by Jim Killam | 5-minute read
We asked First Free’s three musical worship leaders — Renee Cooper, Nathan Fry and Nathan McDonald — for Christmas music recommendations. They came back with quite a variety.
Newer Christmas music we love
Magnificat (Mary’s Song) – Christy Nockels
“Love to be able to sing Scripture! And it is beautiful musically as well.”
A Christmas Alleluia – Chris Tomlin
Who Would Have Dreamed? – Sovereign Grace
O Holy Night – Hillsong Worship
“This is my all-time favorite Christmas song and I am welled up with tears every time we get to the lyric: ‘Christ is the Lord! Oh, praise His name forever. His power and glory evermore proclaim.’ What an incredibly powerful song and Hillsong so masterfully captures the essence of the true worship within this 2018 version.”
Make Room – Casting Crowns ft. Matt Maher
“This is such a precious, new Christmas song that I am so excited about for this year and season. A repeating line that I just love is: ‘Is there room in your heart for god to write His story?’ This song so beautifully encourages the believer and lovingly extends invitation to the seeker while telling the true Christmas story.”
Noel – Chris Tomlin ft. Lauren Daigle
“This song has quickly become one of my favorite Christmas songs over the last couple years and a ‘must-sing’ for me in thoughtfully and prayerfully planning worship services within the Christmas season. The shear awe and mystery of God’s work in sending His Son, the Messiah is so marvelously wrapped up within this song of worship.”
Firstborn – Poor Bishop Hooper
Contemplative and beautiful. Husband and wife duo Jesse and Leah Roberts (Poor Bishop Hooper) offer six songs to help draw us into the practice of Advent — waiting, hoping, longing for the Messiah. It’s best to listen to the EP in one sitting with the lyrics. You’ll feel in the middle of the story.
Refugee King – Liz Vice
The opening line sets up the whole song: Away from the manger. It riffs off the beloved hymn Away in a Manger where the baby Jesus has “no crib for a bed” to “no place … no country or tribe.” It highlights Jesus as what N.T. Wright calls the most dangerous baby.
The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph’s Baby – Waterdeep
An exploration of Mary and Joseph’s story as a musical. Yes, a modern musical from Mary and Joseph’s perspective of their unusual experience bringing the Messiah into the world. Don and Lori Chaffer (Waterdeep) co-wrote the music and script with Chris Cragin Day and premiered the musical in Nashville in 2018. This is not your CCM take on a Biblical-inspired musical. It’s real and accessible to both believers and unbelievers.
Our three favorite Christmas albums ever
Sing! An Irish Christmas – Live from the Grand Ole Opry – Keith and Kristyn Getty
“It is a great mix of traditional carols and new songs. Plus, fabulous musicians! We were at the recording of this live album at Sing! 2019 in Nashville.”
“I don’t have other complete albums that I love. But, in this age of streaming music, a few groups that do great Christmas arrangements, and some new songs, as well: Selah, Casting Crowns and Pentatonix.”
Christmas: The Peace Project – Hillsong Worship
“I love this album and it has so many of my favorite, traditional Christmas songs with a very fresh spin on them without taking away from what makes them so great. Of the songs on this record, I particularly enjoy the way they did O Holy Night, Joy to The World, and O Come All Ye Faithful.”
Jackson 5 Christmas Album – Jackson 5
“This is some serious Motown and the most vibey music for the Christmas season. What an iconic sound that brings back so many fun memories when one hears Jackson 5’s Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”
The Nat King Cole Christmas Album – Nat King Cole
“The tried-and-true early 1960s release of Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song has to be one of the most adored songs of this season for generations. You know it immediately as the strings begin and the upright bass carries the melody underneath those sultry vocals. This is an easy favorite Christmas album.”
Snow Angels – Over the Rhine
“Deeply moving and real, with sparks of joy throughout. The title track Snow Angel is a tearjerker. Lead vocalist Karin Berquist had to record the last verse first and then record the previous verses later. She couldn’t get through the whole song from beginning to end without crying.”
Songs for Christmas – Sufjan Stevens
“A wild, wild ride. This is a five-volume project by one of the most prolific artists and songwriters in contemporary (indie) music. He’s an acquired taste for most people, but I’m always up for an unpredictable, artistic journey — especially with the themes these songs explore.”
One More Drifter in the Snow – Aimee Mann
“A doubter’s take on the Christmas season. Aimee Mann has a quality in her music that always voices the observer’s perspective of humanity. This collection of songs takes traditional Christmas fare into unusual and melancholy territory and holds it together with a few introspective laments of loneliness and longing.”
A Christmas travesty
Finally, we asked our three experts for their Christmas earworm — defined as a song you don’t even like, but once you hear it, it’s stuck in your brain for days. Incredibly, they all chose the same song: Wonderful Christmastime by former Beatle Paul McCartney. The chorus, repeated roughly 736 times, goes: “Simply having a wonderful Christmastime.”
Renee Cooper says: “I don’t even know any other lyrics from that song! Are there other lyrics?”
Regrettably, yes. There’s even a verse about a children’s choir that has practiced all year in order to share this profound Christmas message:
Ding dong, ding dong
Ding dong, ding ooo
Ooo ooo toot toot toot toot toot toot
Clearly, Nathan Fry has been looking for this chance to vent:
“One cannot set foot in a shopping mall between Halloween and New Years without hearing this song. I guarantee it will be within five songs of your listening experience if you flip the radio station to whomever is playing the seasonal, Christmas music. I cannot stand this song. It is reported that it only took Paul 10 minutes to write this song and it sounds like it. Also, what is with that crazy synthesizer with the heavy delay that steps over itself in the instrumental portions? Simply Having a Garbling Christmastime.”
Nathan McDonald adds: “I love Paul McCartney, but Wonderful Christmastime is awful. The music video is worse.”
Rumor has it that if you play this song backwards, it doesn’t get any better.
Footnote: Some of the artists mentioned as favorites are performing a free online Christmas concert this Sunday evening. Details here.