Last year I finally put together and posted the list of my 50 favorite Christmas songs. The list is back for 2013, and updated with some changes and a few additions. Last year’s ranking is in parentheses, with additional explanation provided in only a few cases. For most explanations, go back and check out the original.
The background explanation from last year:
…Coming up with the top 50 songs wasn’t terribly difficult. I’ve identified roughly 375 different contenders, though I’m only familiar with a little more than 200 of them. A good number of the Christmas songs I know were easily disqualified because of the unpleasant visceral reaction they cause.
Ranking the top 50 on the other hand — beyond a few that consistently rise to the top — was a difficult task. Still, there’s a kind of double-edged fun to assembling a list like this one: 1) Comparing and debating the rankings with friends; and 2) The fluid nature of the list, in part because of new songs discovered that upset the balance. If I do this again, the 2013 edition might look somewhat different.
Today makes it a matter not of if, but now. Without further ado, here goes:
1. O Holy Night / Cantique de Noel (1)
2. Hallelujah Chorus, from Messiah (2)
3. Hark the Herald Angels Sing (3)
4. O Little Town of Bethlehem (4)
5. Gesu Bambino (5)
6. Silent Night, Holy Night / Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht (6)
7. Carol of the Bells (7)
8. In the Bleak Midwinter (19)
9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (8)
10. Coventry Carol (9)
11. Glory to God, from Messiah (10)
12. Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (12)
13. O Come, O Come Emmanuel (11)
14. Mary’s Little Boy Child (13)
15. O Come, All Ye Faithful / Adeste Fideles (16)
16. I Wonder as I Wander (14)
17. And the Glory of the Lord, from Messiah (15)
18. Sleigh Ride (18)
19. Joy Has Dawned Upon the World (21)
20. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (17) Read Krista Kafer’s excellent Denver Post column for the stirring tale behind this overlooked but highly reliable text.
21. Sweet Little Jesus Boy (20)
22. Still, Still, Still (22)
23. Do You Hear What I Hear? (23)
24. Wexford Carol (NR): “Good people all, this Christmas time, consider well and bear in mind what our good God for us has done….” How did this beautiful melody got omitted from last year’s list? Yikes!
25. Good Christian Men, Rejoice (24)
26. Joy to the World (26)
27. Mary Had a Baby (31)
28. Celtic Advent Carol (34): “Light the candle, Jesus is coming!”
29. Christmas Time is Here, from A Charlie Brown Christmas (27)
30. Hear the Lamb a Cryin’ (28)
31. Away in a Manger (32): Kilpatrick tune, preferably.
32. The Christmas Song (25)
33. Angels We Have Heard on High (29)
34. White Christmas (29)
35. O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion, from Messiah (36)
36. O Magnum Mysterium (NR): A Latin text with many settings. When a friend pointed me to the setting by Morten Lauridsen, I was instantly hooked by the serene and sublime.
37. Linus and Lucy, from A Charlie Brown Christmas (37)
38. The Sussex Carol (On Christmas Night) (49)
39. The Birthday of a King (38)
40. Go, Tell it on the Mountain (33)
41. I’ll Be Home for Christmas (35)
42. What Sweeter Music (NR): Another new discovery. Add John Rutter’s music to the rich visual imagery and Christ-centered text by 17th century English poet Robert Herrick, and there was no doubt it deserved a place somewhere on the list.
43. Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) (43)
44. God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen (46)
45. Ding, Dong, Merrily on High (39)
46. The People That Walked in Darkness, from Messiah (41)
47. Of the Father’s Love Begotten (47)
48. For Unto Us a Child is Born, from Messiah (48)
49. Bring the Torch, Jeanette Isabella / Un flambeau, Jeannette Isabella (45)
50. Jingle Bells (40)
Honorable Mention: How Great Our Joy; On This Still and Silent Night; Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring; Home for the Holidays; Angels, From the Realms of Glory; What Is This Lovely Fragrance?; What Child is This?; It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas; Love Came Down at Christmas; Once in Royal David’s City; Masters in this Hall (Nowell, Sing We Clear); The First Noel; Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.
What am I missing? Where did I go wrong? Hopefully this list helps to expand your Yuletide musical horizons a bit, and we’ll see what 2014 brings. Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!