Thursday, December 13, 2007

Festive Carols for a Merry (secular) Christmas and other Happy Holidays!!!

Do you love the family Christmas scene? The Christmas tree is lit with the little electric train running around it, and the parents signing Christmas cards or decorating cookies with the kids? All you need are some familiar Christmas carols to complete the effect. Don't let lack of belief stand in your way!!! Our culture has a such a long and varied tradition of Christmas music that the religious pieces are the exception rather than the rule.

To help get you started, here are some of the tunes you'll hear at my house:

Winter Songs:

There are many "Christmas carols" which aren't about Christmas at all -- they're just winter songs that have gotten sucked into the vortex of Christmas. Examples include Jingle Bells, Jingle Bell Rock, Sleigh Ride, and Winter Wonderland. There's also a whole sub-genre in this category just for songs about Winter cuddling: Let it Snow!, Baby, it's Cold Outside, I've Got my Love to Keep me Warm, Winter Weather, and Warm December.

Christmas Traditions with Family and Friends:

Then there are songs that are about celebrating Christmas. What better way to celebrate Christmas than to sing about celebrating Christmas? There's The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting), It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, The Christmas Waltz, Christmas Is..., Christmastime in New Orleans, and It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Some of the oldest ones were originally party game songs (where the game is to make up words), but have since settled down to some standard festive Christmas-celebration lyrics: Deck the Halls and The Twelve days of Christmas.

This category also includes a number of songs about wanting to spend the holidays with loved ones: I'll Be Home for Christmas, There's no place like Home for the Holidays, Merry Christmas, Darling, I'll have a Blue Christmas, There is no Christmas like a Home Christmas, White Christmas, and one of my personal favorites: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Wishing You a Merry Christmas:

There are a number of songs to sing about wishing someone else a merry Christmas. This includes traditional "luck-visit" songs: We wish you a Merry Christmas, Here We Come a-Wassailing, and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. Some of the luck-visit songs contain Christian references, but they're interesting because they're reminders of the old caroling/wassailing traditions where the poor received Christmas treats in exchange for a song. (Bring Us in Good Ale falls into that category as well, although they skip the part about wishing the host a Merry Christmas...)

Some more modern songs center around wishing others a merry Christmas such as the fabulous Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, Welcome Christmas (from the Grinch), and Happy Holidays, as well as bi-cultural favorites like Mele Kalikimaka and Feliz Navidad.

Symbols of Christmas:

Let's sing about Christmas Bells: Silver Bells, The Carol of the Bells, and Ring those Christmas Bells! Or let's sing about the Christmas tree: O Tannenbaum, Trim up the Tree (from the Grinch), and Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. Or cut the B.S. and go straight to the point: the presents! Merry Christmas, Baby, All I Want for Christmas (is my two front teeth), I'm Getting Nothing for Christmas, Christmas Kisses, I'd Like You for Christmas, and Jolly Old St. Nicholas.

Christmas Characters:

Speaking of His Jolliness, there's no shortage of songs about Santa Claus: Here Comes Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Little Saint Nick, Up on the Housetop, Petit Papa Noel, Santa Claus's Party, and Santa Claus is Back in Town. And there are a couple where Santa sure makes good use of his list of naughty girls, see: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and TMBG's Santa's Beard.

Then there's a whole list of other favorite Christmas characters: Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. You can also throw in The Little Drummer Boy and various songs about the baby Jesus here if you're so inclined.

Other Winter Holidays:

While you're at it, why not throw in a few secular songs about some other holidays you may or may not be celebrating? Try What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?, Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song, and TMBG's Feast of Lights. There's also Good King Wenceslas for the "Feast of Stephen." That one's not exactly secular, but it's cool: for once the miraculous reward for charity isn't further riches, it's magically-warmed footprints.


Some are harder to categorize. One of my all-time favorite Christmas songs is Fairy Tale of New York which is kind of sentimental and unsentimental in a way that's hard to describe. Then there's John Lennon's So this is Christmas... (Merry X-mas, war is over), which is hard to describe in a completely different way, even though its message -- Merry Christmas and peace to all -- couldn't be more standard Christmas fare. I guess it just seems controversial because when he talks about "peace on Earth," he means for real...

Then there are some complete Christmas musical productions: The Nutcracker Suite and Babes in Toyland.

And don't forget to throw in a few funny ones. My favorite is Monty Python's Christmas in Heaven. The South Park gang also have a few amusing selections.

Religious Carols:

Okay, I admit it -- I include some religious carols on my Christmas music playlist. I mostly just include the liveliest and most familiar of the bunch, and even then I usually go with instrumental versions. I like Greensleeves, so I include a few versions of that one, but rarely with the religious lyrics ("What Child Is This?").

There are a few exceptions, though, where I like the words as well as the music. There's The Holly and the Ivy and The Cherry Tree Carol. Both of these are fun because they seem very pagan, hence highlight the pagan roots of the Jesus story. I also like Rudi Cazeaux's Angels Are Singing. Then there's Veni Emmanuel. That one is cool because it's one of the oldest Christmas carols that is still popular today, written in the middle ages. That's not why I like it though. I like it because it reminds me of my husband. Many people get to listen to somewhat more romantic songs with their S.O.'s first name, but when you fall for someone whose parents were religious, you take what you can get. I also like to listen to It's Christmas Time and Time for a Carol for essentially the same reason: Christmas time is time for me!! :D

On that note:

It's time for a carol, don't you think? :^)


Aerin said...

I haven't been able to listen to "O Holy Night" for years without thinking of Cartman's version (from South Park).

C. L. Hanson said...


I've joked that the reason I made my own Christmas compilation C.D.'s was to avoid "Silent Night", "O Holy Night", and "Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer," but somehow I think I'd appreciate Cartman's version... ;^)

beatdad said...

I love Fairy Tale of New York,

"It was Christmas eve babe in the Drunk Tank"

and "You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last"

Also, Santa Baby by Eartha is a fav at our house and "Christmas On Acid" by the Vestibules

Your pics are great!

B.G. Christensen said...

Celine Dion does a version of "Merry Xmas, War is Over." Her version is nice, I think, but the touch of bitter irony I hear in Lennon's rendition is completely missing from hers. I don't think Celine Dion does irony.

Anonymous said...

I like many of the songs on your list, even the religious ones. I enjoy all of them as cultural artifacts and don't get caught up in their messages.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Beat Dad!!!

Yeah, truly a classic, isn't it? And I don't know how I missed mentioning "Santa Baby" -- that one's on my playlist. I'll have to check out "Christmas on Acid"...

Hey Mr. Fob!!!

I'll have to listen to that. It's definitely the sort of song that would lend itself to being played differently, and I'd be curious to hear the result.

Hey Chaplain!!!

I see them that way too. Sort of. With songs like "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" or "O Little Town of Bethlehem" they remind me of childhood Christmas memories and nothing more. But for some of the sentimental ones, the words and music both mean something to me since the song is about Christmas memories with family, etc.

Urban Viking said...

Nice list :-)

Beat Dad beat me to Fairy Tale of New York - One of my absolute faves.

Cartman's Silent Night is hilarious as well. Have you heard his version of Kiss from a Rose?

I like christmas carols actually. Like Chaplain said, irrespective of the message a lot of them are really good songs.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Urban Viking!!!

Yeah, I love Fairy Tale of New York -- it's on my list of faves. :D

I'm going to have to get a South Park disc and listen to it. I've heard the songs enough to know they're funny, but not enough to remember the details...

Anonymous said...

Speaking of His Jolliness...

Q: Why is Santa so jolly?
A: He knows where all the naughty girls live!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Rich!!!

Exactly!!! As I said above, there are even some popular carols where he makes use of this info... ;^)

Holly said...

My favorite "carols" or "winter songs" always mention me. I agree that everyone should "have a Holly Jolly Christmas" and at my house at least, it's sure as hell true that "the holly bears the crown."

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Holly!!!

I'm with you on this one!!! It's like I was saying about the song "It's Christmastime and Time for a Carol..." ;^)

King Aardvark said...

Hey, great list. I too love Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. It's warm, yet sentimental and melancholy. Have you ever heard the original lyrics? It's comical how over-the-top depressing some lines are.

It's hard to get good Christmas music these days. I don't know why but most radio stations these days play mostly tuneless new crap or really horrible "updated" versions of old classics arranged by John Tesh. Makes me sick to my stomach.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey King Aardvark!!!

Thanks for the link -- I love that song, and I'd heard about the original lyrics. I'm glad Judy Garland requested the change. ;^) I have her version on my playlist, and I love it.

The story of the line change with "hang a shining start upon the highest bough" was also interesting. I like both versions, and I agree with what some in the article said about how you can choose one version of that line or the other depending on the type of melancholy you're shooting for. I also agree that the song deserves its popularity because it really captures the sad-yet-hopeful mood of Christmas: remembering the past while celebrating the present.

Anonymous said...

My favorite Christmas album is "Yule B Swingin'" which is, unsurprisingly, old swing music. Fun stuff.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Slut!!!

Sounds great!!! I like to listen to Christmas music of a variety of different styles, and swing is definitely among them.

Anonymous said...

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is... astoundingly religious. These are the lyrics:

God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ, our Saviour,
Was born upon this day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy!

In Bethlehem in Jewry
This blessed Babe was born,
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn;
The which his mother Mary
Nothing did take in scorn. Refrain

From God our heavenly Father
A blessed angel came,
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same,
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by name. Refrain

'Fear not,' then said the angel,
'Let nothing you affright;
This day is born a Saviour
Of virtue, power and might,
So frequently to vanquish all
The friends of Satan quite.' Refrain

The shepherds at these tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway
This blessed Babe to find. Refrain

But when to Bethlehem they came,
Whereat this Infant lay,
They found him in a manger
Where oxen fed on hay;
His mother Mary, kneeling,
Unto the Lord did pray. Refrain

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace.
The holy tide of Christmas
All others doth efface. Refrain

It's not really about wassailing and stuff; it's just pretty much about Jesus, other than the first line and the last verse, and still both of those reference God.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Kullervo!!!

How does one measure whether a song "astoundingly" religious, as opposed to some ordinary level of religiosity? As I said above, I'm willing to include some Christian songs in my list since the birth of Jesus is one of the most important stories that has become associated with this holiday, as long as the song is interesting -- and this one has an interesting tune and an interesting history.

And thanks for typing out the lyrics for me -- I get more google hits that way. Any others you'd like to transcribe? ;^)

Anonymous said...

I just copied-and-pasted it. Perhaps "astoundingly" might be immeasurably vague, as far as adverbial qualification goes. But my point is that it ain't a secular song, even a little bit.


C. L. Hanson said...

Right, and my point is that not every song on my list here is secular, but that one big reason why this song is interesting is because it was used as part of a secular tradition (luck-visit, a.k.a. wassailing), which dates back to the pre-Christian origins of this pagan festival -- even if this particular song isn't pre-Christian, and even if that traditional use isn't obvious (to modern ears) from the lyrics.