I proudly admit it – I listen to Christmas music all year. While I’m not sure I could stand songs about jingling bells and Santa for 365 days every year, I can come back to the hope and comfort of the Advent of Jesus Christ any day, any time.
In that spirit of enjoying hopeful, comforting, and fun Christmas music all year round, I recommend to you these, my five favorite Christmas albums (with my favorite songs and lines on the albums). They may not be the “best” or most “critically-acclaimed,” but they are the ones which I come back to throughout the year, every year.
5. So Elated, “The Bewildering Light”
This is the simplest, most unassuming Christmas album I own. This is lead singer Ben Thomas, his acoustic guitar, and clean, beautifully-arranged accompanying instruments and voices.
Classics: “Greensleeves”; “It came Upon a Midnight Clear”; “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”
New: “God is With Us”; and “Stick with You,” a song about Joseph choosing to stick with Mary after her scandalous pregnancy news.
Favorite Line: from “Zechariah and the Least Expected Places”:
“The Lord of Creation will not be subjected to expectation
God keeps slippin’ out of underneath rocks
in alleys off the beaten path.
Open both your eyes.”
4. Steven Curtis Chapman, “All I Really Want for Christmas”
I am an unabashed fan of Steven Curtis Chapman. Yes, he is Mr. CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), which carries a certain stigma these days among music enthusiasts (read: “snobs”). But, anyone who gives him a chance finds that he is also Mr. Poet, Mr. Deep, Mr. Honest, and Mr. One-of-the-best-Acoustic-Guitar-Players-Alive.
Classics: A rock-anthem rewrite of “Angels from the Realms of Glory”; “Silver Bells”; a you-can’t-help-but-smile version of “Winter Wonderland”
New: “All I Really Want for Christmas,” an unashamedly emotional song about orphans and adoption (which I’m drawn to due to my own adoption, and the adoption my own son!); “The Night Before Christmas”
Favorite Line: from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (by Longfellow):
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
with peace on earth, good will to men.'”
3. Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn, “Christmas”
A well-crafted multi-acoustic instrument folk album featuring an extremely talented husband-and-wife duo.
Classics: “O Come All Ye Faithful”; “The First Noel”; and a hilarious take on the usually-annoying “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
New: “I Will Find a Way” (based on a Walter Wangerin Jr. short story about the incarnation); and “You Came Down”
Favorite Line: from “I Will Find a Way”:
“I will love her completely, When I am grown
I’ll carry her out of that tenement room
I’m doing a new thing, soon you will see
I’m coming among you, and my name shall be
2. Sufjan Stevens, “Songs for Christmas”
A 5-disc, 42-song wonderland of Christmas cheer! This is classic Sufjan: not afraid to be odd, silly, and exuberant. (I haven’t listened enough to his new 5-disc, 58-song album “Silver and Gold” to make a judgment yet!)
Classics: “O Come O Come Emmanuel”; “I Saw Three Ships”; “O Holy Night”
New: “Come on! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!”; “It’s Christmas! Let’s be Glad!”; “Only at Christmas Time”
Favorite Line: from “Come on! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!”:
“Santa Claus is coming!
Hear the banjo strumming!”
1. Andrew Peterson, “Behold the Lamb of God”
I cannot possibly speak more highly of this album than I already do. This is Christmas music, Advent music, and Incarnation music all wrapped up in one. In other words, Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” approaches the Christmas story as one which began at the beginning of time, was fulfilled 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, and continues to this day.
The songs tell this story, working their way from creation, to the Passover and Exodus, through the kings and prophets, via the long genealogy recorded by St. Matthew, and to the climactic night of Jesus birth.
Classics: Instrumental versions of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “The Holly and the Ivy”
New: The entire rest of the album. Standouts are: “Deliver Us”; “Matthew Begats”; “Labor of Love”; and “Behold the Lamb of God”
Favorite Line: from “Labor of Love”:
“It was not a silent night, there was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry in the alleyway that night
On the streets of David’s town
It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
Every beat of her beautiful heart
was a labor of love.”
You can listen to the entire album here and buy the new edition here, which includes a remastered version of the original album, as well as a live recording.
Honorable Mentions: Jars of Clay, “Christmas Songs”; Beta Radio, “The Songs the Season Brings”; Folk Angel, “Christmas Songs (3 vols.); Branches, “Merry Christmas”; We Three Kings, “The 12 Songs of Christmas”