In my world, you can't truly nurture your spirit unless you're including music on a daily basis. Music has the power to relax you, energize you, make your heart swell with emotion, help you focus--you name it. And there is simply something magical about Christmas music, in particular.
Now, there are plenty of Christmas songs I just can't stand. As in, they come on the radio and I immediately fall all over myself to flip the switch off and try to forget that I even heard those first three notes. Then there are the songs that are great in nearly every way...except nobody bothered to tell the artists that they are pronouncing "in excelsis Deo" incorrectly. Or that the word "men" is NOT actually short for "men, women, children--you know, everyone." (Would you describe a playground full of children as "a group of men"?!) Someone needs to educate our dear recording artists about the existence of inclusive language.
But setting those songs aside, there are still some wonderfully amazing recordings out there, and those are the ones that nurture my spirit during the Advent & Christmas season. Here is my Top 11 list of must-listen-to Christmas recordings, in no particular order. Enjoy!
1. My Favourite Time of Year (The Florin Street Band)
Fun little video + jaunty instrumentals + heartfelt vocals = impossible not to sing along and hit repeat as soon as it's done. This song is The Little Engine That Could, and I hope it finally makes its way over the mountain that is mainstream radio. It wholeheartedly deserves it. Favo(u)rite part: the first time the carolers come in with "Noel, noel, noel."
2. Christmas is Coming (Jason Gray)
Oh, my goodness. If the opening "Ohhhhhh, ohhhhhh, ohhhhhh" with the strong drum beat and the clapping doesn't grab you, check to see if you're still breathing. I don't think I can possibly be in a bad mood by the end of this song. Favorite part: hitting repeat so I can hear that opening again.
3. The Holly and the Ivy (Mannheim Steamroller)
It's hard to choose any favorites from Mannheim Steamroller, since virtually every arrangement is a masterpiece. But this one consistently evokes emotion and fond memories and is a must on my list. Favorite part: when the strings swell in for the first time.
4. A Baby Changes Everything (Faith Hill)
This song is powerful--no other way to describe it. Music and lyrics truly weave together, and Faith Hill lends her incredible pipes so perfectly, it's like she was born just to bring this song to life. Especially poignant for those of us who have longed for a baby. Favorite part: when the song reaches its pinnacle with the "hallelujah"s.
5. The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole)
Believe it or not, I actually do have one of the old standards on my list! This is one of my favorite Christmas songs to perform, and Nat King Cole's version is just sublime. From his velvety vocals to the tinkling ivories, this song simply does its thing without showboating. Favorite part: the instrumental solos leading back into the vocals.
6. Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
True confessions: I am a huge fan of classic rock. Styx, Journey, Moody Blues, Foreigner, Boston, REO Speedwagon--you know, the guys who do it right. Sometimes I just love a good screaming electric guitar and pounding bass, so this piece totally delivers that with a holiday flair. Favorite part: when the electric guitar joins in on the "ding, dong, ding, dong" voicing in the middle.
7. Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913 (John Denver)
My husband will tell you that I'm a sucker for just about anything put in 6/8 time, so this one already has an advantage. And talk about silky vocals--I think I could listen to John Denver sing every day of my life and still be excited to see him upon arrival in heaven.
I listened to this record so much as a kid that it developed quite a few skips. Unfortunately, one of them was right at the climax of this song, where it would selectively jump ahead OR stutter in the same spot before finally grudgingly moving on. But I loved it so much that I played it over and over, anyway. Favorite part: the second half of the last verse...even if I kind of miss that skip now. :-)
8. O Holy Night (Mariah Carey)
I can hear you already. Yes, she unleashes a boatload of melismas, and the instrumentation is essentially karaoke quality (I mean, the backing on Michael Bolton's version is EXACTLY the same, for crying out loud). But let me tell you, this is the perfect song for Mariah to showcase her amazing range.
A little background: O Holy Night is my #1, all-time favorite Christmas song (it is in 6/8 time, after all!). Back in the day, my hubby even burned me an entire CD of O Holy Night versions, and I was quite picky about which versions were acceptable to include. First of all, if you can't make it up the octave, you have no business performing this song anywhere. Second of all, if you're so excited about that octave leap that you insist on doing it every single time through the chorus, that is also a no-go in my book.
But Mariah does something that I've never heard anyone else do. She goes ahead and takes that octave on the first verse...because she takes the entire chorus up an octave the next time! And when it comes time for that high note at the end, she uses her whistle tones like nobody's business. Favorite part: her spot-on pitches up in the stratosphere. (Runners-up on this song: Donny Osmond and Josh Groban)
9. Silent Night (Mannheim Steamroller)
Yep, I put two Mannheim Steamroller pieces on my list. This version of Silent Night is haunting and beautiful all at once. Perfect for listening to with eyes closed, just meditating on the different ways the melody is expressed. Favorite part: when the violin comes in for the first time.
10. Be Born In Me (Francesca Battistelli)
This song ends with a contented sigh. (Mine.) If you aren't yet familiar with Francesca Battistelli's music, you now have something on your to-do list. She is fantastic. (Hint: You're Here is a good place to start.) And this gorgeous song is just amazing. Another especially poignant song for those of us praying for a baby. Favorite part: can't pick one. Start to finish, it is simply perfection.
11. Here With Us (Joy Williams)
Another gorgeous, almost meditative offering to the Christmas season. I love the handbells that show up in the middle. The song is so beautiful that I can actually nearly forgive the unfortunate "men" that pops up out of nowhere. I try to just pretend it isn't there. Favorite part: the "Hallelujah" section right after that.
So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? (That's the fun of these kinds of lists--everyone has their own opinion!)
Hi! I'm Lyn and this is where I blog about family, health, workouts, nutrition, meditation, relaxation & life in general. But it's not all about me--it's about inspiring healthy changes in other people's lives.
"...the only gift I wanted was to take back my health and reclaim my body."