Christmas Songs Across Time

Dust Off Your Christmas Songs

The month of December is here and that means uninhibited, unabashedly repetitive, guilt-free playing of Christmas songs.

Allow me to address the guilt-free part. Naturally, we can play Christmas songs at any time of the year. There are no laws on the books saying we can't.

But, honestly, don't you feel just a little out of sorts when you play them in the blazing heat of July? Sweltering under 90 degrees Fahrenheit, I only need a few notes of Frosty the Snowman to picture him in a giant puddle. Not the effect I really wanted.

For our holidays in December, Christmas songs are ubiquitous. They point the way to joyful celebrations with family and friends as well as the intimate journey on the path of inner light.

A Wide Variety Of Christmas Songs

We have Christmas songs to suit every taste. From traditional to modern, from serious contemplation to light-hearted frolicking.

Time-honored traditional songs:

  • Silent Night

  • Hark the Herald Angels Sing

  • O Holy Night...

  • O Come, O Come, Emmanuel...

Classical songs:

  • The Nutcracker Suite

  • The Messiah...

Venacular songs:

  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

  • Jingle Bells

  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town...

Raucous songs:

  • The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)

  • Fairytale of New York...

The boys of the NYPD Choir were singing Galway Bay and the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day.
— The Pogues

Wistful songs:

  • Merry Christmas, Darling

  • I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)...

The fluid, lyrical voice of Karen Carpenter as she sings Merry Christmas, Darling is like warm butterscotch coating your ice cream.

Christmas songs are timeless. It's okay to dust off the Carpenters from 1970. No apologies needed. It's the time of year when songs from the past are like a badge of honor in a world of nostalgia.

The Christmas Song

Another song that must be played is The Christmas Song sung by Nat King Cole from 1961 with its full orchestral arrangement. It is one of the definitive songs of the season.

The liquid gold of Nat King Cole's voice smoothes our ruffled feathers after we've ventured out in the shopping-crazed world.

The Nat King Cole Trio first recorded the song early in 1946. At Cole’s behest – and over the objections of his label, Capitol Records – a second recording was made later the same year utilizing a small string section, this version becoming a massive hit on both the pop and R&B charts.

Cole again recorded the song in 1953, using the same arrangement with a full orchestra arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle, and once more in 1961, in a stereophonic version with orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael.

Cole’s 1961 version is generally regarded as definitive, and in 2004 was the most-loved seasonal song with women aged 30-49, while the original 1946 recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1974.

Christmas Songs And History

Many of our Christmas songs are steeped in history.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen – was written in England in the early 1800s as a reaction to church music of the 15th century.

Carol of the Bells – was composed in 1916 and was based on an old Ukrainian folk tune. It was originally named Shchedryk. It means "the little swallow" and it was a New Year's song. The little swallow flies into a home and sings to the family about the bountiful year that awaits them.

The English lyrics that we associate with Christmas were published and copyrighted in 1936. 

Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabelle – originated from the Provence region of France in the 16th century. Initially, it wasn't a Christmas song at all, but rather a dance song for nobility.

The list goes on. It's impossible to complain about a lack of Christmas songs.

And everyone has to record their own version of them on every instrument possible. What are your favorite renditions?

Merry Christmas to One and All.


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