Like I’m sure many of you would probably agree, Christmas has always been one of my favorite times in the church year. Spiritually, the incarnation and birth of our Savior is one of the most important parts of Christianity (without Jesus’ birth, there’s no suffering, death and resurrection…) but it’s also a time filled with nostalgia and memories of Christmases past. The scale of Christmas makes it that way. There aren’t really any Ascension Days or Trinity Sundays that stand out in my memory, but give me enough time and I can probably recall something from most of the Christmases I was old enough to remember.
Music in general is attached to emotion and memories, but Christmas music is especially so. Every time I sing Silent Night, I remember the candlelight services we had at church growing up. Every time I sing O Holy Night, I remember hearing Bing Crosby’s version playing on the radio as we drove home from the hospital the year my mom almost died. And every time I hear Jingle Bells, I’m reminded of when I was little and singing it while my grandmother played the organ in her living room – in July! (Because when you’re 5, it’s OK to sing Christmas music all year!)
It seems almost unnecessary to list out Christmas music, but I hope you’ll find or be reminded of a jewel you didn’t know was out there.
It would be really easy to do an entire post on each one of these songs because there are just so many good renditions of them out there. I’ve listed a few that we’ve used in the past and some notes on the arrangements.
O Come All Ye Faithful
- Chris Tomlin’s version from Glory in the Highest is one of my favorite – slow, deliberate and powerful.
- Hymns for Praise and Worship by Word Music is a great songbook to pick up (don’t listen to the recordings, which can border on cheesy) but their arrangements are good and accessible for a worship team and congregation.
- Third Day’s version on their Christmas Offerings CD works well
- 33 Miles’ mash-up of O Come All Ye Faithful and Sing to the King works very nicely too.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing:
- Chris Tomlin’s version from Glory in the Highest is great for a candlelight service – slower and more reverent than you’d expect.
- More Hymns for Praise and Worship by Word Music has a nice arrangement that would work well with a worship team, though personally I think the key is a little low. (The standard key in most hymnals is F, they have it in Bb)
- Austin Stone Worship has a nice rendition too, very reminiscent of Chris Tomlin’s though without the key change in the middle. Their site has a free chord chart, audio sample and a nice look at the theology of the song
- I put together this chord chart long ago, which one day I’ll update with an actual lead sheet.
Angels We Have Heard on High
- Again, Chris Tomlin’s Glory In the Highest version is great (Just buy the whole album already. It’s the first Christmas album that actually sounds like worship.) BUT there’s an acoustic version that came out a few years back on the WOW Christmas Green album by Chris that’s a much different sound than the other.
- Third Day’s Christmas Offerings version is solid.
- Don Chapman from Hymncharts.com has a good arrangement that we’ve used several times.
- A straightforward arrangement I did a few years back.
The First Noel
- David Crowder has a nice version from his O For Joy CD with an extended ending that we used this year.
- More Hymns for Praise and Worship has a nice and easy rendition.
- We’ve also used this more traditional arrangement with our worship team and strings very successfully.
Go Tell it On the Mountain
- We’ve used this arrangement that I put together the most.
O Holy Night
- Far and away, Chris Tomlin’s arrangement from Glory in the Highest is my favorite. It’s essentially the straight version of the song but why mess with perfection?
No candlelight service is complete without Silent Night.
- Hymns for Praise and Worship have a nice mellow arrangement written in a minor key – it really works quite well.
- A really simple version and the one we’ve used most often came from Willow Creek and a Christmas program of theirs called “Letters at Christmas.” Silent Night was one of the charts included in the package and it’s a solid, simple version that we’ve kept using. I don’t see anywhere on their site that you can purchase just that song, but the package is listed here.
- Another that has been very popular at Journey has been the version from Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas album. There are only two verses on the CD and an extended ending that is easy to cut down into something any congregation can get behind. It’s got a wonderful gospel/jazz waltz feel that works great.
- Third Day has a beautiful arrangement that begins with a string quartet. If you can pull together a quartet, give this one a try.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
This hymn goes by a couple of different tunes though most of the world only knows it by the tune, St. Louis. I grew up using a different tune, Forrest Green. [I didn’t get to it this year, but I’d like to put together an arrangement using Forrest Green for the worship team. Without the chromaticism of St. Louis, I think it could actually lend itself very well to a worship team arrangement.]
- We used Jeremy Camp’s arrangement this year and I liked it, though it does stay pretty mellow throughout.
- We’ve used Don Chapman’s version of the St. Louis tune several times.
Joy to the World
- Chris Tomlin’s Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy), does well, though the key has to be taken down for any hope of a congregation being able to hit it. Praise Charts has two keys, one starting in the recording key of D ending in E and one lower starting in C and ending in D. I read on another site that the ideal key for that song is A, which does put the chorus in a more manageable position, but it puts the verses in the basement. Stick with the C-D version and it should be good.
- Don Chapman has a version that we’ve used a bunch of times – including this year.
- We’ve used Paul Baloche’s “Joy to the World/Shout for Joy” several times and it’s been a hit.
What Child is This
- We’ve used Third Day’s Christmas Offerings version several times for this great song.
Classics that might not be familiar but are worth rewriting or introducing:
- Love Has Come I don’t know if it exists anywhere else, but I saw this song in the Celebration Hymnal that Word Music putout long ago. It’s the tune of “Bring a Torch Jennette Isabella” (It’s a Christmas song that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense) but the new words to what may be a familiar melody to some has potential. (You can see the lyrics posted here)
- Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
- Once in Royal David’s City
- One arrangement to note is Laura Story’s “Emmanuel.” The verses are the lyrics of “Once In Royal David’s City” set to a new melody and with a nice chorus.
- Good Christian Men Rejoice/Good Christians All Rejoice
- God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
- A Communion Hymn for Christmas: Another one that was in the Celebration Hymnal. For churches that do communion on Christmas Eve, this would be worth doing. We did this at my former church as a special music piece during communion.
- See Amid the Winter’s Snow: I was not familiar with this one before, but it’s in the new Lutheran Service Book and it was easy to arrange for the worship team. Here’s the arrangement I put together.
- Angels From the Realms of Glory: More Hymns for Praise and Worship has a fun, almost funky version of this hymn with an added chorus that works really well.
Modern Christmas Worship Songs:
While there’s always room for new songs about Christmas, I think Christmas Eve/Day worship services are best kept to a majority of the classics. They’re familiar and accessible.
- Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground)
- My Soul Magnifies the Lord (Though we cut it down to just V1, C, V2, C, C, cutting out the long bridge which made it easier for people to pick up)
- We Have a Savior
- Unto Us
- Hallelujah Light Has Come by BarlowGirl
- God is With Us by Casting Crowns
Lessons and Carols
Because of the narrative aspect of the story, Christmas lends itself well to services of lessons and carols. You can assemble any configuration of scripture and songs, but a common progression includes scriptures and songs illustrating Creation, Fall/Promise of a Savior, Prophecy, Annunciation, Birth, Angels and Shepherds, and Wise Men (though they really didn’t show up on Christmas – it was likely much later. But that’s another post.)
A Christmas Creed
I believe in God the Father, Creator of all things, who sent His Son as my Savior.
I believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, announced by angels, worshiped by the Wise Men, who lived to suffer, die, and rise again, to free me from sin, death and the power of the devil.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, who has brought me to faith in the Christ and by whose continuous work in my heart I am ever led to lay before the feet of Christ my worship, my life, my love; to live under Him as my King, both now and forevermore. Amen.
What do you use?
OK pastors and worship leaders, I know I missed some other good stuff. What do you use that should be added to the list for others to find?