Christmas is nearly upon us, heralded by the first round of parties this weekend. It seems friends are scheduling gatherings ever earlier in the month to avoid conflicts with holiday travel and others’ parties. That’s put me in a holiday mood so I though I’d share my YouTube Christmas playlist, along with some comments about each song. The playlist spans about five centuries and several musical genres, roughly in chronological order.
Gaudete is a medieval carol from the 16th century expressing joy at the birth of Christ. It’s a simple tune that evokes a very different world.
Con amores, la mi madre is a Renaissance song. While not strictly a Christmas carol, its themes of love and faith fit well with the season. I like the song’s warm and gentle tone. Translation of the song’s lyrics are below the video; click “show more.” The only quibble I have with the translation is that fe is translated as loyalty rather than as faith.
Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day was first published in the 19th century but clearly has a much earlier origin. It metaphorically casts the life of Christ as a dance. My favorite line is “Thus was I knit to man’s nature” to describe that Christ was born of woman.
Hey for Christmas is a 17th century tune that shows folks knew how to party back in the day. It recounts a day of dancing, games, and revelry in holiday celebration. I like the song’s lighthearted tone and sense of fun. The link explains the party game of hot cockles.
Good King Wenceslas is a familiar carol dating from the 19th century that embodies the concept of noblesse oblige, which has lately fallen from favor.
Silent Night is another familiar and storied carol. We are spoiled for choice from among many beautiful versions. I like Lindsey Stirling’s rendition because of its haunting quality. Through the magic of track mixing, she supplied all the instrumental and vocal parts.
Celtic Carol is a medley of several Christmas tunes. The playfulness and simple joy makes this video irresistible. Lindsey Stirling’s wonderful sense of humor comes through. It also conveys a sense making do with what you have and finding joy in simple things, sentiments that get lost during the holidays.
Count Your Blessings, used in the film White Christmas, is about gratitude and a sense of perspective about the important things in life.
Away in a Manger is another 19th century carol. I like this bluegrass-inspired rendition because it’s unusual and because of the superb musicianship.
The First Noel is arranged by the same sisters who performed the previous song. Gratuitous inclusion of children can spoil performances but the youngest sister adds a warmth and a family feeling to the song, and she has a good voice!
Mary Did You Know? is a contemporary Christian song performed with a bluegrass inflection by the same group that did Away in a Manger. I like their enthusiasm.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was written for the musical Meet Me in St. Louis. I used to think the song was depressing and not very Christmas-like until I saw the movie. Seen in the context of the film, the song highlights the importance of family and place over material values. I chose this a capella performance because of its simplicity and elegance. Judy Garland’s superb rendering is also on YouTube and has the advantage of using all the original lyrics.
A Strange Way to Save the World is another contemporary Christian song. I like the tune and the humility expressed in the lyrics.
White Christmas, written by the great Irving Berlin, was the title song for the movie. There are many versions far better than this one but this is the only one I could find that includes the introductory lyrics (below in the video). Berlin was living in LA when he wrote the song; he mentions “orange and palm trees sway[ing]” and how he’s “longing to be up north.” We’ll be spending the holidays in Boston and I’m hoping for snow (but not till after we get there). Meanwhile, I’m here among the orange and palm trees.
Grown-Up Christmas List. Children love Christmas because of the presents. As an adult, I can buy myself whatever I want so my Christmas wishes are for other things. The video is a nice complement to the sentiments expressed in the song. A few years ago I asked family to only give me gifts they made themselves, or preferably, nothing at all. This proved wildly unpopular but I did receive a few items that I treasure because they were so personal.