My Top 10 Favorite Christmas Songs and Where They Came From
With Christmas quickly approaching, you've probably heard a Christmas song somewhere along your merry way. On the radio, in the supermarket, the hotel elevator, most everywhere you go you hear the sounds of Christmas. What's amazing to me is that most of the traditional Christmas carols that we still sing and hear today have been around since the 1800s. There are not that many genres of music that can claim to be over 200 years old.
I also find it interesting that a world that seems to becoming more and more spiteful of Jesus and Christianity in general will gladly play songs about His birth.
There are so many Christmas songs to choose from, but in trying to come up with a top ten list, I chose the following as my absolute favorite Christmas songs of all time.
O Holy Night
I'm starting off with my favorite Christmas song of all time—O Holy Night. This song brings tears to my eyes and takes my breath away every time I hear it. The words are so beautiful and so powerful.
This beautiful hymn was written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roqermaure, a wine merchant and a poet. He was asked to write a Christmas poem for the parish priest. His friend and brilliant composer, Adolphe Charles Adams, is credited for adding music to the words.
My favorite performance of this song is by Celine Dion, whose 1998 version was voted the third favorite Christmas song of all time in a 2004 poll.
Every year in North Dakota, we all hope for a white Christmas. It just adds the something special to an already magical time of the year. With snow on the ground, the lights look brighter, Christmas trees are prettier and hot chocolate is even tastier. I cannot imagine living somewhere without snow. We have had Christmases without the white stuff and it just isn't the same.
The song White Christmas has been dubbed the most famous Christmas song of all. Some say Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1940. The song was not very popular when it came out, but the lyrics were heartfelt by soldiers and their families during WWII. It's reported that the Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests for the song. The movie, White Christmas, came from the song and starred Bing Crosby.
Even though Bing Crosby's version is the best-selling single of all time, one of my favorite versions of this song is by country singer, Martina McBride.
Who doesn't love Jingle Bells? Growing up there were different versions of this song, with one of them including Batman and Robin who laid an egg. I don't recall all those lyrics, which is probably a good thing!
Although not technically a Christmas song, it is one of the most popular winter songs. It was written by James Lord Pierpont and copyrighted under the title "One Horse Open Sleigh" in 1857. Pierpont was an American songwriter born in Massachusetts. There are three other verses to the song that sing about the adventures of going on a sleigh ride.
My favorite performance of the song is a swing version performed by the Denver Mile High Orchestra.
Feliz Navidad is another one of those fun Christmas songs that always puts you in a cheery mood.
The song was written by a Puerto Rican singer-songwriter, Jose Feliciano in 1970. It has both a Spanish and an English version. The song is reportedly one of the top 25 most played Christmas songs around the world.
My favorite version of the song is sung by Jaci Valesquez, a contemporary Christian latin singer.
It just wouldn't be Christmas without the song, Silent Night. I think it's probably sung at every Christmas eve or Christmas day service around the world.
This song was originally written in 1816 by an Austrian priest named Josef Mohr who wrote the lyrics to Stille Nicht in German. The carol was first performed at the Church of St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve in 1818 after it had been set to music. Stille Nicht was translated into English in 1859 by an Episcopal Bishop in 1859. Silent Night is the most frequently sung version today.
One of my favorite version of the sung is sung by Stevie Nicks which was released on the album, A Very Special Christmas in 1989.
Do You Hear What I Hear
This is another amazing Christmas song that gives me goosebumps when I hear it.
I was surprised to learn Do You Hear What I Hear was written more recently than most carols on this list. The song was written at a time when there was a threat of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. It was written by a once-married couple - Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker. Bing Crosby made the song known worldwide when he recorded the song in 1963. On the day of the recording, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
I love gospel singer Yolanda Adam's soulful version of the song as well as Whitney Houston's version, which she sang live on Jay Leno. I'm not sure what year it was but I did find the video.
Joy to the World
This is another song that you can't have Christmas without. Although Joy to the World is sung during Christmastime, the original intent of the song was to celebrate the return of Jesus, not His birth.
The song is based on Psalm 98 and was written by Isaac Watts, an English hymn writer. He published the song in 1719 along with a collection of other psalms by King David. The music arrangement did not come until 1839. Joy to the World has been the most published Christmas Hymn in North America as of the 20th century.
Hillsong, a Christian band from Australia, does a very cool, very rockin' version of this song.
The First Noel
I remember singing this song in nearly every Christmas program in elementary school. Nowadays, about the only Christmas songs kids are able to sing are about Santa Claus, not Jesus. It is amazing what has happened in this country in the last 20 years or so - who would have thought that the words Merry Christmas would be under such attack.
It is not clear who wrote the lyrics to The First Noel. In fact, very little is known about its origins. The word Nowell comes from the Latin word natalis or birth. In French, the word Noel means Christmas. It was first thought to have been published in 1823 and again in 1833 with added lyrics.
My favorite version of this song is sung by Josh Groben and Faith Hill. This duet is absolutely amazing!
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
The music to this song is sort of solemn and haunting yet beautiful at the same time. I think the lyrics to this song are perfect for Christmas as the word, Emmanuel, means God with us. God came to us in the flesh when the baby Jesus was born, a truly remarkable and world-changing event.
Just as with The First Noel, the origins of this song are not clear but it is believed to have 8th century Gregorian origins. It could also have come from a 15th century processional for French nuns. The lyrics are based on the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Selah has a beautiful version of this song and the video contains scenes from the movie, The Nativity Story.
Breath of Heaven
I realize that most of my favorite Christmas songs are the more traditional, religious ones but those are the songs that to me, exemplify what Christmas is really all about - the birth of our Savior. And the song "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)," a beautiful Christmas song written by Amy Grant, is no exception.
This song was originally written by an English songwriter by the name of Chris Eaton. Upon hearing the song for the first time, Amy Grant wanted to include it on her Christmas album, Home for Christmas, but felt she needed to change the lyrics to tell the story from a woman's perspective. Her pregnancy at the time gave her extra inspiration to write of Mary being pregnant with Jesus.
The song was written in 1992 and in 2001 Amy Grant wrote a book "Breath of Heaven" based on this song. The song appears on the soundtrack for The Nativity Story produced in 2006. Mike Rich, who wrote the screenplay for the film, said he began each day of writing by listening to this song.
So what about you? What are some of your favorite Christmas songs?