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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Music of the Christmas Season

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is the music.  The cold air and decorations do their part, but the music is what really puts me in the mood.  In fact, the music itself can conjure up thoughts of winter weather and halls decked with boughs of holly even if you're in area where you don't see a lot of winter weather.

My favorite Christmas songs consist mostly of the religious themed ones.  I'm not much into the whole Santa Claus and reindeer thing, although I do like some of the secular songs.

Here are some of my favorites.  They are in no particular order, but I am saving my favorite for last.

Christmas Eve Sarajevo (Medley of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and Carol of the Bells)
Artist: Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Ok, so this is actually a medley of the older Christmas carols God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and Carol of the Bells (both of which are favorites of mine), but the Trans-Siberian Orchestra named their medley of them and there is a story behind the name.  Here is part of the Wikipedia entry on it:

We heard about this cello player born in Sarajevo many years ago (Vedran Smailović) who left when he was fairly young to go on to become a well-respected musician, playing with various symphonies throughout Europe. Many decades later, he returned to Sarajevo as an elderly man—at the height of the Bosnian War, only to find his city in complete ruins.
I think what most broke this man's heart was that the destruction was not done by some outside invader or natural disaster—it was done by his own people. At that time, Serbs were shelling Sarajevo every night. Rather than head for the bomb shelters like his family and neighbors, this man went to the town square, climbed onto a pile of rubble that had once been the fountain, took out his cello, and played Mozart and Beethoven as the city was bombed.
He came every night and began playing Christmas carols from that same spot. It was just such a powerful image—a white-haired man silhouetted against the cannon fire, playing timeless melodies to both sides of the conflict amid the rubble and devastation of the city he loves. Some time later, a reporter traced him down to ask why he did this insanely stupid thing. The old man said that it was his way of proving that despite all evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place.
The song basically wrapped itself around him. We used some of the oldest Christmas melodies we could find, like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Carol of the Bells" (which is from Ukraine, near that region). The orchestra represents one side, the rock band the other, and single cello represents that single individual, that spark of hope.
Here is the music video:

Christmas Canon
Artist: Trans-Siberian Orchestra

This is actually Pachelbel's Canon with Christmas lyrics.  The orchestra not only does a great job, but the lyrics and children's choir complement it well.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Artist: Various

This one has a very old sound to it, and it probably dates back to the middle ages.  It's translated from a Catholic Latin text called "Veni, veni, Emmanuel."  The lyrics are based on text from the from seventh chapter of the book of Isaiah.  It kind of reminds me of an old Gregorian chant type of sound.  Not only do I like the lyrical message, I like the historical sound of the song. Here's Enya's version of it:

O Come All Ye Faithful
Artist: Various

This song is another one that is centuries old, and is attributed to John Francis Wade.  It was originally titled "Adeste Fideles" in Latin and was translated into English by Frederick Oakeley.

Joy to the World
Artist: Various (Written by Isaac Watts)

Technically, this isn't even a song about the birth of Christ.  The song is about the second coming of Christ, but for some reason, people started singing it as a Christmas song.  Nonetheless, it is an awesome song and I think is best sung by a large choir.

Silent Night, Holy Night
Artist: Various (Written by Josef Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber)

This is another good one that has been sung by many people.

Most people classify Christmas songs as religious or secular.  Well, I complicate things a little more by adding a third category that includes songs that aren't overly religious or overly secular.  I just think of them as songs about people celebrating Christmas, as opposed to songs specifically about the Christmas story or about Santa Claus and shopping.

A Holly Jolly Christmas
Artist: Burl Ives, Quinto Sisters

It would be hard to imagine December coming and going without hearing Burl Ives crooning his famous rendition of "A Holly Jolly Christmas".  I classify this as a song about people celebrating Christmas.   Ironically, this song was written by a Jewish songwriter named Johnny Marks.

All I Want for Christmas is You
Artist: Vince Vance and the Valiants

I classify this song as secular.  Although I'm not a particularly big fan of a lot of the secular Christmas songs, this one is an exception.  I just love the singer's voice and the song's beat.  I remember playing this song at a place I worked a few years back, and a Jehovah's Witness (who don't celebrate Christmas) even admitted to liking it and started dancing to it!  It's very upbeat and helps get you in the mood.

As I said earlier, I would save my favorite for last.  So here it is.

O Holy Night
Artist: Various

My favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night.  I've heard many beautiful versions of this song and it's hard to narrow it to a specific artist's version, but if I had to pick one, I think I would go with Jim Nabor's version of the song.  Yes, the same Jim Nabors that played Gomer Pyle.  Don't let the goofy Gomer act fool you, Nabors actually has an awesome operatic singing voice.  In fact, I'd say he has one of the best singing voices that I've heard.

This was certainly not an exhaustive list of my favorites.  I have many other favorites, including It's Beginning to Look a Like a Lot Christmas, Silver Bells, Sleigh Ride, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, The Little Drummer Boy and many more.

I think Christmas music is what gets me more in the mood for the season than anything else!


  1. Very nice selection! I liked the first one the best--Sarajevo. I spent my childhood doing caroling every single Xmas with my large family. I never liked any of the songs much, except my one favorite "Let it Snow." That's always my Xmas wish!

  2. Yeah...it would be nice if it would snow here sometime just before Christmas (so we'd have time to clear the roads before Christmas day, but still have some snow on the ground). It doesn't snow here that often, and when it does, it's usually in January or February. I can only remember having one 'white Christmas' around here.