Against Sappy Christmas Songs

Do sentimental seasonal ballads bring out your inner Ebenezer? Does “Christmas Shoes” give you the Christmas blues? You’ve come to the right place! There’s no need to swear off all Christmas music just because most Christmas music is lame. Here are some great albums that will remind you that Christmas is a time worth celebrating!

My personal Christmas listening tends to fall into three categories:

Fun Stuff

My very favorite album in this category is “What a Wonderful Christmas” by Louis Armstrong & Friends. Every track is good, but here’s my favorite:

For another great swingin’ album, pick up “The Ultimate Christmas Collection” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. I especially love their rock-a-billy twist to Tchaikovsky’s ballet (bonus props for the subtle dig at pop “musicians” who don’t read music):

This year, the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ “Christmas Caravan” seems especially appropriate given songs like Hot Christmas and Carolina Christmas that speak of Christmases without snow. Then there’s the creatively cynical Indian Giver that’s good for a laugh. But this album also includes one of the only renditions of “Sleigh Ride” that rivals the original:

Readers in Colorado and Washington might prefer this track from a different SNZ album…

And no list of fun Christmas albums would be complete without “Barenaked Christmas” by the Barenaked Ladies! I dare you to listen to this without smiling:


Let’s face it: we can’t always be in a “fun” mood. Sometimes (most of the time, actually) I’d rather listen to something that is simply brilliant. To me, nothing expresses the glory of the incarnation like the great Baroque composers. If you’ve been in my office at all in the last month, you’ve probably heard something from this list.

While it’s not actually “Christmas” music, this is the season during which Handel’s masterpiece Messiah is most frequently performed. Check out the “Messiah Blog” tab at the top of this page for links to a few dozen devotionals I wrote about what may well be the greatest musical composition of all time. Here’s one of my favorite movements:

My most recent purchase is a DVD performance of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and it’s fan-freakin’-tastic. It’s German title is Die Weihnachtsgeschichte, which means “The Christmas Story”. The libretto tells this story in six parts, representing the six major feast days of the Christmas season. Here’s the famous opening chorus:

Another favorite is Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerti Grossi Op. 6. This is actually a collection of several very short concerti, the 8th of which is known as the “Christmas Concerto”:

Contemporary Gospel-Centered

I wasn’t sure exactly what to call this “genre” I’ve just invented, but what I mean by it are songs which carry on the Baroque tradition of teaching the Gospel through music (à la Bach & Handel), but do it in a more contemporary context. The very best example of this is Andrew Peterson’s album “Behold the Lamb of God”, which I’ve already mentioned this week so I won’t say more about it now.

Another spectacular album which tells the story of the birth of Christ is “Joy — An Irish Christmas” by Keith & Kristyn Getty. This is a mixture of new arrangements of traditional Christmas carols and some original compositions. Here’s my favorite:

My wife’s top Christmas album is “Christmas Bright & Beautiful” by the Annie Moses Band. While this family band has released some newer Christmas albums since then, this one remains our favorite. Here’s a live performance of the opening track:

And, of course, I love the great advent hymns that have been instructing and encouraging the Church for centuries… and, as Trevin Wax points out, “It’s quite possible that non-Christians hear more Christian theology around Christmas-time than any other time of the year. A number of Christmas songs are filled with rich theological truths.” I’m always on the lookout for creative ways to bring new life to old standards, such as this David Potter re-imagining of one of Charles Wesley’s finest:

The list could go on and on, but hopefully this will give some hope to those who are sick of sap. How about you? What are some of your favorite Christmas albums?

P.S. — This post was inspired by a recent Facebook conversation with Jeff Wright, who only thinks he hates Christmas music.

P.P.S. — Russell Moore recently posted a related (but more serious) article about why sappy Christmas music is bad. It’s good stuff.

P.P.P.S. — Ever since studying the church fathers this semester in church history, I’ve been itching to write something titled “Against _______” (cf. “Against Heresies”, “Against Marcion”,  “Against the Murderous Thieving Hordes of Peasants“, etc.). Done!

3 comments on “Against Sappy Christmas Songs

  1. Wow! Seldom to I expect to read brief reviews that include Barenaked Ladies, Louis Armstong, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Andrew Peterson, Keith & Kristyn Getty, and all be written under a masthead of a photo of elevator king, Kenny G. Thanks for the inclusiveness. 🙂

  2. […] last video comes with a hat tip to John Gardner, whose post about sappy Christmas songs appeared around the same time as Aaron Belz’s on the […]

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