Last year I blogged about what (in my opinion) were the 10 worst Christmas songs of all time, this year I’m trying to decide what my favourite Christmas tunes are, and that’s not as easy as you might think! My friend Regina, once pointed out to me that’s it’s so much easier to say what it is we don’t like than what we do, and my God is that a true statement! So in no particular order here’s my Top Ten:
The Holly and The Ivy – I absolutely adore the purity of the traditional carol The Holly and The Ivy, especially when sung by Kings Choir Cambridge. It’s so crisp and pure, and I think I like it because it isn’t overly Christian. It’s a very old carol, possibly at least 1000 years old and most definitely has Druidic origins. It’s very surprising that it survived the harsh puritanical regime of the 17th century! The act of bringing fresh greens into your home years ago, was to symbolize the hardiness of both the Holly and the Ivy plants, and to hope that your own family could experience that same hardiness of life and spirit and make it through the harsh winter. Holly and Ivy have also been the greens of choice to decorate churches with since the 15th century. I also find it a very uplifting tune.
I also have a strong leaning towards Celtic music, always have had, and while some of the Celtic tunes aren’t instantly recognizable (to me anyway) as Christmas tunes, I love playing them at this time of year too. I have two favourites:
The Wexford Carol – from The Very Best of Celtic Christmas (Windham Hill label). So pure and spine tingly good, an oboe, a cor anglais and the traditional Uillean pipes. What more do you need? I prefer the instrumental version personally but there are some good “sung” versions on You Tube too. This is another very, very old carol that dates to 12th Century Ireland, and obviously, County Wexford. The subject of the lyrics is the nativity of Jesus Christ.
The Galician Corol – from the same cd. So uplifting and toe tappingly good, I don’t recognize this as a Christmas tune but it really makes you want to jig about, and again it features the pipes. Love, love, love the pipes! This You Tube version is from a Canadian Celtic band called The Barra MacNeils, they’re also worth digging out if you haven’t heard them before.
The Christmas Song – More mainstream I know but I love Nat King Cole. I adore his voice, flows over you like honey. I’ve had his Christmas cd in my collection for about 16 years and I wouldn’t be without it, from fun, poppy tunes to traditional carols. His version of O Come All Ye Faithful makes me stop what I’m doing and just listen, but this wonderful track is probably the most quintessential Christmas song I’ve ever heard, who can resist the cozy images conjured up? I know I can’t.
The Christmas Canon – Have Trans Siberian Orchestra made it over the pond yet? Sort of a rocky take on classical music for the most part (their Carol of the Bells will get you out of bed in the morning!), but they also do a wonderful “Christmas” version of Pachelbels Canon, which is just my most absolute favourite classical piece of all time, and they haven’t wrecked it either! They kept it simple with a childrens choir, piano and strings, although there’s a much rockier version available too. And if you really want to blow your head off look for the video to Christmas Eve/Sarejevo, also on You Tube.
O Holy Night – This version is by Chloe Agnew and The Celtic Women. There are some songs out there that require no words of description, this is one of them.
Walking In The Air – I think the animated story that this song was written for is one of my all time favourite Christmas movies, I mean, wouldn’t you have all just loved to have been that little boy taken flying by a snowman on Christmas Eve? The original choirboy picked to sing this song was called Peter Auty, but for some reason, the one that was released was by Aled Jones, there are some who say that the first one is definitely the best, you can hear them both on You Tube and make your own mind up.
Troika – Perhaps more seasonal than an outright Christmas tune, but I absolutely adore the images conjured up by this classical piece by Prokefiev. Apparently a Troika is a small Russian sled pulled by three dogs, and the music very artfully re-creates the journey with the cracking whip, sleigh bells ringing and the break neck speed of the sled. I have a slightly more rousing version than this one at home, which I think conveys the intent of the original music better, but this will still give you an idea of what it is I’m talking about, and hopefully why I like it so much.
Do You Hear What I Hear? – A very beautiful song, written back in 1962 at a time when the Cuban Missile Crisis was hotting up and nuclear war was a very real threat. This song prays for peace and love the world over but isn’t over bearing about it, the lyrics are not only poignant, they have real significance. This is an absolute favourite of mine, guaranteed to make me turn up the volume when they play it on the radio. It’s been recorded many times since 1962 by a host of well know artists, including Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Vanessa Williams and Celine Dion, but I think the best is still the version by Whitney Houston.
Well, I made it to my Top Nine tunes for Christmas…. for the life of me I just can’t make it Ten!! So I’m going to hit publish for now and if inspiration strikes over the holiday then maybe I’ll add one more! Or alternatively, tell me what your favourite is and I might add it here.