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Ben Picks Ten: Christmas Carols December 14, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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What are your favorite Christmas carols? If you could only pick ten, what would they be? Our friend Ben was pondering this last night as Silence Dogood and I listened to some of our large assortment of beloved Christmas CDs. Deciding to rise to the challenge, I’ve compiled my top ten here, in no particular order. Feel free to take me to task for leaving out your favorites!

1. Gabriel’s Message. Perhaps Silence and our friend Ben fell so hard for this because, not being English, we’d never heard it until we heard Sting perform it on a CD of unfortunately dubious origin. But what a stunning account of the Annunciation! You can hear an older Sting sing it on his “If on a Winter’s Night…” CD (missing an octave or so, but still compelling), or Charlotte Church’s gorgeous version on her “Dream a Dream” CD.

2. The Little Drummer Boy. Call us sentimentalists, but we never tire of listening to our many versions of this. Our friend Ben suspects that Silence has never yet heard it without shedding a few tears.

3. Silent Night. The first song Silence ever performed solo before a group. Even lovelier in French. We once attended a performance where the audience was invited to sing along in any language they chose, and we heard many a voice raised in the original German as well as English and our French. We know of no other Christmas song that succeeds so well in capturing the Gospel of Luke’s account. 

4. Adeste Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful). Squeak and squawk though one might on the high passages, who can resist lifting up their voices when this majestic hymn is sung? 

5. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. We love this hearty injunction to ‘let nothing us dismay.’ It seems to bring Scrooge and company, blazing fireplaces, and opulent Victorian Christmas scenes into our living room, warming us with its Christmas cheer. 

6. Joy to the World. In the season of joy, this glorious call to proclaim the birth of Christ is irresistible. Another hymn that’s not easy to sing, but we always sing it, anyway. 

7. The Cherry Tree Carol. We love this simple early English carol about Joseph’s all-too-human reaction when he discovers that his fiancee is carrying someone else’s child, and how he discovers Whose child it is.

8. The Huron Carol (‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime). We were enchanted by this Native American version of the Nativity the first time we heard Rob Yoder, who has a magnificent voice, sing it on the “An Evening of Christmas Music with Daybreak and Friends” CD. Ellen Reid of the Crash Test Dummies also sings a lovely version on their “Jingle All the Way…” CD. We trust our Canadian friends won’t be surprised by its inclusion.

9. Once in Royal David’s City. Our friend Ben has always loved this traditional British carol, set in “a lowly cattle shed.” And Silence and I also love Ian Anderson’s modernization of it on “The Jethro Tull Christmas Album” CD.

10. Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel. Okay, technically, this is an Advent rather than a Christmas hymn. But it’s so stirring, such a perfect prelude to the Christmas season, I can’t imagine making a list without it.

And the bonus:

11. Angels We Have Heard on High. Musicians through the ages have given their very best to Christmas music, which is why a list like this is so hard to narrow down. And here is yet another breathtaking paean to the birth of Christ that makes the heart soar, even as we falter when trying to hit the high notes on the “Glorias.” But of course it doesn’t stop us.

Obviously, this list omits many of our favorite hymns and carols, such as the lovely “Coventry Carol (Lully Lullay),” “Carol of the Bells,” “O Holy Night,” “What Child Is This,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “The First Noel,” “Good King Wenceslaus,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and, of course, the gorgeous “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and beloved “Ave Maria.” But our friend Ben could only pick ten (plus one)! Maybe I’ll post about those next Christmas, since there happen to be ten of them.

You’ll note that many of our all-time sentimental favorites are missing, for the same reason. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are especially partial to “White Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (especially Josh Groban’s interpretation on his “Noel” CD), and “Silver Bells.”

Honorable mention must also go to some original modern songs of surpassing loveliness, including Ian Anderson’s “Ring Out Solstice Bells” from “The Jethro Tull Christmas Album,”  Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven/Mary’s Song” from her “Home for Christmas” CD, and Emily Cole’s “Sound of the Tambourine” from “An Evening of Christmas Music with Daybreak and Friends.”  And of course the raucous and wonderful “Soul Cake” on Sting’s “If on a Winter’s Night…” CD.

So, there’s our friend Ben’s list. (And yes, I cheated by sticking all that other stuff on at the end. But watcha gonna do?! There are just too many good ones.) Your turn to share your lists!