Advent, My Way #11

Of all the joys of the Christmas season, I like the music best.

The traditional Protestant songs of my childhood fill me with nostalgia.

The jazzy piano of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” makes me grin and want to dance.

The Nutcracker makes me want to whistle along, if only I knew how to whistle. Still, I try.

Sure, there are lots of annoying holiday songs. One only need turn on the car radio or go to a shopping center to be annoyed by the standard set list of songs that cycle through—Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, Let It Snow. Over and over again.

At home, though, we control what we listen to. Our big box of Christmas CDs has been retrieved from storage and the favorites are queued up in the player.

We have the soft and classic, with a heavy focus on Celtic music.

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We have the quirky and unusual, the other side of Christmas. If you want bawdy and blue, to recognize that Christmas means different things to different people, try “Blue Yule”! The Cajun and Creole music will give you the energy to bake 100 dozen cookies!

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I love this Christmas album in particular—American Folk Songs for Christmas–unusual songs in the American folk tradition and put out by Smithsonian Folkways.

As they describe the album on their website : “This compilation of less-commonly known Christmas songs represents a variety of Folksongs that find their origin in European and British Isles Ballads, as well as several African-American spirituals, hollers and chants from the slave era that express a deeply spiritual celebration of Christmas.” Lovely, all of it.

And, if I had to pick one Christmas album, to the exclusion of all others, it would be this one, “The Bells of Dublin,” by the Chieftains.

This album includes some old-standby songs, like “O Holy Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and it is heavy on rollicking Celtic tunes. It brings diversity in sound—we have a French carol, lots of Irish and British tunes, a song from a self-described “heathen and pagan,” Jackson Browne.

The unparalleled instrumental sounds of the Chieftains—uilleann pipes, tin whistle, bodhran, fiddle—are augmented in spots by the organ of St. Anne’s Cathedral of Belfast and the bell-ringers of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

And the voices, so many and so different! Marianne Faithfull, Jackson Browne, Nanci Griffith, Ricki Lee Jones, Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

And Elvis Costello, doing one of the most bizarre and refreshing Christmas songs you’ll ever hear, “St. Stephen’s Day Murders,“ just for those whose families have finally worn them down . . .

These albums are all antidotes to the ubiquitous songs one hears in the shopping malls and on the radio in this season. With a few well-chosen Christmas albums at home, one need never hear “Oh, the weather outside is frightful . . . ” or “Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock” again!

We always have room for new music so tell me, what is your favorite Christmas or holiday music? Do you have one favorite song or album? Share!

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78 thoughts on “Advent, My Way #11

    • I can hear that one once a year and enjoy it . . . I honestly don’t know how the people who work in shops stand it–hearing the same loop of music from Thanksgiving (or earlier) thru Christmas! You’re more patient and mellow than I am . . .

  1. I like a wide range of Christmas music.. from classical to contemporary,not rock though. when I really take inventory of my music it would mostly be classical Christmas music. I do like your Celtic Christmas cd. I’ll have to check out the Dublin Chieftians.

      • It was delightful! I was chopping up greens for dinner when I played it,I must say that some of the songs helped that knife bounce though the greens really nice. 🙂 one did sound like the favorite cow just died and it was the funeral song being sung for her.;) the fast forward button took care of that problem.

  2. Bing Crosby singing Do You Hear What I Here is one I love, and I have great memories of Snoopy’s Christmas from 4th grade. Great song, and we had Sopwith Camels made out of tricycles that two boys rode as Snoopy and the Red Baron. 🙂

  3. I listen to a lot of Mannheim Steamroller while working away during the holidays. I have very little music but am always looking for more. Love the Celtic music and the Christmas album of Sarah McLachlan.

  4. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has always been my favorite…Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, James Taylor… love them all!

  5. Oh boy, holiday music. Little drummer boys and silver bells make me homicidal. I own a few oddities I’ve just dug out of the CD collection: John McCutcheon “Winter Solstice” (billed as hammer dulcimer music for Christmas, Chanukah, and the New Year’s Season) and something called “Midnight Clear, An Eclectic Collection” by who knows who. I thought I owned that Chieftains CD but I can’t find it. So, I’m set for the winter solstice. Outside of the grocery store, I think I can avoid any retail setting with the dread holiday music.

  6. Good Christmas music can’t be beat can it – but the canned variety is really bizarre. Even here in the land of the long light Christmastide we hear ‘Let it Snow’ and ‘Jingle Bells’ and even more bizarrely ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ endlessly. Tears of Stone has been among my favourite discs for a very long time – it too is various artists performing with the group. Do you know that one? I’ve added your recommendation into my Spotify Christmas music list. Thank you 🙂

    • I don’t know Tears of Stone but I’ll check it out! I wondered if all the snowy, wintery songs were sung where Christmas comes during the summer–how weird that must be.

      • I could write a whole post about how discombobulated I felt as a child, living a summertime Christmas and it being celebrated as a wintertime event! And it still goes on – generations of children not feeling in the right place or time!

  7. My favorite is the Minotti operetta “Amahl and the Night Visitors” which first aired on black-and-white TV back in the 50’s, and which my husband sang in as the Servant in a church performance when my kids were small. It’s a bit hard to find now, but we have a CD of the original performance and a videotape of the church performance and we usually play both of them every year to get into the spirit.

  8. The only Christmas music I remember form my childhood, aside from traditional carols, was the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby. Of course it included ‘White Christmas” which my mother loathes!
    It’s a lovely, inclusive range of music on your CD player. Your recommendation of the Chieftains has caught my eye, as has your anonymous commentator’s suggestion of John Mccutcheon. I saw him in concert many moons ago, and had forgotten about him.

  9. I have a Pandora Christmas station set up, and requested up-beat instead of ballads. They tend to bring me down. I always enjoy the Charlie Brown Christmas music and (silly as it sounds) I’m a crazy fool for How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It evokes happy memories of watching the Christmas special in front of our neighbors TV (we didn’t have one at the time). Nothing carries you back in time quite like music or certain smells.

  10. Oh! I could enjoy a musical Christmas with you. Like many Brits, my own Christmas ‘must do’ is to settle in front of the radio on Christmas Eve at 3.00 for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge. Incomparably moving. I’ve just found out it’s also broadcast by 300 American stations. Have you ever heard it?

    • I just did a quick search and haven’t found info about American stations but I’ll try again. And it seems I might be able to listen on the BBC website, after the initial broadcast. Thanks!

      • This is from the Kings College website: ‘In the United States the service is broadcast by around 300 radio stations, including American Public Media and its affiliates (Minnesota Public Radio and WNYC-New York, for example). Unfortunately there is no list of radio stations that are broadcasting the service, so it’s best to contact your local stations or check their online listings.’

  11. Great choices Kerry! I like of course the fifties golden oldies but my favorite Christmas song is Faye Lovski, ‘Christmas was a friend of mine” https://youtu.be/GnXdnUZmJ_o. That’s the Christmas of my youth. And I really like Jonathan Jeremiah’s ‘Happiness’ because it reminds of our long distance family traveling to each other for Christmas ! Xo Johanna

  12. Excellent choices. I’ve been listening to Mariah Carey because some of her Christmas songs are different than the old stuff, or she sings the old carols in a way that makes them sound fresh and new. I love Christmas carols.

  13. Just as with all of my other music, my taste is eclectic.

    I have a CD of “A Dickens Christmas”, period songs played on period instruments. I play that on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day while opening presents.

    My wife and I love Dean Martin’s “Making Seasons Bright”, as well as Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.
    We, like you, have some Celtic discs and a hand bell disc that’s very nice.

    But perhaps my all-time favorite is by the Roches. “We Three Kings” is an incredible collection of songs–some a little quirky, such as “Winter Wonderland”, sung with a truly New Yawk dialect and their rendition of “Deck the Halls” with a Calypso flavor.

    But, because they are sisters, their “family-inherent” harmonies are incredible, and they excel at “Silver Bells”, “We Three Kings” and “Good King Wenceslas”.

    • I’ll find that Roches CD–it sounds wonderful. I know exactly what you’re talking about wth the family harmonies. Our favorite bluegrass is a brother act and they sing together like no two unrelated people could.

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  15. Different songs for different moods, but Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is probably my favourite…I do have a soft spot for ‘The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot’ as my mother used to sing that one to me sometimes before I went to sleep.

  16. That is a wonderful collection of Christmas music. I think my favorite though is still Greg Lake’s “I Believe In Father Christmas”. He passed away this December 7, after a long battle with cancer.

  17. Our heap of Christmas CDs is out but apart from when we made our Advent Crown we haven’t listened to anything festive yet. We have mainly classical and cathedral choir recordings but I do love the few folk and Celtic collections we have. My favourite CD is probably a recording of one of the annual festive music programmes the BBC broadcast live each year. BBC Radio 3 links up with lots of European countries as they hold their Christmas concerts and all through the evening the listener is transported from Finland to Hungary to Spain etc where a choir sings a carol or an orchestra or a folk group perform something new and wonderful to me!
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b086v1sk As you can see the programme for this year is tomorrow evening!
    I love The Chieftains!

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