Christmas in Music

Christmas and its songs will be more poignant than ever this year. In unprecedented times we cling onto traditions as a boat to its anchor, aware of the storms, trying to ride them out, knowing the anchor will hold. Life will prevail and calm will return.

As we prepare for a very different Christmas I am fortunate that my family and friends are all safe. We, like so many, will celebrate within our smaller existing group and look forward to a larger family gathering in the summer instead.

For now, the house begins to glow with the warmth of the light of the season’s decorations. The star adorns the window and is a beacon of hope, I trust.

Music ties us to other times in our lives when we first heard the tune, the emotional connections an inherent part of us. Carols and Christmas songs are even more so and they are a major feature this time of year. I would like to share eight of my favourites Christmas songs with you.

Christmas during my early childhood was celebrated every year at my grandparent’s house in Sweden. It was a joyful bustling affair with up to thirty family members on Christmas Eve (this being the time for family celebrations to start in the afternoon with presents later in the early evening). Although it seemed to take forever for everyone to eat before Jultomten (Father Christmas) arrived there were lots of games, songs and dances to entertain the children.

One of my favourite songs involved everyone holding hands, dancing around the Christmas Tree and house (this was literally possible inside!) whilst singing ‘Nu är det jul igen’ /‘Now it’s Christmas again’. The ensuing chaos was hysterical and would involve us falling to the floor in fits of giggles!

The next song suited my twelve-year-old angst-ridden self perfectly. At school, we were learning about the First World War and I was deeply moved about life in the trenches for the soldiers. ‘Stop the Cavalry’ starts in the voice of one soldier before the song swiftly changes to the Cold War era of the 1980s with references to nuclear fallout, a very real and credible threat.

My single of Stop the Cavalry

I played ‘Stop the Cavalry’ by Jona Lewis incessantly the December of its release until my brother for the sake of his and the family’s sanity took the single into hiding for a month!

Since living in England in the late 1970s we always have a quiet moment of reflection during the festivities and early on Christmas Eve afternoon the TV will be on to listen to the opening solo tones of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ held at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

This is part of ‘A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’ and was introduced in 1918 to bring a more imaginative approach to worship. It was first broadcast in 1928 and is now watched by millions of people around the world.

Christmas is also a time is one of joy and fun, so what could be better than a bop to ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ by Boney M. Anytime this comes on the radio I have to down the pen/wooden spoon/iron/book and dance around, singing away. Do join in!

I discovered my next favourite Christmas song three years ago whilst researching a blog post one winter. It immediately became popular with many followers and I’m sure you’ll recognise it. Click here to see the post and read the lyrics translated into English.

The theme of ‘Tänd ett ljus’ /‘Light a Candle’ is that Christmas will light a candle as a symbol of hope for a better world and it was recorded by Swedish band Triad in 1987. The outro includes Christmas and New Year’s greetings in different languages. The finger-snapping is hypnotising and the a cappella mesmerising. One can’t help but try and ‘dom dom dom’ along!

For many years it was not Christmas unless the Elvis Presley movies were showing every morning! We’d rush down, half asleep and enjoy a relaxing and musical viewing! It seemed to be the unwritten rule that these were part and parcel of the season!

Of course Elvis’s ‘Blue Christmas’ is as popular as ever and although about unrequited love it captures the sadder side of being apart at this time of year.

Christmas of 1984 is memorable for the amazing work of Bob Geldof (lyrics) and Midge Ure (Music) to create ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ Bob Geldof put together the supergroup Band Aid for the event.

As a teenager it was astonishing and heartwarming to see how so many came together to record the song in aid of famine relief in Ethiopia. Band Aid featured the biggest British and Irish musical acts at the time and the song was recorded in just one day.
Furthermore, the record became the fastest selling single in UK chart history, selling a million copies in the first week alone and passing three million sales on the last day of 1984. A record held until 1997.

My final song returns to the message of Christmas reflecting on the birth of Jesus as humanity’s redemption.

‘O helga natt’ /‘O Holy Night’ (also known as “Cantique de Noël”) is composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by poet Placide Cappeau.

I’ve heard the song many times but it’s one that has particularly enthralled me in recent years. I’m sure you’ll agree that Tommy Körberg’s performance is outstanding and magnificent.

I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to and learning about my eclectic mix of Christmas songs and that they’ve put you in a holiday mood.

I wonder which are the carols or songs you always turn to during the winter holidays! Please feel free to share in the comments!

Wishing you all a peaceful, joyful celebration!