The following songs are lyrics written within the last twenty or twenty-five years, and some of them might be considered classics, but they just haven’t had time to percolate into the collective in my opinion. Once again, I have a mix of secular and religious here in no particular order, because that distinction makes little difference to me. I’m easy. If the list below doesn’t prove that I have eclectic tastes, nothing will.
Top 10 Favorite Non-Classic Christmas Songs
1. “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” – Amy Grant
As I said in the last post, I’m fond of songs about Mary and from Mary’s perspective, underappreciated as she has been in my Protestant upbringing. I ascribed my love of Mary to the rich symbolism in Catholicism. They get the arts right. I’ve sung “Breath of Heaven” so many times in my former church and I sang it this year for a Christmas party with my voice teacher and some of her students. It’s historically inaccurate (like most religious Christmas songs, honestly), but that doesn’t take away from the truth of it. It always gets me that Mary’s young and scared. I think that’s why Gethsemane songs also resonate with me, but that’s a different season.
2. “Be Born in Me” – Francesca Battistelli
Another Mary song, and one of the ones sung at the aforementioned Christmas party. Like “Breath of Heaven,” it humanizes Mary. The second I heard it a few weeks ago, I fell in love. The lyrics are fantastic.
3. “The Bells of St. Paul” – Linda Eder
I oscillated between Eder’s “Christmas Stays the Same” and this, but I ultimately chose this one because it’s such a beautiful love story, and no one belts emotion quite like Linda. I defy you not to tear up in the last verse.
4. “Christians and the Pagans” – Dar Williams
This is an exquisite song that’s very Dar, with biting wit and tongue in cheek and social commentary and compassion all in one song. It’s all about a pagan couple having dinner with their Christian family and how they briefly overlook their differences to spend time with each other.
5. “Dream a Dream (Elysium)” – Charlotte Church
It’s the amazing introduction to Charlotte Church’s Christmas album, a mix of major and minor keys and dramatic swells of music. Just…listen. It’s hard to explain.
6. “Walking in the Air” – Nightwish
I never knew this was a Christmas song until I saw “The Snowman.” It wasn’t originally the Nightwish cover, of course, because “The Snowman” was made in 1982, but THIS was how I was introduced to it.
7. “Christmastime” – Michael W. Smith
It’s hard to resist a children’s choir.
8. “It’s Christmas Morning” – Rich Mullen
Mullen died way too soon, but he had a simple earnestness that carried him well through his career. They’re the lyrics of a child without being patronizing. I can’t think of a single kid who hasn’t thought this way.
9. “I Believe in Father Christmas” – Sarah Brightman
In contrast, this song is the one of an adult remembering the magic of Christmas and losing the faith of it, wondering where the magic’s gone. It’s got some cynicism, but there’s a great message behind it.
10. “White is in the Winter Night” – Enya
This has a wonderful, bouncy beat in Enya’s characteristic Celtic style. It feels very Solstice.
Honorary Mentions: “Gothic Christmas” (Within Temptation), “Why Christmas” (Boyz II Men), “The Chanukah Song” (Adam Sandler), “The Night Before Christmas” (Amy Grant), “Christmas Stays the Same” (Linda Eder), “Blue Christmas” (Elvis), “Merry Christmas, Baby” (Bruce Springsteen), “Christmas Day” (Dido), “What’s This?” (Nightmare Before Christmas), “A Baby Changes Everything” (Faith Hill), “Christmas Can-Can” (Straight No Chaser)