Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Calendar Day 21: Christmas Music

(Originally published in 2009; some material added in 2010.)

Music plays a big part in my family’s celebration of Christmas. When I was growing up, this was not so much the case. We heard Christmas music on the radio, on television, and I remember singing Christmas carols in school, but I don’t think we had any records of Christmas music. The one exception I can think of was that I asked for a full recording of The Nutcracker for my birthday when I was around 14. That set of records just about got played to death.

Now we have an entire section of our music library devoted to Christmas music. A lot of people get tired of Christmas music after too much exposure, but we try to avoid overload by bringing as much variety as possible to the selections we listen to. Television and radio programs tend to replay a limited set of carols over and over, though some stations are a little more adventurous (reason #48 on the list of reasons for saving our classical music radio stations).

Some of our favorite Christmas music consists of Eastern European hymns and carols. Here are a couple of my favorite collections, Russian Christmas by the Theodorovskaya Mother of God Icon Church Choir and Christmas Hymns by the Seminary Choir of Blessed Theodore Romzha Academy of Uzhgorod.

This year my husband discovered the group you see below, the Sirin Chorus from Russia. I have been listening to their videos on YouTube, and you can also find their music on iTunes.

We also attend the local Christmas Revels in Washington most years. We love all the shows, but our favorites have tended toward the more ethnically-oriented themes: the Northern-themed To Drive the Dark Away (Karelian (Finnish, Lapp, and Russian), Norse, and Swedish), Roads of the Roma, and last year’s French Canadian Revels.

In addition to the Eastern Christmas liturgies we have on tape and CD there have been many classical Christmas works for both liturgical and concert settings that have made their way into our collection. The following is a fast-paced Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah:

Our favorite way to enjoy the popular “White Christmas” is to watch the movie Holiday Inn. Another family tradition at Christmas is to watch the video “A Tuna Christmas.” You’ll never think of “Jingle Bells” the same way again after you have watched Didi Snavely sing this carol while smoking a cigarette: “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle (puff) the way.”

Other favorites are carols played on the hammered dulcimer. "The Zither Carol," as played by Joemy Wilson on the dulcimer on Gifts – Traditional Christmas Music, Vol II, has been known to set me atwirlin’ around the room (when no one is watching, of course). And there are many, many more odds and ends of Christmas music we love: music box carols, shapenote carols, Cajun and Zydeco Christmas songs, you name it.

So in this post, "avoiding overload" does not mean reducing the amount of Christmas music, but rather increasing the variety. Because anything worth doing is worth doing to excess. In fact, writing about all of this and looking up Christmas music on Youtube has put me in the mood for … more Christmas music. Wonder what I can find on iTunes?


  1. I wish that my heritage played a more important part in my Christmas while growing up. I can't think of anything. Even though my paternal grandfather was born in England and my paternal great grandmother was alive until I was teenager.

  2. I love your comment "anything worth doing is worth doing to excess." How true! And so applicable to other areas of our lives.
    Have a fantastic Christmas, Greta!

  3. You not only made my evening last night, you've made my day with the Sirin Choir. I just spent an hour transported. You are my Christmas guru (mixing religious traditions a bit)! No pressure, but I can't wait to see what you're giving me tomorrow .

    I thank you. My father, aunts, uncles and cousins will thank you once I send the link to them.

  4. One my pet peeves is playing the Hallelujah Chorus at Christmas. In the Messiah oratorio it is clearly the EASTER song. Why don't people go to the Christmas songs of the Messiah? I love To Us A Child is Born!

  5. Listening to a variety, hum, never thought of that. But, I have between you,Susan and several others who've posted great music. Love the YouTubes. Enjoyed Hallelujah, but it was a tad too fast. Thanks Greta for opening my eyes.

  6. Martin, you would definitely get a "What he said!" from my husband; one of his pet peeves is that so much of what belongs to Easter has migrated over to Christmas. I also agree, but I realize that Christmas gets more performances of the Messiah than any other time of the year and that most people identify the Messiah with the Hallelujah chorus. One of my husband's Christmas traditions is to listen to his favorite recording of the Messiah from beginning to end, and I usually join him in listening. I included the Hallelujah chorus shown here mainly because my particular pet peeve is an overly slow Hallelujah chorus.

  7. Barbara - I guess I go in the other direction - I like the Hallelujah chorus really fast! In our Ruthenian parish there are always competing views on the tempo of the music, both at Christmas and Easter; our pastor insists that the music for Easter must be fast and joyful, not slow and lugubrious.

    Glad you are enjoying the music being posted. I have sampled quite a few "new to me" items from other blogs, too. The range of Christmas music is truly interesting!