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Passion: Christmas songs you love, Christmas songs you hate

By Shelah Miner

IMG_4884Over the next two weeks, we’re all going to hear a few Christmas songs. Make that a LOT of Christmas songs. Between next Wednesday night and next Friday morning, I will have the pleasure of attending one junior high Christmas concert, two elementary school Christmas concerts, and two preschool Christmas concerts (in case you were counting, that makes five concerts in 36 hours). By the time they’re all over, I’m sure I’ll be vacillating between cuteness overload and wanting to wear noise-canceling headphones through the New Year.

One thing that most of us can agree on is that Christmas songs are awesome. Part of it is probably because we only listen to them for six weeks out of the year (if we adhere to the “only after Thanksgiving” rule, and I refuse to acknowledge any other kind of people). Part of it is probably because we associate them with all kinds of happy memories. In my mind, Amy Grant equals baking cookies. After performing for a season with The Nutcracker, the opening strains of Tchaikovsky’s ballet will always be linked with the musty smell of my mouse costume as I watched the party scene from the wings. I associate listening to The Forgotten Carols with holiday road trips when I was a teenager (although I gathered my kids to watch a video of the production a few years ago and I was sort of shocked at how bad it was). I’m getting ahead of myself here. 

Many of us have strong feelings about Christmas songs. Twenty-five years of being a Mormon can’t override my first fourteen years of Protestant existence when it comes to singing “Joy to the World” (Saints and angels? Why? I get it wrong every time). My mom and her sisters watch White Christmas every time they get together during the holidays, improvising the “Sisters” fan dance with napkins or whatever else they have nearby, and invariably end up sniffling back tears when Bing, Rosemary, Danny, and Vera croon the finale. Every year, we have a family Christmas party with my in-laws. We do a live nativity, which is wonderful (if a little irreverent, with a dozen kids and half a dozen adults who seem intent on reclaiming their childhood roles). Then we gather around the piano (yes, we really do), and sing carols. My father-in-law always picks the most obscure songs in the book. Last year’s songfest nearly ended in disaster when he picked “Fum, Fum, Fum” and all of the adults in my generation came down with an incurable case of the giggles.

I tend to like my carols dark and in a minor key. Think, “I Wonder as I Wander,” “Wexford Carol,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” and “What Child is This?” I wonder what this says about me? Does it make me a closeted Grinch that my favorite songs about the happiest time of year are the gloomy-sounding ones?

Of course the most disturbing Christmas song of all time has to be “Baby, it’s Cold Outside,” (aka “The Date Rape Christmas Song”). And yes, I have seen the Idina Menzel and Michael Buble version that came out recently. It stars two adorable kids who dance with each other in an adorable Art Deco hotel, and rather than erasing the subtext, it somehow made it even a little creepier to me. I’m not the only one who has strong feelings about certain Christmas songs. There’s even a whole movement, involving thousands of people, dedicated to avoiding hearing “The Little Drummer Boy” during an entire Christmas season.

The greatest Christmas album of all time? My vote goes to A Very Special Christmas (1987), with cover art by Keith Haring which includes songs by Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, U2, Sting, The Euryhtmics, Madonna, Bon Jovi, and my favorite line of all time: “The name’s DMC/ I got the mic in my hand/ And I’m chillin’ and coolin’/ Just like a snowman.” To be twelve again, blasting the walkman, and singing at the top of my lungs….

What Christmas songs do you have strong feelings about? Which ones do you love? Which would you like to see disappear from our collective consciousness? What do you think about celebrity Christmas carols? What about endless elementary Christmas concerts? Do you love The Killers’ Christmas songs as much as I do?

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

29 thoughts on “Passion: Christmas songs you love, Christmas songs you hate”

  1. I made a short playlist on my blog, but I really like Joni Mitchell's "River", which starts out with the line "It's coming on Christmas….". I like it because for most of my adult life I was in a job that kept me away from home most Christmas's. I love Holly Jolly Christmas; Michael Buble has a great rendition, but the Burl Ives one is the best. I love "Christmas Time is Here" with Shawn Colvin. Reminds me of my favorite Christmas program ever, A Charlie Brown Christmas. I also like the theme song from "Frozen", done acapella-ish with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots. It is pretty good. ( Although it doesn't mention Christmas, snow is mentioned).

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  2. Oh, my goodness, Shelah. I didn't know anyone else called it "The Date Rape Christmas Song." I HATE that one SO MUCH.

    Another reason we were separated at birth: the minor carols are the best ones.

    I don't really care for most secular carols–unless Ella or Nat is singing them. But I REALLY hate "Silent Night," which I realize is like hating puppies and kittens. I also despise the version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" that we have in the hymn book. The Anglican one (with the tune to our hymn #15) is way better. (Best holiday hymn in our book: #215 "Ring Out, Wild Bells.")

    Another one that makes my skin crawl is "O, Holy Night." It almost always seems to be more about the singer than the song. Gah.

    I'm kind of a Christmas music freak; we own over 60 Christmas CDs, with no sign of slowing. But at the same time, I'm very, very picky.

    Several years ago, I made a list of my favorites on my blog: http://kashkawan.squarespace.com/novembrance/2007/12/5/my-essential-christmas-albums.html

    My favorite this year is "Born on a New Day," by the King's Singers. I'm singing it in an octet at our stake Christmas concert this Sunday, and I can't get enough.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhDpp4iz2dQ

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  3. I can't believe "Christmas Shoes" hasn't been mentioned yet. I could write a paper about how this song is just not okay. For starters, WHY is that child not home with his mother? She is DYING. Jesus doesn't give a crap about what her shoes look like. What if she died while he was out buying these dang shoes? How does this song/story make people feel good about Christmas?! Go home, kid! Let me drive you there so I know where to drop off food to you because heaven knows who else is doing that for you now. Seriously. *deep breath*

    As for favorites, I just like the old school Christmas songs, ones of tradition and the 1950's. Though John Lennon's crazy weird ones are fun. And then of course Handel's The Messiah. I cry a lot more lately, but that one could touch my heart before the crazy hormones and children began.

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  4. if you don't know the background on "baby it's cold outside," it's worth looking up the wikipedia article on it. i know some people will still hate it, but i like it. maybe it helps that i was exposed to it first while watching "neptune's daughter," and it's hard to see it as sinister when red skelton is involved.

    when my dad and his siblings were kids, they sang the backup vocals on a nat king cole christmas album. we grew up listening to the songs from that album and now my kids listen to it with me. no christmas music is more nostalgic or innocent for me than those songs. it's amazing how deeply integrated music is in my christmas experience.

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  5. How interesting to read others feelings about the Christmas carols. My favorite is Silent Night. I particularly love the carols that I know by heart, plus I lived in Germany near where Silent Night was written and saw calm and bright nights in the snow of that beautiful country. I dislike songs like Santa Baby…I suppose they are meant to be funny and alluring, but that is not what Christmas means to me. I like to think that Christmas is mainly still for children who can't appreciate Santa Baby.

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  6. While I have nothing against Andy Williams, I could very much do with out him singing, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." I don't understand WHY that song is so overdone around here. It comes on nearly every time I turn on the radio all throughout Nov-Dec.

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  7. I like "Riu Riu Chiu" although I don't get to hear it much. The best time was listening to it played on a guitar in a church in Mexico. "What Shall We Give?" is another less well-known carol I love and I always love "O Holy Night" although I prefer instrumental versions.

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  8. Thanks for the mention! The funny thing is, I don't even dislike LDB, though it's kind of dumb to imagine that a newborn would enjoy having a kid bang on a drum soon after entering this strange new world. There are much more disagreeable holiday tunes, certainly.

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  9. Yes, Shelah, I love Joy to the World, but I have no idea why they turned it into a millennial song in our hymnbook. Highly annoying. I just sing the real words as loud as I can, so while everyone else is singing about "stars that twinkle", I'm belting out "the wonders of His love."

    Here's my 2014 favorite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifCWN5pJGIE

    And because it's concert week for the Portland Ensign Choir and Orchestra (I sing in the choir) here's our 2012 rendition of Joy to the World: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVVZoNVfg2s

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  10. I would happy if there were no more versions of O Holy Night or Ave Maria (which isn't even a Christmas song anyway). I'm really tired of hearing both songs. Little Drummer Boy is usually annoying too, as is Santa Baby. I thought the original Santa Baby with Ertha Kitt was kind of cute, but now it's everywhere.

    I'd like to hear more versions of Go, Tell it on The Mountain; Still, Still, Still; Angels From the Realms of Glory; and O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

    About 10 years ago I decided that I'd buy one or two new Christmas albums every year–I'm beginning to wonder if this was a good idea now that I have so much Christmas music. One of my favorites is called "It's a Cuban Christmas"–I stumbled across it on Amazon as download-only. It has a bunch of Cuban artists performing traditional Spanish-language carols (like Campanas de Belen) and English language carols translated into Spanish, with Cuban musical stylings. It's so much fun to listen to, even if my kids can't understand it. I also have a few albums from Hawaiian artists that I love. One has a song called "Hawaiian Santa" that talks about Santa climbing the window into your grass shack and dancing the hula around your tree.

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  11. Favorites for me are "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", "Still, Still, Still" and from the hymn book, "Once in Royal David's City". We hardly ever sing that one, but the beginning of the 3rd verse is lovely — "And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love…".

    As a result of what we listened to when I was growing up, Christmas music must include the Christmas albums from Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis.

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  12. I know this will probably upset people, but the song, Mary Did You Know?, infuriates me. When I hear the lyrics, I wonder if the writer ever read the New Testament. I know others like it, but it bugs me majorly.

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  13. Ugh, not to be a hater, but Ring Out Wild Bells?! I detest that song and the fact that the music person in our ward seems to think it's mandatory to sing it the Sunday following Christmas every. single. year. I purposely sing a little off key, and with a grimace on my face…"the year is dying, let her die" In a minor key. Blech.

    On the other hand, it's not Christmas without Handel's Messiah. Preferably live, with an orchestra. Sigh.

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  14. We used to have a chorister in our ward who would do medleys of Christmas carols every year. Imagine, if you will — or won't, it's kind of painful — an entire congregation forcing our way through three or four mixed up songs, starting with this one, then the second verse of that one, then the third stanza of this one, then back to the first of the second. Painful. Absolutely painful, and why, to this day, I loathe medleys. So, any carol that is sung from beginning to end, in tune and on key, without throwing random words or verses? I'm game.

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  15. "Stars of Glory" by the LDS artist group The Lower Lights has been at the top of my list for the last couple of years. I love Mack Wilberg's arrangments of "What Shall I Give" and "The First Noel." I also have a deep and abiding love for John Denver's Rocky Mountain Christmas. As for secular Christmas music, Nat King Cole's version of "The Christmas Song" is the whole package.

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  16. I could go my whole life without every hearing The 12 Days of Christmas again. Even the funny versions retain the repetitive tedium of the original. Sigh.

    Still, Still, Still is my current favorite, and just about anything off Mindy Gledhill or The Lower Light's Christmas Albums.

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  17. I thought we would have some controversy here. I'm happy to see that some people love the same songs others abhor. I'm also a big fan of the Lower Lights, and anything at all by the King's Singers. And now I have a whole new list of songs to put on this year's playlist!

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  18. I despise "Christmas Shoes", "Baby It's Cold Outside" and "Santa Baby".

    I love Lo how a rose er blooming, Sussex Carol, White Christmas, The 12 Days of Christmas as sung by Straight No Chaser from their live performance, and O Joyful Children by Placido Domingo. I also love the Messiah and "A Christmas Song" by Dave Matthews. I could go on and on. Anything by Harry Connick Jr., Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Jim Brickman, David Lanz, or George Winston.

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  19. I find the older I get the less I like Christmas music. Especially in stores in November. Or the horrible Dolly Parton album Walmart was playing the other day. Nails on a chalkboard.

    My current favorite is "Box of Rocks," where a little girl is telling Santa why he should bring her brother a box of rocks for Christmas. And I still enjoy TSO, but if I never hear Kurt Bestor again it will be too soon.

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  20. I hate them all. Each and every one. Hated Christmas music before I was a Christian, hate it now.

    …except for Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Because that is a legitimately great song and it contains the world "Excelsis." No song with that word could be bad.

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  21. If you haven't heard The Cherry Tree Carol, go listen to a few versions. You'll probably find one you like, because the story is ah-mazing.

    I love the Piano Guys version of Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel, and I've had the Sans Day Carol in my head for a week, after listening to it once, last year, during an Advent Carols service. It's gotta be good for my brain to store that away and bring it back at the appropriate time of year.

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  22. Hate: Last Christmas, Do They Know It's Christmas?, Baby It's Cold Outside (yes, the Date Rape song), Merry Christmas, Darling ("the logs on the fire fill me with desire?" TMI), Happy X-Mas (War is Over), All I Want for Christmas Is You, Santa Baby, Christmas Time is Here (and we're all super depressed), You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, I Wonder as I Wander. Also hate "Ring Out Wild Bells." And generally can only stand about 25 minutes of listening to all the radio Christmas music. The same 15 secular songs sung over and over and over.

    Love: O Holy Night, Silent Night, Born is the Light of the World (listen to the Sydney Chamber Choir version on defordmusic.com), Breath of Heaven, In the Bleak Midwinter, Still, Still, Still, Oh, Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel, Jesus, King of Angels (Fernando Ortega — not really a Christmas song), Welcome to Our World, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, Peace on Earth (Chris Rice), Family Tree (Dave Barnes), Somewhere in My Memory, Feliz Navidad, and the John Rutter Christmas Album by the Cambridge Singers.

    And I start listening to Christmas music anytime after Sept 1.

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