The first Christmas song I ever remember singing was Jolly Old St. Nicholas. It was in a school concert and I’m gonna guess I was in first or second grade. I’m sure that prior to that I’d sang Joy to the World, or some other church Christmas song—but that’s the first one I remember singing.

I was thinking about this other day because right now my radio is tuned to Lite 104.1—which as many of you may know plays all Christmas music, all the time from mid-November until the end of December. They’re actually quitting this year on December 27th—sorry to disappoint all of you who hadn’t heard the news.

Anyhow, my radio is always on that station—unless a song sung by the Chipmunks comes on. Or the 12 Days of Christmas sung by ANYONE. I noticed the other day though that they don’t play a lot of traditional Christmas songs, and by traditional I mean the songs you would’ve sung in church on Christmas Day. I’m not talking old classics—like The Christmas Song, which by the way I’m not a fan of—I don’t even REALLY know what a chestnut is. Anyhow, I’ve heard a few of these songs—but it pales in comparison to how many times I’ve heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” or Taylor Swift’s “Last Christmas”—which I personally think she has no business singing.

I’m not sure if it’s just because people want more modern songs, or it’s because of the religious undertones in them—but the traditional songs are so much more meaningful, and so much prettier. I know when I play my flute I’d much rather play the “churchy” Christmas songs (insert band camp joke here).

Now don’t get me wrong, I actually like Mariah’s song, I’ll jam out to Mannheim Steamroller, and Michael Buble’s Christmas CD is pretty freaking good—but when it comes right down to it, I want to hear and sing along to the songs I’m going to list below. So without further ado, here are my top 6 traditional Christmas songs and a little bit of history behind each of them. I’ve put some links to lyrics throughout, so watch out for those. (I was going to have 5, but I couldn’t pick one to get rid of. Don’t judge me).

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Lately we’ve been singing rock versions of this song at church. Click here to listen to that version and click here for the lyrics. The lyrics are based on the biblical prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 that states that God will give Israel a sign that will be called Emmanuel, which is literally translated to ‘God with us.’

Joy to the World
For as long as I can remember we’ve sang this as the last song in church on Christmas Eve. The words are based on Psalm 98 and the song itself was written by an English hymn writer named Isaac Watts. He originally wrote the words as a hymn glorifying Christ’s triumphant return, rather than about him being born in a manger.

O Little Town of Bethlehem
The Christmas story, the REAL Christmas story—not the one about Santa, or Frosty, comes to life in this song. We sang this song in the nursing home a couple weeks back and moved an older couple to tears. The lyrics were written by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest who was inspired by visiting the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in 1865. Three years later he wrote the lyrics and his organist added the music.

Angels We Have Heard on High
There’s just something about singing about angels and the history behind this one is pretty awesome. In A.D. 129, Telesphous, Bishop of Rome, ordained that in honor of the night Christ was born, all shall solemnly sing what was then called The Angel’s Hymn. That hymn became the first Christmas hymn of the Christian church. Its most common English version was translated in 1862 by James Chadwick, and its most memorable feature is its chorus ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo,’ which is Latin for Glory to God in the Highest.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
The lyrics to this song in my mind are so serene and paint such an amazing picture. From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold? The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing? Beautiful. The song was written in 1849 by Edmund Hamilton Sears who was also the pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. Ten years later, Richard Storrs Willis, an American composer/musician, created the melody for the song.

O Holy Night
The most beautiful Christmas song ever in my opinion. This song can move me to tears, and if the person singing can hit that super high note—I get chills. Every time. It was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the tune of a French poem. Then in 1855, Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight created a singing version. Both versions reflect on the birth of Jesus and mankind’s redemption.

So there you have it. My favorite Christmas songs. Do I still sing along to Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays? Absolutely. Do I still feel just a tiny bit happier when I hear the song Winter Wonderland? You bet. And do I giggle just a little bit when I sing along to I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus? Yep. BUT…those songs up above? Those are the ones that move me. Those are the ones that remind me what this season is all about. Those are the songs of Christmas.

  1. wmarsau says:

    Great blog. I really liked how you gave the origins of these great traditional Christmas songs that really tell the story of Christ. I must agree that O Holy Night is my favorite song as well.

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