I used to work as a worship arts director at a church. Essentially what that means is that I spent quite a bit of time handling the music we played and sang together during our services. And, seeing as Christmas is basically the Super Bowl of church holidays, I spent quite a bit of focus on Christmas music.
The hard part about Christmas music is that while there are many, many treasured Christmas songs out there, not all of them are suitable for church worship services. I’m sure that there are some super-relevant church folks out there who would attempt to argue that you can totes use Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree for a church service. However, they would be missing the point of a church service. We won’t go there. I never went there. With the exception of a rare few and obscure Christmas hymns, I pretty much made sure we packed all the Christmas hymns in that we could, while also utilizing new Christmas songs suitable for worship services. However, that still didn’t stop the annual comment card I would receive from someone unwilling to put their name on their comment that they wished we would sing more Christmas songs. I looked forward to that one every year. Trust me.
I did spend a lot of time seeking out new versions of Christmas hymns to utilize come Christmastime. There are a few Christmas hymns that just stand as they are; they don’t need to be retuned or retooled. O Holy Night, Silent Night… a few others. But there are others that have received makeovers through the years and offer the church new and edifying ways to celebrate Advent. There have been some really good mashups, too. So while I was really into keeping our Christmas music fresh, I also had a lot of additional music I liked to listen to so that I wouldn’t tire out on the church stuff. Not that anyone is asking, but I’ve taken the liberty to put together a little playlist I’m calling Shaun’s Playlist for Enhancing Your Christmas Season, with commentary. I’m working on the title. Just go with it. Enjoy. Hopefully you find some new stuff here.
Mary’s Lullaby - The Brilliance
It’s my belief that few people really take time to consider what it must have been like to be in Mary’s shoes that night. It didn’t really hit me until we had a child of our own and I watched as my wife held our newborn son that first night. It’s extraordinary to think that the circumstances were probably quite ordinary, but so very course altering.
This Is War - The Modern Post
Christmas, at least in regards to what it means for Christendom, tends to get a pretty prim and proper treatment every year. It’s hard not to give it the wax and shine when a baby is involved, but the Christmas story, as far as the birth of Jesus is involved, is pretty gritty. That child was born and a death order was placed upon his head. His very birth was scandalous. Now, this song may not directly deal with those exact themes, but the character and temperament of the song lends itself to how dramatic a story it really is.
This Christmas - Donny Hathaway
This song just has soul. I’ve always liked it. It’s hard not to nod when it comes on. It’s automatic for me.
Joy Has Dawned - Kings Kaleidoscope
The song was originally written by the Celtic Christian Combo of Keith and Kristyn Getty, but this group from Seattle did what they do best and put their touch to it. It’s just a different song and not like a lot of what you’ll hear from church music.
Come and Stand Amazed - Citizens & Saints
A little bit of the same as Joy Has Dawned, by Kings Kaleidoscope. It’s a fantastic church song, but with a modern flare. The words are especially well-written for Advent.
Christmas Portrait (Full Album) - The Carpenters
I will argue to the point of fisticuffs that there is nary a finer Christmas album in all existence than this one. Don’t even come at me with Mariah Carey, Michael Bublé, or whatever snake oil you’re selling. Those two are fine in their own right, but do not even BEGIN to touch the timeless magic captured on this one. For your pleasure, I was able to track down a Youtube user who apparently doesn’t believe in copyright law, and just uploaded the whole danged thing. Enjoy.
Do You Hear What I Hear - Copeland
You rarely hear a creative and enjoyable take on this song. Usually every version is pretty cheesy. This one is not. And, although it utilizes auto-tune, this song came out before the auto-tune craze. So, it gets a pass, and it gets a ribbon for being one of the early adopters without over-doing it.
Christmas In LA - Vulfpeck
This band is just cool. I don’t care what anyone says. The accompanying video is the actual video for the song, and it’s super cheesy and super fun. Aside from that, they’re all crazy-good musicians. All the bass players will certainly appreciate this one.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Blake Ewing
Advent is a season that should capture the imagination, so you can’t listen to nothing but party music. You have to have something that gives you pause, too.
Run Run Rudolph - Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry. Rudolph. A rock n’ roll electric guitar. Need I say more? No, I needn't.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Kenny Burrell
I’m a guitarist and I love jazz/blues guitarists. This is a good one. This thing is total class.
Please Come Home For Christmas - B.B. King
B.B. King basically should have a song on any playlist. He deserves it.
What Christmas Means to Me - Stevie Wonder
What would a playlist be without a little Wonder.
Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses
I don’t know what it is about this song, but I freaking love it. It’s total early 80s pop at it's finest. And singer Patty Donahue isn't even really all that fantastic a singer, but the song is just endearing enough to work.
Silent Night - Page CXVI
Page CXVI is one of my favorite groups producing church music. They’re taking all the old hymns, retooling and re-tuning them for a new generation. Their entire Advent album gets high marks from me, but this is an especially good one.
O Come O Come Immanuel - Castle Island Hymns
The first time I heard this song, I almost missed how good it was forever. It almost has a slow dirge, tin pan alley sort of feel to start that soon just ascends into this huge, inspiring finish. It’s my favorite rendition of this classic. Be sure to stick around until the end.
Who Would Have Dreamed - Sovereign Grace Music
Another song that sort of examines just how odd it must have been to hold a savior in your arms. Everything in the song frames up the humility of the Christmas story in a powerful way. Last year, my last working for our church, I paired this song and Mary’s Lullaby together, back to back. It was probably one of my Top 3 favorite moments in my time working there. No joke. It was cool to put two pieces of great material out there and then let some really talented musicians take it home.
Felix Navidad - Jose Feliciano (complete with the cheesiest video ever)
Last, but certainly not least. What Christmas playlist would be complete without this Christmas classic. This song just makes me smile. Even my son knows how much I love it.