By Ellen N.
This year, Christmas brought a mix of emotions: joy for the good news and gratitude that I could see some of my family, but loss and sadness at all the traditions and people we were missing due to the ongoing pandemic. I know I’m not the only one who feels that this is a bittersweet season.
I’m a choral singer. One of my favourite parts of the Christmas season is singing carols, Handel’s Messiah, and other Christmas music. With COVID-19 still in full force, instead of being in the choir loft for Christmas Eve Mass, I watched Holy Rosary’s Mass from home. The music was beautiful, but I am looking forward to the day when the congregation and choir can join in once again.
As another Christmas passes without carolling or in-person choir concerts, I thought I would spread some Christmas cheer by sharing a few of my favourite Christmas carols.
And yes, Christmas Day is over, but the Church’s Christmas season lasts until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 9, 2022). That means we still have plenty of time to listen to Christmas music and sing along.
Ellen’s Extremely Unofficial Top Three Christmas Carols
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
When Holy Rosary’s Christmas Eve Mass ended with this carol, I couldn’t help smiling! It’s full of joy and is a wonderful reminder that even the angels sing for joy at Christmas. When it’s sung with gusto, it’s bold and thrilling. It’s even better when there is a soaring descant.
In the Bleak Midwinter
A gorgeous carol that contrasts the cold, harsh winter weather with the miracle that is Jesus’s birth. I love this arrangement for its harmonies and atmosphere, but you might be more familiar with the tune by Gustav Holst, which we sometimes sing at Mass. That version also includes a heartwarming line describing how Mary “worshipped the Beloved with a kiss.”
Good King Wenceslas
This carol is particularly fun because it tells a story. It doesn’t actually mention Christmas, but the events happen during the Christmas season, on the “Feast of Stephen” (December 26). It’s about the virtues of charity and caring for the less fortunate, which are always important but often come to mind even more around Christmas.
I had to include a couple of songs that aren’t exactly “carols”, but are some of my favourite Christmas music:
O Magnum Mysterium
The lyrics are a from a traditional Christmas chant and they still capture the wonder of this holiday:
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord,
lying in a manger!
My favourite version was written by Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria, with glorious harmonies and a lively “Alleluia” section at the end. Another beautiful arrangement is Morten Lauridsen’s modern version (available here).
Where Riches Is Everlastingly
No, that title isn’t a typo! It’s the name of a marvellously joyous song celebrating Christ’s birth. And every time I sing it, it stays in my head for days.
Now it’s your turn
I forced myself to include only a few songs for this article, so please leave a comment with your favourite Christmas carols. As the lyrics say in “Where Riches Is Everlastingly,” I pray you be merry and sing with me in worship of Christ’s nativity!
Ellen is a Holy Rosary parishioner and in “normal times” you’ll find her singing alto in the Sunday morning choir.