Christian Christmas Songs
If commercial reality had never encroached on Christmas imagine what kind of a season we would have ended up with. One where people’s energies could be harnessed into more worthwhile exercises than fighting the crowds on Christmas Eve for the last of this year’s most popular toy. With Santa Claus et al off the radar the Christmas soundtrack would be radically different too, made up primarily of religious Christmas songs no doubt. And Christian Christmas music would undoubtedly be the source of much of the material that would characterise our December listening.
As things stand contemporary Christian Christmas songs are most popular throughout the U.S. with the result that the main stars from that arena are from that part of the world. Much of the lack of penetration for this style of music beyond American shores may be down to perceptions on what it sounds like, which while often devotional certainly has the soft pop/rock sheen to appeal to a mainstream audience. A very good starting point for the curious or for those who are into best of compilations is a collection by the name of ‘WOW Christmas: 30 Top Christian Artists and Holiday Songs’. The compendium features 20 Christmas songs from a variety of contemporary Christian greats such as Point of Grace (‘O Holy Night’), Jars of Clay (‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’) and Rebecca St. James (‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy’). And while they all read like religious Christmas songs there are other numbers from the likes of Sixpence None The Richer who do a simple and thoroughly effective ‘Christmas Time Is Here’. In other words there is something for everyone on this album.
When it comes to Christian Christmas music you can’t get more appropriate than album’s that have come straight from the source of faith, namely a church with almost 300 voices singing in unison about the birth of Jesus. ‘Christmas at the Brooklyn Tabernacle’, which was recorded in 1995 by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, is a feast for the senses with the centrepiece being a note perfect medley of the Christmas carols ‘Carol Of The Bells/I Wonder As I Wander/O Come All Ye Faithful/Do You Hear What I Hear’.
As well as predictable sources such as compilations and church choirs spreading the Christian Christmas message there are many Christian artists who have released their own festive material. Michael W. Smith is one of the most prolific with 3 Christmas albums to his name. His most recent ‘It’s A Wonderful Christmas’ came out in 2007 and was a lavish affair with large choirs and rich orchestral embellishments. With all but one of the tracks written by Smith himself this was a Christmas album truly of Smith’s own making and his dedication and craft marked him out as one of Christian’s most dedicated Christmas fans.
Amy Grant is also one of Christian music’s most celebrated artists and her dedication to the Christmas cause is even more pronounced than the aforementioned Michael W. Smith. Her first Christmas album was released way back in 1983 (‘A Christmas Album’) with her festive efforts stretching all the way to 2009’s ‘Songs of Christmas’. Perhaps her most famous Christmas release is 1999’s ‘A Christmas To Remember’. It included songs like ‘'Til The Season Comes 'Round Again’ which is so lovely that as soon as you have come out of one Christmas you begin to pine for the next. Other songs like ‘Christmas Lullaby (I Will Lead You Home)’ showcase Grant’s soft and tender vocals and in this festive context they sound ever more alluring. Amy’s Christmas repertoire is so vast that it has been gathered in not one but two retrospectives. One of the them, ‘The Christmas Collection’, gathers the best of her Christmas songs together and offers the perfect introduction to an artist who knows the true meaning of Christmas.
There is so much more Christian Christmas music to be discovered but our favourites include Chris Tomlin’s album of Christmas devotion ‘Glory In The Highest’ from 2009 and Cast of Crown’s modern Christmas take on traditional carols on ‘Peace on Earth’ from the year before. Josh Groban straddles the mainstream/Christian divide with some aplomb so can count on fans from across several genres. Inevitably his 2007 Christmas album ‘Noël’ was a worldwide success which was a mark of his talent given that the majority of the album plumped for religious carols in lieu of secular Christmas songs.
Finally we’ll end on a series of Christmas compilations, called ‘A Very Special Christmas’ that are very close to our heart as much for their rich contribution to Christmas music as their support for the Special Olympics. And Christian artists made their special contribution to this Christmas institution with their own dedicated release called ‘A Very Special Christmas: Bringing Peace on Earth’. With opening track ‘Because It’s Christmas’ by the Sidewalk Prophets setting the scene and a host of Christian music greats including Francesca Battistelli, Meredith Andrews and Natalie Grant joining them this was among the most successful in the proud history of the ‘A Very Special Christmas’ music series.