As with any highly opinionated blog post, selecting just five of my favorite Christmas songs is extremely difficult. I could just pick five, but I have decided to add a bonus category to this selection process. The first five are my favorite Christmas songs. By songs, I mean a blend of hymns/carols and popular seasonal tunes that peak by lyrical and audio tastebuds and compel me to crank up the volume.
The second bonus category I call “My Prerogative” has been selected solely from a poetic and melodic perspective. I have, in this case, thrown out any theological implications or questions and opted to select these additional five because I like them. One might say, “well, that’s cheating; you said top 5.” And you would be right, but it’s my blog, and cue Bobby Brown’s…”It’s my prerogative.”
Let me skip the preamble and get to the good stuff.
Top 5 Best Christmas Songs:
5. Trans-Siberian “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”.
I have played a lot of brass band Christmas music in my life, and when I first heard this song, I fell in love with Carol of the Bells all over again. I have always gravitated toward wailing guitar solos and rifs that get cranked up to the 11… For me, this is one version of an old Christmas tune that I find myself cranking up the volume to when I hear it start. Some might contend that this song has been overplayed, but I still can’t get enough of it. A few years ago, I was fortunate to go to a Trans-Siberian concert, and it was everything I expected it to be. There were pyrotechnics, fog, a storyline, and enough electric guitars to melt your face…it was awesome.
4. Pentatonic’s version of “Mary Did You Know?”
Let’s put aside our memes and retorts to the song’s question for just a second and focus on the vocals and the mastery of the minor chords, which always seem to create mystery and awe. I loved the original recording that was sung by Michael English years ago. The song was written by Mark Lowry, and if we don’t delve too deeply into theology, perhaps we could simply ask ourselves, “Do we know Jesus as Lord of all creation?” I simply love the acapella version from Pentatonics because it carries a depth of vocals, and gave me chills the first time I heard it. Am I judging songs on emotion as well as lyrical depth? Perhaps. Some of you will disagree with me, but that’s my opinion and why Mary Did You Know made this list.
3. What Child is This?
This is another Christmas song, sung in a minor key, that absolutely captivates me and creates within me a sense of awe and wonder. There are many great versions of this song, such as the one by Chris Tomlin and All Sons & Daughters, or beautifully done by the One Voice Children’s Choir. I love this song for many reasons, especially when one gets to the chorus and the refrain is boldly proclaimed:
“This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary.“
2. Tie: Amy Grant’s Grown Up Christmas Wish & Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)
Amy Grant’s entire Home for Christmas Album is a heartwarming collection of songs that have stuck with me for years, and I find solace while listening to this album on repeat while at work or when I need to relax. Breath of Heaven (another minor song, I’m sensing a theme here) makes me contemplate that Holy birth through an intimate glimpse into the nativity. I can’t help but be drawn in and held captivated by hope and expectation.
The allure of this song stems from the ancientness of this tune. Originally written between the 6th-9th century in Latin sung in monasteries during the last seven days of Advent. The English translation was introduced to the world in 1851. This Christmas song elicits something old and sacred and resonates within my heart everytime I hear its words sung. There are many, many versions available online of this song, and, for the most part, I love them all. It captures in me the joyous expectancy of the Christ-mass again and helps me explore the Savior’s birth, the context and longing for Messiah in the ancient world, and the source of true Christmas in this modern world.
My Prerogative List:
I love, love, love this song. Supposedly written by John Jacob Niles in the 1930’s began as a fragmented collection of lyrics and became a Christian folk tune. The lyrics leave the listener to peer into melancholy three stanzas and meet a Savior who came ordinary folk. It invites all of us to not only the manger but also the crucifixion. Folk songs tell stories and evoke feelings and imagery that appeals to our emotions and our hearts. This song has always strummed those chords within my heart as well.
The beautiful poetry of Christina Rossetti and the tune written by Gustav Holst and later Harold Darke evoke a classical progression of Nativity, dominion, and salvation for the whole world. The mournful tune haunts me while the words often draw tears to my eyes in contemplation of the Divine. In the Bleak Midwinter is one of my favorite poetic and melodic Christmas songs and I hope it’s yours as well.
3. Silent Night (Stille Nacht)
The tune was written by Franz Gruber to the lyrics written by Joseph Mohr. The piece has much lore attached to it and has been translated and sung in many different languages around the world. It is a beloved Christmas song and I could not leave it off of this list.
2. Oh Holy Night
I love this song because it is complicated to sing, yet it is beautiful, glorious, and poignant. “Oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born…” It always gives me pause and helps me slow down my fast-paced lifestyle to experience the true significance of Christmas.
A friend suggested this song, and now I cannot get it out of my head. Its message strikes at the very nature of our fallenness, yet still speaks to the Savior’s presence in the lowliest of person no matter how hurt and broken that person is – Jesus comes to you and me. Christ is born for YOU. If ever the world needed to hear that refrain it is now. So many come to this holiday season carrying so much hurt, brokenness and despair. The message of hope at Christmas is available to bring healing, restoration, hope, love and joy for all.
That’s my top 5 (plus 5 more) Christmas song list. Perhaps you saw my list and it resonated with you. Perhaps you read the songs on my list and thought that I missed one of your favorites. Let me know in the comments below if I was one target or way off the mark. I would love to hear how your favorites list matches up to mine.
Have a blessed Christmas, dear friend.
I hope the Lord continues to bless and keep you and yours.
-Something more to ponder today.