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Delete from your Christmas Playlist

Christian J - December 8, 2008

Let me just recognize that Christmas in America is a mingling of religious and secular celebrations. Hearing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Silent Night” back to back will shock no one. Like it or not, that’s the way it is. There are, however, a few songs that find a good deal of play that have nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever. Here are my top picks. I’ll let the lyrics do most of the talking.

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by Bach

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

No manger. No star. Not even a Santa Claus.

Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley

Well I heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do ya?
Well it goes like this :
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah


Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
And she tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah


(Yeah but) Baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor, (You know)
I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
and love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah


Well there was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me do ya
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah


Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah


I’m guessing the same people who play this at Christmas are the same people who think “We Thank Thee O’ God for a Prophet” is about prophets.

Just sayin…


  1. “Hallelujah” gets a lot of Christmas play? You’re forcing me to point out it’s originally a Leonard Cohen song.

    Comment by Susan M — December 8, 2008 @ 11:34 am

  2. True Susan. But the Jeff Buckley version is the one people play at Christmas. I have already heard it A LOT.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — December 8, 2008 @ 11:45 am

  3. I’m also amused when radio stations include Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Father Christmas” in their play lists. Get past the bells and cheerful music, and the lyrics smack you across the face with sarcasm.

    Comment by David T. — December 8, 2008 @ 11:54 am

  4. Here’s a video you can enjoy that brings in the true CHRISTmas spirit…


    Comment by Faith — December 8, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

  5. What the heck is up with “My Favorite Things” being played at Christmastime, too? It’s about FEAR and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, people! Come on!

    Comment by cheryl — December 8, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

  6. Please add Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” to the list.

    Comment by john scherer — December 8, 2008 @ 12:33 pm

  7. It’s because it has the word “snowflake” in it. ;-)

    Comment by Kim Siever — December 8, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  8. I have to agree that “Hallelujah” is not a Christmas song and never has been. I have never actually heard it used as one, so this use of it is probably recent and is obviously deluded.

    The Bach number was simply intended as a church hymn and is only part of a larger work. It could theoretically be a Christmas hymn, because it does, after all, talk about Christ but it’s not necessarily celebrating his birth. It has traditionally been used a lot at weddings, although that use is even less in accord with Bach’s intent. Bach was not the author of the underlying melody of this piece.

    Comment by MCQ — December 8, 2008 @ 7:05 pm

  9. I should point out that the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah was meant to correspond to Christ’s RESURRECTION.

    Not his birth.

    Comment by Seth R. — December 9, 2008 @ 1:28 am

  10. Actually, the “Hallelulah!” from Messiah follows immediately after a tenor aria:

    Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

    That aria follows a recitative:

    He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision.

    Which followed another chorus:

    Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.

    The “Hallelujah!” doesn’t include a single reference to the resurrection, or even to the RESURRECTION. Instead, it includes lines like:

    for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth


    The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 9, 2008 @ 7:55 am

  11. Ah. So the Hallelujah Chorus is just grateful for the entire life of Christ which includes the Resurrection and…dare I say it? His birth.

    Comment by cheryl — December 9, 2008 @ 7:59 am

  12. Yeah, but I remember reading that the timeline in the whole concert places the chorus closer to the resurrection.

    Comment by Seth R. — December 9, 2008 @ 8:19 am

  13. True, Seth.

    Comment by cheryl — December 9, 2008 @ 8:32 am

  14. If you’ve never read the libretto of Messiah, it wouldn’t take longer to read than a decent-sized blog post.

    My copy of the oratorio (standard church performance gray paperbound) has Messiah divided into three sections.

    The first section starts with the overture, then Comfort ye my people and ends with His yoke is easy. It comprises the Christmas story including familiar selections like For unto us a child is born.

    The second and third sections weave the story of the death and triumph and resurrection of Christ. Part II has Behold the Lamb of God, All we like sheep have gone astray, But Thou didst not leave his soul in hell, and ends with the Hallelujah chorus.

    Part III starts with I know that my Redeemer liveth and goes through what you might call the resurrection pieces: Since by man came death, O death, where is thy sting, and the oratorio ends with Worthy is the Lamb.

    If your stake or another local church group is not putting on a performance you might want to buy, beg or borrow a copy of the oratorio to listen to during the Christmas season. It can be an impressive and spiritual experience. Sing along if possible. A copy of the book is only a few dollars.

    (And just my own druther: skip the recent Tabernacle Choir recording. There are many better. [I am normally a fan of the choir but this recording was disappointing.])

    Comment by Researcher — December 9, 2008 @ 8:55 am

  15. I have the full recording by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir conducted by John Alldis. Felicity Lott (Soprano), Alfreda Hdgson (Contralto), Philip Langridge (Tenor), and Ulrik Cold (Bass).

    My wife and I also have our own copies of the book containing all sung parts.

    Our Stake in Laramie Wyoming put on a performance of selections from the Messiah about 4 or 5 years ago. We opened it up to interfaith participation and scrounged up a small chamber orchestra from local talent and the nearby university.

    We probably didn’t sound all that great, but we sounded good enough, and at least the choir managed to hit all the right notes after two straight months of “intensive” training (twice weekly). We even had soloists of varying quality.

    Held it in the stake center and had a prayer from a local pastor who was friends with our Stake Pres. Did a wide range of choir and solo numbers and finished with much more difficult “Worthy is the Lamb” rather than the cop-out option of the Hallelujah chorus. Think we actually nailed it.

    Anyway, it got a standing ovation from the local audience. And I guess that was the point. My wife and I had fun singing something more complex than John Rutter for once. It was also fun watching the Sopranos struggle with actually not carrying the melody for once (since you know a lot of “sopranos” are actually only in that section because they can’t read music or sing harmony).

    Comment by Seth R. — December 9, 2008 @ 11:38 am

  16. Last year I compiled a huge list of secular Christmas Carols — which may help you guys keep track of which ones to avoid. ;)

    Comment by C. L. Hanson — December 9, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  17. Going to Messiah live (A) to Dave (B) = root canal (C) to Dave (B). Therefore…

    Comment by David T. — December 9, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  18. I always thought of the “Hallelujah” to correspond with Christ’s triumphant return I find it sad that it’s parodied and used so much in such a variety of ways (even though it very well may be funny or appropriate) simply because so many people fail to gain the truly awesome and divine power of the piece. I plan on hearing/singing it at the actual 2nd coming and believe God gave it to Handel for that very purpose.

    More along the line of the thread, I always thought it kinda funny we sing “Winter Wonderland” and “Let it Snow” just because they talk about winter. (though of course I love both anyway and hope one day act out the lyrics of both if I ever find someone:)

    Comment by Bret — December 9, 2008 @ 9:17 pm

  19. Oh, and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” too:)

    Comment by Bret — December 9, 2008 @ 9:18 pm

  20. Seth: If you all sang “His yoke is easy” you all are fabulous. If you hit all the notes right, you’re angels indeed.

    As the conductor at a Messiah sing-in said after we had massacred that chorus: His yoke may be easy, but that chorus isn’t!

    Comment by Mark B. — December 9, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

  21. I am not very high brow. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” used to freak me out as a kid. Adultry w/Santa=creepy. I change the station every time.

    Comment by JA Benson — December 9, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

  22. Um, JA: Santa = Daddy. Not really “adultry.”

    Comment by MCQ — December 9, 2008 @ 10:33 pm

  23. You kidding Mark? We were ambitious, not completely out of our skulls.

    We did give “And He Shall Purify” and “For Unto Us a Child is Born” a shot though, with at least tolerable results.

    Comment by Seth R. — December 10, 2008 @ 12:52 am

  24. What the heck is up with “My Favorite Things” being played at Christmastime, too?

    What, you got something against whiskers on kittens or something?

    Comment by Peter LLC — December 10, 2008 @ 5:25 am

  25. I just hate cats. Big or little.

    Except ligers.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 10, 2008 @ 6:30 am

  26. MCQ I get that as an adult; as a kid I was freaked out. I still change the station as an adult because what i hated then I dislike greatly now.
    Also I am not fond of of “12 Days of Christmas”. I like for songs to end.

    Comment by JA Benson — December 10, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  27. Peter LLC-
    Nope. Just when they try to pretend it’s about the birth of Christ. Or winter. It’s about neither and I’m still wondering why the heck they play it in December. What idiot came up with that (and thought we’d all get it?)?

    Comment by cheryl — December 10, 2008 @ 10:22 pm

  28. “No manger. No star. Not even a Santa Claus.”

    Just Jesus, the “Word of God”. So un-Christmas-y…?

    If you’re letting the most annoying tunes of our culture of the hook, like “Rudolph”, I’m in favor of making Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen into reindeer. I’d say about a third of the things that seem Christmas-y to us are merely winter-y, and another third sound like the season by mere repetition. To me Moby’s Extreme Ways seems Christmas-y, since I saw one of the Bourne movies over the holidays once I think. Roughly the same goes for food poisoning. I didn’t know Hallelujah was getting play at Christmas, but it fits just as well into the holidays as it does in Shrek; which is–not at all but I don’t care.

    Comment by Jeremiah J. — December 10, 2008 @ 10:41 pm

  29. The big problem I have are with the way certain songs are performed. The holiday-Santa-toys and trees, etc stuff? I don’t care how that’s performed as long as it’s entertaining. The music that’s actually about Christ is what I’m worried about. These should be performed with reverence and in the spirit of worship NOT flashy showmanship and self aggrandizement. This seems to be the case of so many solo artists whenever they’re looking for a few extra bucks for the holiday season especially people like Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond. They’re not even Christian for heaven’s sakes!!

    Comment by Bret — December 11, 2008 @ 12:40 am

  30. What was that song in About a Boy? “Santa’s Super Sleigh”?

    I really detest that one. Same as Hugh Grant.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 11, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

  31. Part of the Problem is all this nostalgia America has for the 1950s (think “A Christmas Story”). Wholesome “Leave it to Beaver” images aside, that was a horribly, horribly commercialized decade of American history. And it’s where a lot of our “classic” Christmas songs originated.

    Surprised no one has mentioned the Chipmunks yet.

    Comment by Seth R. — December 11, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

  32. that was a horribly, horribly commercialized decade of American history.

    Compared to what? Now? Not even close.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 12, 2008 @ 7:41 am

  33. We reap the seeds sown in that period of US history.

    Comment by Seth R. — December 12, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

  34. Seth,

    Well then can’t we blame that on winning WWII?>:)

    Comment by Bret — December 13, 2008 @ 1:23 am

  35. Most of these (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, etc.) make more sense if we consider the period before Christmas as Advent, looking forward to Christ’s second coming. Joy to the World isn’t about the Nativity at all–it’s about the second coming.

    Comment by Neal Davis — December 13, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  36. Kristin Chenoweth, a household favorite, added the Carpenters’ “Sing a Song” on her new Christmas album. Of course that makes sense to…somebody.

    Comment by David T. — December 14, 2008 @ 11:44 am

  37. Actually, I’m surprised no one’s brought up “Frosty the Snowman.” It’s about a spirit-possessed hat that brings a snowman to life. Whose spirit possesses it? Nobody knows. It’s got coal-black eyes and stalks children– and the kids didn’t freak out about this? Seriously, the kids who found the hat lucked out ’cause– according to horror movies– possessed inanimate objects are usually inhabited by serial killers. Instead, Frosty sounds suspiciously like a kind of twisted, secular retelling of the mortal Lord– leading the faithful, melting away with the promise to return. Aslan’s got nothing on Frosty.

    Comment by David T. — December 15, 2008 @ 10:42 am

  38. Just Jesus, the “Word of God”. So un-Christmas-y…?


    So every song/hymn that refers to Jesus is a Christmas song?

    Read the post. I made it clear that I was referring to Christmas as its understood in American culture. Making Christmas a more spiritual experience is another post.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — December 15, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  39. This discussion reminds me of a cover of MAD Magazine in the 1980s (I think), that had a picture of a house-top with snow on top (except in the Brazilian issue there was no snow).

    There was also, climbing into the chimney, with a baggage of presents, trusted Alfred E. Neuman dressed as…

    The Easter Bunny!

    Anyhow, I am a confessed Grinch (and yes, I lecture people about “Christmas carols” that has nothing to do with Christmas – like Jingle Bells). I still eat turkey, though.

    Comment by Velska — December 16, 2008 @ 7:09 am

  40. “To me Moby’s Extreme Ways seems Christmas-y, since I saw one of the Bourne movies over the holidays once I think.”

    Interesting, I make the same connection for the same reason.

    Comment by Assorted Chocolate — December 19, 2008 @ 8:48 pm

  41. Hey, don’t knock sopranos who only sing it b/c they just can’t read music or pick out anything but the melody. Without us, the ward choir would be mighty slim.

    And, Mark B., it makes me laugh when I pick out your comment by its first line without seeing the “comment by.” Jared’s getting good at it too.

    Comment by maryanne — December 21, 2008 @ 5:23 pm

  42. Your second sentence, maryanne, reminds me of Dick Motta’s famous line about music:

    The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 21, 2008 @ 7:35 pm

  43. I love it all–everything from “Sleigh Ride” to “For Unto Us a Child is Born.”

    Comment by Jack — December 21, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

  44. Thank you for posting –

    I thought about this subject and came to the conclusion that most radio stations actually have a rather limited playlist of christmas songs. Therefore we should be sending them our suggestions – email them some of the new MorTabChoir stuff – mp3 files, CD’s, etc.

    I’m sure they would like to improve their playlists to give them a quality edge over their competitors.

    Comment by Bold California — December 21, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

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