Tarry for the Nonce

December 27, 2005

Top Ten Christmas Songs

Filed under: Uncategorized — lmwalker @ 12:32 pm

For the past couple years, I’ve made lists of my top ten Christmas Carols (see 2003 and 2004). I always make them without peeking at previous years, but I am surprised at how consistent my taste is.

1. O Holy Night
I don’t know why the 1847 O Holy Night remains my favorite Christmas Carol. I just love everything about it. When done well, the “faaaaaaall . . . on your kneeeeeees” line gives me chills. Interestingly enough, the carol was attacked by some of the French clergy because the music was written by a Jewish man (Adolphe Adam, the composer of Giselle) and the lyrics were written by Placide Cappeau, a social radical.

2. Little Drummer Boy
This 1958 carol has more spoofs than not, but I love the versions by Bing Crosby and Julie Andrews.

3. What Child Is This?
I prefer the 1871 original with the varied chorus. The adapted (simpler) version is bland. Oh, and I think Julie Andrews’s rendition is my favorite.

4. Christmas in Killarney
. . . as only Bing can sing it.

5. Baby, It’s Cold Outside
I have a sentimental attachment to this song and I think my favorite rendition – by far – is the 2003 one by Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel.

6. Sleigh Ride
This 1950 carol also has a fairly lame spoof, but I enjoy the imagery. It’s just as winter should be.

7. Winter Wonderland
This 1934 carol has been spoofed as a Chemistry Wonderland, a Computer Wonderland, a Consumer Wonderland, an E-mail Wonderland, Grepping in a ‘^(Unix|Wonderland)$’, Happily Addicted to the Web, and Walking in a Doggie Wonderland. I prefer the original Winter Wonderland by Perry Como and the Andrews Sisters.

8. Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Despite wikipedia’s ultra-silly attempt to sexualize the song, I think it is sweet and innocent and charming, especially as sung by Dean Martin. It has been spoofed as I Hate Snow, Prove It’s So and The Net is Slow.

9. I’ll Be Home for Christmas
The 1943 carol is excellent – especially when sung by Bing Crosby – and had a special poignancy for me this year. It has been spoofed as I’ll Be Cloned for Christmas.

10. Angels We Have Heard on High
The 1862 Angels We Have Heard on High is also known as Les Anges dans nos Campagnes and even has an alternate version. Does it matter as long as we get to sing the “Glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ria, in excelsis Deo!”?

And there you have it.



  1. I prefer Hark The Herald Angels Sing myself. Tis my favorite, if I have a favorite.

    Of course, I have recently heard the Baby, It’s Cold Outside song far too many times on 93.9, so I am starting to dislike it (I’ve never heard this song until this year, which is rather surprising). Not sure whose version it is; I can only assume, based on the musical context, that the version they were playing was recorded in the 40s.

    It seemed to be a rather large shame that the majority of Chicago radio stations did not play Christmas music this year. I was happy to find the lite playing music, but otherwise, it seemed to be a paltry Christmas music season. (This could be a result of the loss of 104.3, as they always played lots of good Christmas music this time of year).

    On a similar note…My cousin asked the store manager at a Kmart in Alabama, while out shopping for a nativity scene, where the nativity scenes were, and she was told they were not allowed to sell them.

    I was shocked, considering Kmart really needs business. Apparently this wasn’t just at Kmart, as my sister-in-law was looking for a baby Jesus to add to a cake, but was unable to find anything at Walmart or Target as well (although, she never asked a store manager). After doing a search, Kmart has a Veggie Tales nativity scene (only available online), Target has a playmobile, small moss-covered and medium moss-covered nativity scene, and Walmart has no nativity scene. The fact that the woman told her they weren’t allowed to sell them is very very disturbing. 80% of store business for the ‘holidays’ is Christian.

    Comment by Andrew P. — December 28, 2005 @ 5:29 am

  2. Perhaps the lack of holiday music is from there only being a few dozen tunes. I loaded twenty five hours of holiday and winter music and don’t think I had more than 40 or 50 titles.

    Kinda interesting how many “Christmas” song were written by Jews.

    As an aside, when was Jesus supposed to have actually been born?

    Comment by Howard — December 28, 2005 @ 4:25 pm

  3. “Perhaps the lack of holiday music is from there only being a few dozen tunes. I loaded twenty five hours of holiday and winter music and don’t think I had more than 40 or 50 titles.”

    Good Lord, Howard, you can’t be serious!?!

    Look, even if we’re just talking about the “traditional” Christmas songs (I couldn’t tell you what the determining factor is, though), there are hundreds of songs – we – Americans, simply are not overly familiar with many. There are numerous caroles from England, Germany, Scandanavia (ah, my favorite country…), Mexico, etc. that can fall into “a” or “the” “traditional” category. Add to that remakes, revisions, retoolings, etc. Throw in jazz versions of every Christmas song imaginable (90.9 FM, WDCB – College of DuPage’s station was fantastic). Mix in WFMT / 98.7 FM and their classical lineup of Christmas songs AND stuff from the Old Towne School of Folk Music – phew, I’d wager one can go EASILY a month and not repeat a single Christmas song. Yeah, you might have two dozen different versions, but they’re still different – and techincally – just one version of each song, piece of music, what-have-you, I bet there’s at least a weeks’ worth.

    Comment by Mueller — December 28, 2005 @ 8:17 pm

  4. “Little Drummer Boy” was ruined for me by Richie on the Dick Van Dyk show – in one of their Christmas episodes. Eeeeee, I detest that song! Exchange it for a version of “Holly and Ivy” or whatever the proper title is.

    “Christmas in Killarney?” To quote Billy Madison, “Goooooo!” No, substitute that with “Silent Night” or “O Tannenbaum.”

    Having seen “Elf” for the first time the other day though, Zooey Deschanel has an incredibly sweet voice. Ella Fiztgerald and Louis Armstrong versions are great as well.

    Comment by Mueller — December 28, 2005 @ 8:26 pm

  5. Cherry Tree Carol

    I first heard it on your mother’s old Jose Feliciano LP (long before cd’s) and more recently performed by Marty Haugen on his Night of Silence cd — a perennial favorite performer for Daughters of St. Paul productions.

    Difficult to find now, “Night of Silence” is a very nice cd with Advent and Christmas songs.

    Another beautiful one is “Lo! How a Rose ere Blooming” — performed nicely on their “Love is Born” cd (scroll down) by the Daughters of St. Paul.

    My favorite performer these days is Mannheim Steamroller — their instrumentals really put me in the Christmas spirit.”

    Comment by auntlori — December 29, 2005 @ 11:15 am

  6. Hmmmmm…I just love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra!

    Comment by Genna — January 1, 2006 @ 3:02 pm

  7. As an aside, when was Jesus supposed to have actually been born?”

    Some time around the year 1 A.D., give or take five years. After Christianity was legalized in 313 A.D., the feast of Christ’s birth was merged with the pagan celebration of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun,” which took place on Vatican hill on December 25th (by the Julian calendar, anyway.)

    I find delightful poetic significance in the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” being merged with the birth of the unconquered Son.

    Comment by laura — January 1, 2006 @ 4:16 pm

  8. I understood that Christmas was set up to be a counter The Winter Solstice Festival. Wasn’t he supposed to have been born during another part of the year?

    Comment by Howard R — January 2, 2006 @ 8:55 am

  9. Wasn’t he supposed to have been born during another part of the year?

    As far as I know, no one knows for sure.

    The only historical document on point refers to the census of Caesar Augustus when (or just prior) to the time that Quirinius was governor of Syria. Other historical documents record three empire-wide censuses in 28 B.C., 8 B.C., and 14 A.D.

    Other historical documents place Quirinius’s governorship at either 10-8 B.C. *or* 6-7 A.D. Herod died in 4 B.C., so the earlier date is likely, making the most likely dating of Christ’s birth as 8 B.C. . . . or thereabouts.

    Comment by laura — January 3, 2006 @ 3:11 pm

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