merrry-christmas-90pxThe writers' picks for Christmas cheer.

We asked our writers to share their thoughts on their favorite Christmas songs. The results are inspiring.

Christmas music. It comes in many varieties, but let's keep it sweet and savory today.

The warmth and sweetness of hot chocolate, the minty freshness of a candy-cane. A soothing fire place and a light blanket of snow. Hymns at midnight and the excitement of Christmas morning.

And on opposite ends of the Christmas music spectrum: The Annie Moses Band's “When the Christmas Baby Cries,” and Larry Norman's “Christmastime”....

“It used to be the birthday of the Man who saved our necks,” sings Norman, against a classic rock beat, “but now it stands for Santa Claus – they spell it with an X.” Short and simple and as basic as a good rock and roll song can get, Norman was probably the only artist who could get away with making important points about the secularization of the holiday while having a lot of fun celebrating the day at the same time. Next to The Beatles' “Christmas Time is Here Again,” this just might be the best rock song about Christmas ever recorded.

Stirring, gentle, yet majestic melodies fill the arrangement of the reverent Christmas hymn by Annie and Bill Wolaver, of the Annie Moses band. “When the Christmas Baby Cries” speaks of the anticipation of the birth of Christ, recreating the holiness and wonder of that night through not only the rich melodies of the composition, but the stunning and poetic lyrics of Robin Wolaver:

“Beasts that bristle with the cold
Huddle in the bitter blow
But while the blast is thundering
their frozen souls are wondering, wondering, wondering
...if this is the night when the Christmas baby cries.”

The song gives a sense of all of nature waiting in awe for the miracle birth – and, even more,

“...there is faith for fragile man
A Child is born in Bethlehem, Bethlehem, Bethlehem
For our hope will rise
When the Christmas baby cries.”

The song is a Christmas classic, appropriately worshipful and magical in its lyrics and sweepingly beautiful in composition - and, of course, the recorded performance by this gifted group of musicians is impeccable.

Reflect on one, dance to the other. This is Christmas.

- Bert Saraco



At WQXL radio in 1998, we were still smarting over the loss of Rich Mullins as we played songs from The Jesus Record. After  Thanksgiving, our general manager added songs from BEC's Happy Christmas (Volume 1). My buddy Matt Mottershead introduced me to "You Gotta Get Up” from my favorite band Five Iron Frenzy. Matt smiled and pointed me to Rich’s A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A  Ragamuffin Band. Whoa! I hadn't heard Rich's original, which nearly made me weep with the sweet childlike anticipation of Christmas; coupled with FIF’s fun update, that song made Christmas 1998 incredibly special. Olin Jenkins


Here are three Christmas music favorites in one paragraph. The first is Mel Torme singing "The Christmas Waltz," which was a favorite of my Mother's. When I was a little girl, my late father taught me how to waltz with this song. I remember the Christmas party where I danced to this song with him and got my first party dress of blue velvet. The second is "We Three Kings" as done by Rivertribe from their Christmas 2003 album, which I reviewed for Tollbooth. Last, is an "Ave Maria" by a group of Hamburg, Germany singers from an Arte Nova album, sent to me by a friend in Germany who, unfortunately, died the year later. Christmas is not only a time for the Christ Child, but also a time for pleasantly remembering the past. Marie Asner


"Labor of Love" written by Andrew Peterson and sung by Jill Phillips from the album Behold the Lamb of God - The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ

"Labor of Love" is a beautifully written and performed song that gives a different view of the night that Jesus was born. Although many of us love the Christmas traditions, the truth is that, as the song says, “it was not a silent night” when Jesus was born. "Labor of Love" portrays a starkly realistic version of the birth of Jesus and brings out the human element of that night, describing how Mary and Joseph would have experienced it.

The song is from the album Behold the Lamb of God - The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ, one of the best Christmas records of all time. But it is actually much more than just a Christmas album as it traces the coming, life, death, and resurrection of Christ in wonderfully poetic and musical way. Larry Stephan



"You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is well known. That deep, oaken voice of Thurl Rosencraft is now an iconic fixture in American holiday music. But when I heard Sixpence None the Richer cover this song, with Leigh Nash smartly lilting those Seussian lyrics like she wrote them, it instantly became one of my all-time favorite Christmas tunes. It's all at once a campfire sing-a-long, a chamber jazz concert, and a crackling broadcast from the '30s. It is sass, class, and slanted beauty. Every time I hear it, my heart grows three sizes. Jason Todd


“Peace is Here” from Jars of Clay's Christmas Songs stands out as a Christmas song that both inspires and leaves the listener humbled.

Old standards like Vaughn Monroe’s deep throated rendition of “Let it Snow” or new offerings such as “Peace is Here” by Jars Of Clay top my list of Christmas holiday favorites. “Peace is Here” stands out as a Christmas song that both inspires and leaves the listener humbled. There is something truthful of our times, hopeful in its message, and exalting of God that grabs deep inside and will not let go. Here, something shines, something humbles, something warms.

The key to a Christmas song’s becoming a seasonal favorite is the memory it sparks for the listener. Whether the Christmas song portrays praise, joy, or an everyday human emotion, if it freezes that moment of time for you it will draw to the top of your memory when the Christmas holiday draws near. I wish you the gift that a Christmas song’s memory will invoke a special and wonderful meaing for you. Scott S Mertens


What constitutes a Christmas classic? Whatever the criteria, “Tennessee Christmas” by Amy Grant makes the grade. I have no connection to the state, but I feel an instant bond with the song. The acoustic tones and the harmonizing make it warm and inviting. It exudes a goodness whose ultimate source is the Father of lights (James 1:17). Michael Dalton


Centerpoint by Jeff Johnson as reviewed in The Phantom Tollbooth

“Wexford Carol” by Jeff Johnson is in a world all its own. I imagine the stark and rumbling sounds echoing between snow-covered hills. Trees like sentries stand silently as the notes soar above a landscape untouched by all but the Divine. It makes me think of eternity and one “whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2 ESV).

It is the final track of Centerpoint: Poetry and Music for Christmas (1990). The short original intro serves as background for a poetry reading before transitioning into an instrumental folk song. On the Johnson produced Christmas sampler, Spirit of the Season (1994), you get the sounds without the poetry.

In this and other Christmas recordings Johnson manages to capture something of the beauty, wonder and mystery of the season. Michael Dalton


After long deliberation, picking, choosing, jamming, remembering, jamming some more, I have come across the 3 most beloved Christmas songs in my life. They can all 3 be found on the albums Merry Axemas 1, and Merry Axesmas 2. I am a metalhead and these are the best albums for me at Christmas, because they allow me guitar, and drum, and bass, without the vocals, that I feel get in the way of enjoying music sometimes. So here it goes

Steve Vai - Christmas Time is Here (big props to Charlie Brown)
Joe Satriani - Silent Night, Holy Night
Zakk Wylde - White Christmas Mike Cooper


I suppose if you were to really ask me what Christmas song had/has the biggest effect on me it would be 1984's Band Aid single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" The thought of throngs of my musical heroes amassing to do something altruistic and in a group setting still inspires me. There are plenty of legends surrounding this including Boy George getting essentially pulled out of bed to do his tracks and nailing them first take to everyone's amazement, to the squabbles between Midge Ure and (Sir) Bob Geldof over the difference between being a great lyricist and having a talent for melody and song structure. No matter, the end result is a snapshot of that era musically as well as a stunning rare moment of social conscience in pop culture. From the opening samples taken from Tears for Fears "The Hurting" to the chorus of "feed the world, let them know it's Christmas time..." it remains a poignant and brilliant, albeit rare, instance of when pop culture rises above it's superficiality and pomp to honestly help those in need.  I will now pull out Handel's Messiah to commence listening . . . Dean A



"Winter Wonderland," set to the tune of "Misty Mountain Hop?" Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but in the twisted wonderful minds of Fleming & John it just works. For some criminal reason they decided to only release it on the old and an impossible to find label compilation. So it is the most twisted Christmas interpretation you will probably never hear... unless you employ some mad YouTube searching skills. From now on, I vote that it should be a rule for all Christmas covers to be this fun and twisted. Matt Crosslin


Cliff Richard - O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Surely any truly great Christmas song should catch the cosmic mash-up of dirt and divinity that is God coming to Earth in human form. Schmaltzy nostalgia misses the mark completely, while ethereal beauty misses half the messiness.

This classic carol conveys the essence: "In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." Even "How silently the wondrous gift is given" works in the wider scheme of things.

Chris Eaton’s tune, with its ringing bells feel, is a rare case of a new melody beating an old one. Derek Walker


Jump 5 - A Strange Way to Save the World

This is my favourite Christmas song. The lyrics and the music are so powerful. If you think about it it seems like a strange way to save the world. God sent his son as a baby to save the world but he was born and placed in a manger in swaddling clothes because there were no rooms for him and his parents. God wanted to show us he was humble and that he wanted to save people of all kinds not just well off, he wanted the poor and the broken. When we are broken God saves us from the most horrible of situations and we realize that he is saving the world one heart at a time. In the beginning it seems strange, sending a baby to two ordinary people, but God had a plan. Alisha Brooks