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Grimm’s Top Ten Christmas Carol Countdown

09 Dec

I’ve always been very passionate about music.  I can’t play a note to save my soul, but I love it.  It moves me, inspires me, and reaches me on a level I cannot even describe in words, as if it bypasses my brain, my flesh, my bones, and reaches out to my very core directly.

I love orchestral and classical music.  I adore the music of Amy Lee and Evanescence (which reaches me on an even deeper level than what is described above) as well as many degrees in between.  Music inspires me in ways that defy explanation.

It is little wonder, then, that a 30 year old kid who grew up as an only child and for who Christmas has always been a very special time (perhaps moreso than most) that the music of this festive season is also very dear to me.  It is tragic to see how maligned Christmas music has become in recent years.  Overexposure to anything is never a good thing, and the fact that many retail chains play Christmas music at the stroke of midnight on October 31st really doesn’t help things.

Nevertheless, if you take the time to examine some of these songs you may find that you can appreciate them better.  Not only do they help set the tone for this season (something no other holiday/season can boast of, to this degree) but the lyrics are often very touching and surprisingly insightful.  Overexposure has dulled their meaning to many ears – so I wanted to examine my ten favorite Yuletide tunes and explore what makes them so moving.  Some are classics and some you may really wonder about – but all should be interesting to you.  This list is completely subjective, based on the things about this season that I personally find value in.  So without further adieu, I give you…

Grimm’s Top Ten Christmas Carol Countdown

(Editor’s note: Not all of these songs are “carols” in the literal sense [i.e. a festive religious song] but I think you’ll agree they all fit in with the spirit of the season!)

10.  Winter Wonderland

Writers: Felix Bernard (C) / Richard B. Smyth (L)

What better way to start off the festive list with a festive song about being… uh… festive?  The catchy tune also captures the fun of a northern hemisphere Christmas and the magic that seems intrinsic to a landscape covered in nothing but white.  It evokes some very fond memories from my childhood, when all there was to do when it snowed was… play in it!

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening, 
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We’re happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Gone away is the bluebird,
Here to stay is a new bird
He sings a love song,
As we go along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown

He’ll say: Are you married?
We’ll say: No man, 
But you can do the job
When you’re in town.

Later on, we’ll conspire,
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid, 
The plans that we’ve made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he’s a circus clown
We’ll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the other kids knock him down.

When it snows, ain’t it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling
We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDCjHN8vFcc&feature=related

9.  Thank God For Kids

Writer: Eddy Raven

Technically, this song has nothing to do with the holiday of Christmas, but rather celebrates children and childhood from the perspective of a loving parent.  In this season that celebrates the birth of a child, and contains to much magic and wonder for children, this song is perfectly at home on my list.

If it weren’t for kids have you ever thought,
There wouldn’t be no Santa Claus,
Or look what the stork just brought
Thank God for kids.
And we’d all live in a quiet house
Without Big Bird or a Mickey Mouse
Or Kool-aid on the couch
Thank God for kids.

Thank God for kids there’s magic for a while
A special kind of sunshine in a smile
Do you ever stop to think or wonder why
The nearest thing to heaven is a child.

Daddy, how does this thing fly?
And a hundred other where’s and why’s
I really don’t know but I try
Thank God for kids.
When I look down in those trusting eyes
That look to me I realize
There’s love that I can’t buy
Thank God for kids.

Thank God for kids there’s magic for a while
A special kind of sunshine in a smile
Do you ever stop to think or wonder why
The nearest thing to heaven is a child.

When you get down on your knees tonight
And thank the Lord for His guiding light
And pray they turn out right,
Thank God for kids.
Thank God for kids.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-o3rbZxUlY

8.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Writer: John Neale (translator)

I first heard this one when we performed for it for a concert back at good old BVCA.  Our version was slightly different than the mainstream one, and I liked it more.  Nonetheless, one gets a sense of the importance of Christ’s birth in this brooding yet beautiful song.  The sorrowful longing seamlessly transitions into a hopeful yearning for the promised Messiah.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBfPnUZh-Bc

7.  Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing

Writer: Charles Wesley

A truly versatile song, I’ve heard soft and pleasant arrangements and bombastic, heroic arrangements and both work very well.  It is the glad proclamation of Christ’s birth and all that his birth represents.  My favorite line can be found just below in the first paragraph (“join the triumph of the skies”) – what gorgeous and poetic imagery.

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtqWRsnDBOM

6.  Joy to the World

Writer: Isaac Watts

Another triumphant and joyous celebration of the coming of Christ, this song is fantastic with or without the lyrics.  The powerful arrangement evokes images of the long-awaited Messiah finally coming.  I’ve used orchestral versions in productions I have worked on to great effect, though the joyful lyrics are just as moving.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the Earth! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5iRUABBiko

5.) Mary, Did You Know?

Writer: Mark Lowry

We take a contemporary turn heading into the top five.  “Mary, Did You Know” is a beautifully written song that posits the incredible whirlwind of thoughts that must surely have been going through Mary’s mind as she bore her unborn child to Bethlehem.  Not only this, but it puts his birth in the larger context of his life and ministry by hinting at what lays in store for this baby boy who is destined to do so many amazing things.  The play on words at the conclusion of the first verse is heart-wrenching.  It’s a gorgeous and chill-inducing song and a modern classic in its own right.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfpK6cNPF7Y&feature=related

4.) O Holy Night

Writer: Adolphe Adam

One of the most eloquent songs about the human experience of the salvation that Christ brings.  This is a soft and reverent piece that perfectly captures the humble coming of the Savior, but with an almost epic subtext to the lyrics and arrangement that excites the soul at what this sleeping child means for mankind.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of Our dear Saviour’s birth.

Long lay the world In sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d And the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope The weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks A new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;

O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts By His cradle we stand.

So led by light of A star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men From Orient land.

The King of Kings Lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials Born to be our friend.

He knows our need, To our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

Behold your King, Behold your King.
Truly He taught us To love one another;

His law is love And His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break For the slave is our brother;

And in His name All oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy In grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us Praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,

His power and glory Evermore proclaim.
His power and glory Evermore proclaim.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ-8jYpa1-o

3.) Grown-up Christmas List

Writers: David Foster (C) and Linda Thompson Jenner (L)

Another contemporary classic, this beautifully crafted piece shows that even adults can have fantasies that seem childish – only instead of presents and bows, the singer’s poignantly selfless pleas are for an end to the evils of this world and healing for those who are hurting.  That is the heart of this season even for many of the secular persuasion.  Perhaps I am betraying my own childish dreams by admitting that I can scarcely hear this song (or read its lyrics) without letting a few tears slip.  After all, this Christmas list is identical to my own.

Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you
With childhood fantasies

Well, I’m all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I’m not a child
But my heart still can dream

So here’s my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
and wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list

As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely
Wrapped beneath our tree

Well heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list

What is this illusion called the innocence of youth
Maybe only in our blind belief can we ever find the truth
(there’d be)

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, oh
This is my grown up Christmas list

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAWhfBrJ4iA&feature=related

These final two songs are the culmination of everything this holiday means to me on a personal level, and it’s absolutely impossible for me to name one over another.  So I give you my top two:

Silent Night

Writers: Josef Mohr (L) and Franz Xaver Gruber (C)

There is something about the sheer simplicity of this piece that carries with it the very essence of this season.  Hearing this song, one is transported to the calm, quiet of Bethlehem that night.  I can’t say much more about it.  The lyrics say it all.

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
round yon Virgin Mother and Child,
Holy infant so tender and mild,
sleep in Heavenly peace!
sleep in Heavenly peace!

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight;
glories stream from Heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ, the Saviour, is born!
Christ, the Saviour, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, Love’s pure light
radiant, beams from Thy Holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtQr81k3TSk

Little One

Writer: Shirley Watson

Even when I was a raucous teen, this song moved me.  It moves still, now that I have my own kids.  Now that I have seen the excitement of Christmas morning from the other side of the wrapping paper.  Not only does it celebrate the joys of being a little one at Christmas time, it celebrates the Little One that we honor at this time of year.  It brings to mind memories of when my oldest was young, looking down on him as he slept and wondering what the future would bring.  Few songs cut to the heart of this season as deftly and beautifully as this one.  If it’s not part of your Christmas playlist, it should be.

She sat by the fireside ’til her eyes became too heavy,
and she wandered off in dreams with elves at play.
Daddy found her sleepin’ and took her up to bed,
where she would spend the night in Santa’s flying sleigh.
Christmas was a whisper in her ear
Sounds that only children’s hearts can hear.

Little one, in the morning when you waken
You’ll find your every dream has taken form
There’ll be joy…
Christmas day will come to life because of you
you are loved, little one!

Mary lay and pondered until her eyes became too heavy
and she finally found the rest she’d struggled for.
Joseph sat in silence, watched the baby sleeping
wondered what the future held in store.
Angel voices whispered in his ear
Reaching down, he drew the baby near.

Little one, in the morning when you waken
the world will find that God has taken form.
They’ll be joy…
And the earth will have new life because of you
You are loved, little one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWPsN-vAt00&feature=PlayList&p=3EF3662D00DF39B4&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=66

I should note that it was VERY hard to find a copy of “Little One” and I don’t think the link above does it justice entirely as it’s slightly faster paced and not as atmospheric.  Still, it gets the idea across. 

And there we are.  What are some of YOUR favorite Christmas songs?  I’d love to hear them.

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Posted by on December 9, 2009 in Writing

 

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