Christmas Music and Beautiful Tensions

One of my favorite things about Christmas is pulling out all my favorite Christmas albums and listening to them. I’m not a super huge fan of the typical Christmas music played in the stores… I may have been ok with it at some point in my life, but last year I worked in retail for the month of December. I distinctly remember walking into the store one November (early November, in fact) day and saying out loud, “Oh no. Not yet!” It was Christmas music. My least favorite song quickly became Mele Kealikimaka: apparently it’s Hawaii’s way of saying Merry Christmas to you. I’m sure had I not heard it a bajillion times that November and December, it would think it is a fun vintage ditty. But alas, it has lost all its quirk and charm from being overplayed.

These days, my favorite Christmas music is a combination of delightful blasts from my own past, some Advent songs, and lots of hymns. I grew up listening to a lot of Christian music and these days I don’t really listen to much of that anymore. However, every Christmas time I pull out some of my favorites:

Point of Grace, A Christmas Story
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This one gets first play every year. It is fun, beautiful, has lovely music, and reminds me of decorating the house with my family.

Next up on the rotation is:
Michael W Smith, Christmastime
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I love his instrumental versions and how everything is so dramatic and orchestral.

Suffice to say Christmas is the only time I listen to Point of Grace or Michael W Smith these days, but man do I love their Christmas stuff. It feels like home.

I also love Sara Groves’ O Holy Night:
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She has a great voice, simple songs, and a delightful commentary on Toy Packaging (“Nothing makes me lose my cool like toy packaging… Ask the kids to leave the room it’s time for toy packaging…”)

Speaking of feeling like home, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite Christmas movie soundtrack:
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I think my favorite song from this is when Bob Crachit (Kermit) and Tiny Tim (Robin) sing accapella… “Tis the season to be jolly and joyous, fa la la….” So good.

A few of my newer discoveries are:
Peter, Paul, and Mary, A Holiday Celebration
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My favorite song from this is Mary singing I Wonder as I Wander. I get goosebumps every time. (Side note, if anyone ever finds this on vinyl and wants to send me a copy… I wouldn’t complain).

Over the Rhine: Snow Angels
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I discovered them in graduate school. Both Over the Rhine and Peter, Paul, and Mary bring a more melancholy tone. Sometimes I get a bit tired of the jingles bells and the merry and bright and need a bit more solemnity. These albums certainly do the trick.

And then, of course, there are all the songs we sing in church. What Child is This? remains my absolute favorite Christmas carol, but O Holy Night is a close second. And then Advent songs of O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus always speak to me.

These songs help me to balance this season between the ache of Advent and the joy of Christmas. It is indeed the season to be jolly and joyous. But it is also the season to wonder as you wander, to rejoice even though you are weary, and await a long expected Messiah. There is room for both in this time. There a tension, to be sure, but when in life are things clear cut and simple? Hardly ever.

So as we wait for the light, we sing in the dark. We sing about Santa, jingle bells, and coming home for Christmas. We sing about a baby in a manger, about a long hoped for promise being kept, and about a hope not yet realized. We dream of white Christmases and of a world made right once again. And we hold it all together in a beautiful, achy tension. This is Advent. And this is Christmas. ‘Tis the season indeed.

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