What are the indispensable Christmas carols?

posted at 12:00 pm on December 24, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Two years ago, I posed the opposite question to Hot Air readers in a burst of Christmas Eve misanthropy, so consider this a long-overdue penance.  What Christmas carols simply must be heard in order to make a joyous season more complete?  Which specific versions do you like best?  For instance, one might love “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, while detesting the disco version of it (a big thanks to Duane “Generalissimo” Patterson of the Hugh Hewitt show for dropping that into a break bed last night).  As I mentioned in the post two years ago, you can love “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt even if you want to smash the radio when Madonna sings it.

So what are your favorites, the must-hear carols of the season?  My tastes run generally to the religious Christmas songs, especially to the hymns and classics, but I have a few more modern and secular favorites as well.  Here are a few favorites from the First Mate and me to start us off:

  • Silent Night – This is one the FM’s favorites, as it puts her exactly in the frame of mind of the reason for the season.
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear – This song and its hope for world peace is timeless.  It’s about Christmas, but more about Christianity.
  • Gloria in Excelsis Deo – Just a beautiful song, one of the best of the season.
  • Ode to Joy – Not so much a carol, obviously, but it’s indispensable at Christmas.  One of my favorite pieces of classical music as well.  And it went well with the ending of the hilarious Get Smart movie with Steve Carrell, but don’t hold that against it.
  • Joy to the World
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem
  • Carol of the Bells – It’s a carol, and it has words, but I actually prefer the instrumental versions better.  The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has a good version of it, which blends God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen into the introduction.  Speaking of which …
  • God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen/We Three Kings, Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan – I’m a sucker for harmonies and acoustic guitars. It gives me the feeling of sitting near the fireplace and singing with friends and family, celebrating and enjoying the holiday … as long as you have friends and family with a lot of musical talent.
  • Mary, Did You Know – This is a great example that shows that a modern Christmas song can capture the true meaning of Christmas.  I haven’t heard a bad version of it, but Reba McEntire’s is especially good, laying off of the excessive orchestration of some other versions.

Here are a couple of our favorites to entertain you on this Christmas eve.

And for those of you who simply must have a disco Christmas …


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My mistake on the link
Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Canon”
http://www.1067litefm.com/mediaplayer/?station=WLTW-FM&action=music&item=2872

Elisa on December 25, 2010 at 1:29 AM

Besides all the traditional hymns,

EVERY song from George Winston’s “December” CD, especially his version of Ode to Joy titled “Joy”, and Carol of the Bells. “Thanksgiving” is another favorite on the same CD, which is simply spectacular.

Dan Fogelberg’s “I Saw Three Ship Come Sailing In”

Josh Groban’s “Angels We Have Heard on High”

James Taylor’s and/or Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Karen Carpenter’s “Merry Christmas, Darling”

Amy Grant’s “Tennessee Christmas”

Dean Martin’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

A Blessed Christmas to you and Marcia, Ed!

parteagirl on December 25, 2010 at 1:32 AM

Also this link works for Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas Canon

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cP26ndrmtg&playnext=1&list=PLBAB055D4A307ED7F&index=3

Elisa on December 25, 2010 at 1:36 AM

Here’s a NEW one from our conservative friends at JoeDanMedia
“Merry Christmas (Peace on Earth)”

deedtrader on December 25, 2010 at 1:50 AM

Good one, Seven Percent Solution. I’ve always loved the Pogues.

How about Gaudete by Steeleye Span circa 1972. Very powerful a capella carol

Eff Cliffy on December 25, 2010 at 1:54 AM

My wife’s favorite, bar none, is the simple but pure “Away in a Manger,” –highly underrated — followed by “Mary Did You Know.”

There Goes The Neighborhood on December 25, 2010 at 1:54 AM

tengger on December 25, 2010 at 7:12 AM

ok lets try again.

Its new but going to be a classic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eA8J-DMRAk8

tengger on December 25, 2010 at 7:13 AM

My dad’s personal favorite is Silent Night…and for me there is no better carol than that.

How ever i love most of the songs on the list given by mankai as well :=) (have not heard some of the ones he mentions.) Thanks mankai !

nagee76 on December 25, 2010 at 7:16 AM

Sorry left out the title

Where is the line to see Jesus.. by Becky Kelly

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eA8J-DMRAk8

tengger on December 25, 2010 at 7:19 AM

Blue Christmas – Elvis

Lou on December 25, 2010 at 7:31 AM

Silver Bells – - Bing Crosby … I guess I`m telling my age with these oldies

Lou on December 25, 2010 at 7:33 AM

“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”

disa on December 25, 2010 at 8:43 AM

(The Burl Ives version)

disa on December 25, 2010 at 8:43 AM

It’s not Christmas without listening to or participating in Handel’s Messiah.

Then on to Mannheim Steamroller. It’s my new favorite, contemporaray Christmas music.
For the oldest and best Christmas music, Robert Shaw Chorale cannot be beat. Great carols, a capella with some instrumentation. It’s over 50 years old and has been re-mastered and re-recorded. It’s been a family favorite for that long. It was one of the first 33 1/3 recordings our family owned.

BetseyRoss on December 25, 2010 at 9:13 AM

Some great songs have been mentioned here. Pink Martini did have a fantastic Christmas album this year (Mutnodjmet) had mentioned it. Annie Lennox has a surprisingly good album, a little angry perhaps but it has great songs, in an interview she says they were dear to her and given how it comes out, I have to agree.

Casting Crowns has a great version of one of my favorite songs “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Another fun album is Bob Dylan’s Christmas album. The voice might sound shattered, but the album is just good bouncing Christmas fun. Must Be Santa and the Little Drummer Boy have videos to them and the album is just screaming fun, with songs of all kinds, the secular and religious, done in a loving 1950′s style.

There are some songs I haven’t heard yet, going to have a great Youtube mix from this group of suggestions!

amazingmets on December 25, 2010 at 10:33 AM

@Lou,
You are telling us a lot more than just your age…you are telling us of fine taste for music :=) i am 34 and i L-O-V-E Silver Bells !

Outside of the traditional Christmas carols, I adore “All I want for Christmas” sung by Mariah Carey…so sweet!

nagee76 on December 25, 2010 at 10:49 AM

Since I married that Polish girl over a half century ago, our Christmas seasons have been filled with the most beautiful carols of all – Polish Koledy

(The perogis aren’t bad either)

Don L on December 25, 2010 at 10:50 AM

Elisa on December 25, 2010 at 1:36 AM

Family now at 5 straight years of TSO Christmas shows.

:)

mankai on December 25, 2010 at 11:05 AM

Merry Christmas to all! …Don’t forget “O Holy Night.”

StarLady on December 25, 2010 at 11:18 AM

Merry Christmas to all! …Don’t forget “O Holy Night.”

StarLady on December 25, 2010 at 11:18 AM

One of my favorites, too, along with What Child Is This?, We Three Kings and Do You Hear What I Hear?

Since I married that Polish girl over a half century ago, our Christmas seasons have been filled with the most beautiful carols of all – Polish Koledy

(The perogis aren’t bad either)

Don L on December 25, 2010 at 10:50 AM

Neither is the kielbasa. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find oplatki (slash through the “l” in both Polish words) for a long time. In my family, the “Polish girl” was my grandmother.

Bigfoot on December 25, 2010 at 11:47 AM

O Holy Night

NoFanofLibs on December 25, 2010 at 5:24 PM

Cheech and Chong story of Santa.

exdeadhead on December 25, 2010 at 6:58 PM

Mary, did you know? – Kenny and Wynona. No other version comes close. No good quality video of them singing it live on Youtube, but there are good versions of them singing it on there. The wife and I can listen to it over and over again.

pghpat26 on December 25, 2010 at 7:37 PM

I’m partial to Kathy Mattea’s version of Mary Did You Know?

Jordan Yentsch on December 26, 2010 at 11:30 AM

I think it’s shocking no one mentioned King Diamond’s No Presents For Christmas yet.

Best. Christmas. Song. Ever.

madne0 on December 26, 2010 at 4:51 PM

O Little Town of Bethlehem is my all-time favorite, especially for the 3rd verse:

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
Though none may hear Him coming,
Yet in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

thanks, I’m all teary now…

Rosmerta on December 26, 2010 at 8:25 PM

My daughter and I always enjoy this one:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2sUxjh-P4M

MITX on December 27, 2010 at 2:18 AM

Two of my favorites-
Mary’s Boy Child by Boney M
All I Want for Christmas is You by Vince Vance and the Valiants

ironranger on December 27, 2010 at 10:24 AM

Dear Ed,
I see your favourite Christmas Carol is Silent Night. During the last week I have been visiting my daughter’s ski chalet in the high Alps of Austria. Here, in the tiny village of Wagrain in 1818, Father Joseph Mohr wrote “Stille Nacht” in the small catholic church about half a block down the little street from my daughter’s chalet. Another three blocks down the street, is the base of the great “Flying Mozart” gondola ski lift, together with a number of traditional Austrian log ski bars. Walking home from one of those bars at midnight, with a full moon and the Alps towering above the little village in the valley, one can easily understand how Father Mohr was inspired to write the Carol. As a former Californian, now residing in a kind of extremely large Minneapolis (Toronto), I can assure you Ed that you would be delighted with Wagrain. Kindest regards and happy Holidays!

John Adams on December 27, 2010 at 11:35 AM

Silent Night
Little Drummer Boy (Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band)
A Mad Russian’s Christmas (TSO)
Glory in the Highest (Chris Tomlin)
O Holy Night
What Child Is This
Mary Did You Know
Christmas Canon (TSO)
Hallelujah Chorus (New Young Messiah version)
Charlie Brown Christmas instrumental

jedijson on December 27, 2010 at 2:04 PM

I forgot about Father Christmas by Greg Lake.

Jordan Yentsch on December 27, 2010 at 3:16 PM

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