny bit ragey if I’m being honest. How is one supposed to “jingle all the way”? Why “fa la la la la la”? What does that even mean? I just can’t.
So what do I listen to? I listen to the serious stuff. The deep stuff. Because I’m deep (or just really un-fun…). I like Christmas music that draws me in, loses me in the wonder, the mystery, the awesome grandeur of the Advent. I want to find that feeling. And not a lot of songs will do that for me.
So here are my favorites, and the best YouTube renderings of them I could find.
1. Finding Beauty: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
This Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load.
I love this medieval hymn with its light, sweet melody. It’s a 16th century German hymn and I enjoy versions in the original as well as translated versions. I even found it in Norwegian! This beautiful version I found online is in the original German.
2. Finding Magic: The Wexford Carol
I guess I have a thing for traditional carols. This 13th century Irish carol from County Wexford, to me, is the one that tells the story the best. It is the bard’s song relating the true myth-tale of Christ’s coming.
With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went the babe to find
And as God’s angel had foretold
They did our Saviour Christ behold
Within a manger he was laid
And by his side a virgin maid
Attending on the Lord of Life
Who came on earth to end all strife.
Sometimes I forget that the Christmas story is such a good story in its own right, well-crafted with tension and excitement and fear and glorious resolution, a fireside tale to inspire wonder in its listeners. And this is one of my favorite versions:
3. Finding Grandeur: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Some say this is really an Easter hymn. Others love it for Christmas. Either way, it is beautiful in an awe-ful sort of way. It makes me think of vaulted cathedrals or a sky deep with stars. It reminds me that Christmas isn’t just about a child or even a child king. It’s about God Himself “in human vesture” a paradox so impossibly beautiful, how else do we respond except with a song like this?
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
Comes the powers of hell to vanquish
As the darkness clears away.
4. Finding Peace: Of the Father’s Love Begotten
Surprise! Another old, old song. This one, I learned, is a 5th century Latin poem put to a medieval melody. This song is both wonder-full and uplifting. The tune is appropriately called the Divinum Mysterium. Not only is this story mysterious and beautiful, but its happy ending is ongoing, and we are a part of it. Ever more and ever more. Peace on earth.
Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!
My favorite version of this song is from an album called A Portrait of Christmas by Our Daily Bread which you can find on iTunes. There’s no version of it on YouTube, but this one is quite lovely.
5. Finding Longing: O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Now this one is a bit more common, and I think it is a favorite for good reason. It is stunningly beautiful and the solemn grandeur is exactly what I want most in Christmas music. It is deep magic and not something to be jolly about! Okay, maybe a little jolly. We’ll call it joy. Joy is acceptable (You see how judgy I am?). But this beautiful piece, this old and beloved piece, brings together everything that the Advent means. It is longing and hope and weary expectation, and it is all of these things answered at last and so we rejoice because God is with us as He was never with us before. He is incarnate and we are ransomed. He is made low and we are made free.
There were too many versions to choose from, but this instrumental version has been a favorite since it was released and the video itself is lovely, as well:
Now, I know that I set myself up as a bit of a judgmental, particular person when it comes to Christmas music, but I also love hearing new songs or versions of my old favorites. So what Christmas song do you love most?