December 4, 2020

The Best Christmas Music

How are you doing, iMonks? Is it time for seconds yet? By the way, you need to eat the green beans, not just the crunchy onion-like things on the top. We are continuing our pre-Black Friday specials in honor of the real “reason for the season”: Buy Buy Buy. And all from the comfort of your own chair without having to brave the crowds. Right now we want to share the three best Christmas music albums you need to have and play continually from now through Christmas.

We’ll start with an honorable mention. O Holy Night by Sara Groves is a sparse, simple presentation of songs you already know. What you don’t know is how refreshing they sound as sung by one of my favorite artists. Sara Groves sings as if she is sitting in your living room having a pleasant conversation with you, her friend. Get this and listen with a cup of hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course).

Now to the three you must must must have.

A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Delightful is not quite the right word to describe this, but it will have to do. A delightful trip back in time to when you were a child and looked forward to watching Charlie Brown pick out a skimpy tree, Snoopy decorating his doghouse (and winning a blue ribbon), and Linus’ clear presentation of the Gospel. They just don’t make them like this anymore.

Christmas Portrait by the Carpenters. Every song on this album is perfect. If this doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit, you need to see your doctor. Or undertaker. If the only song you listen to is Ava Maria, it would be worth the cost.

The Bells of Dublin by the Chieftains. This is an album I listen to year-round. I don’t restrict it to just Christmas. The Chieftains are a traditional Irish band that takes any song and makes it unique. Sometime listen to Roger Daltrey sing Behind Blue Eyes with the Chieftains. Or Be Thou My Vision with Van Morrison and the Chieftains. But right now, get Bells of Dublin. Listen to Jackson Browne sing The Rebel Jesus. Ricki Lee Jones croon O Holy Night. And the Chieftains perform some traditional Irish Christmas tunes. I’ll go out on a limb and say you will find yourself listening to Bells of Dublin in April and August as well as December.

More specials to come. Check back often! And give me another helping of that sweet potato casserole, will you?


  1. Richard Hershberger says
  2. Love, love, LOVE Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God,” the whole album is a wonderful lead-in to Christmas, and seeing it live on tour is even better!

    • I second that recommendation. It’s a fantastic album! I especially appreciate how it puts the longing for the Messiah in the perspective of the whole story of Israel (i.e., in the songs “Passover Us”, “So Long Moses”, and “Deliver Us”).

  3. Happy Thanksgiving!! Jeff, where did you get that picture?? What brings me back in time is the Chipmunks Christmas music hey I just noticed…they were monks! Chip-monks.. 🙂

  4. More Christmas recommendations to come next week, too! Thanks, Jeff, I just downloaded the Sara Groves album!

  5. I really don’t want to hear anyone crooning “O Holy Night” … now or ever. Crooning???

    I wish you hadn’t told us your favorite Christmas music, Jeff. Before you did, we had a perfect relationship, you there at your computer and I at mine. I lean more toward Richard Hershberger’s tastes. Sorry.

    • Bob, have you heard the Chieftains’ album? It was Michael Spencer’s favorite as well.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        For whatever it is worth, since my opinions have entered into this subthread, I am very fond of the Chieftains. Back in college there was a genuine hippie coffee house near campus: a holdover from the days when genuine hippies were common. One weekend I heard that an Irish band was going to be playing there, and they were reputed to be quite good. So I wandered by, but the house was full and there was a line to get in, so I gave it a pass. It was the Chieftains, of course: when they were small enough to be playing hippie coffee houses, but big enough to fill them up with a line out the door. I have kicked myself ever since. Had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten there early. I don’t have the album recommended here, but I can easily imagine I would enjoy it.

      • Hearing little samples of that Chieftans album on Amazon made me think of drunken Irishmen. And Martha, of course.

  6. For Canadian content… Justin Bieber is about to come out with a Christmas album…

    But seriously folks… and for serious folk music..

    Bruce Cockburn’s Christmas album is great. Consider this lyric from Cry of a Tiny Babe.

    Like a rock on the surface of a still river
    Driving the ripples on forever
    Redemption rips through the surface of time
    In the cry of a tiny babe

    And the final verse:

    There are others who know about this miracle birth
    The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
    For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes
    But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
    And the message is clear if you’ve got ears to hear
    That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
    It’s a Christmas gift you don’t have to buy
    There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes

    And shameless plug for an event. People are coming from all over North America to hear Steve Bell (no relation) play his music with the Toronto Symphony orchestra on December 3rd. For those who like classical and folk, this is an event you won’t want to miss.

  7. 1996 album from Nóirín Ní Riain with the Monks of Glenstal Abbey, “The Darkest Midnight” – includes what is commonly known now as the Wexford Carol or the Enniscorthy Carol (“Good People All”) and the songs included are based on the Kilmore Quay carols, which are Christmas carols sung in a parish in County Wexford on the south-east coast of Ireland since the 17th century.

  8. I like country music singer John Berry’s rendition of “O Holy Night.”

  9. Thumbs up for the Bells of Dublin,
    Add Christmas with the Canadian Brass

  10. Richard McNeeley says

    I like the music, but green beans with onions? I thought you were in the south. The only way to make green beans is to cook them all day with bacon, everything tastes better with bacon.

  11. A friend just bought me the Charlie Brown’s Christmas CD for my birthday. You are absolutely right Jeff. I found myself smiling and “seeing” the video in my head. The awesome Snoopy Dance is my favorite.

  12. all three michael w. smith christmas albums … just beautiful … definitely his best work.

  13. Nobody’s mentioned James Taylor at Christmas yet, so I will. My wife collected the annual Hallmark Christmas albums when they still made them, and the Taylor is my favorite (though the Michael McDonald one is awfully good too).

    ANY version of Handel’s Messiah (including the CCM all-“star” New Young Messiah), because good music is good music, no matter what.
    ANY version of “O Holy Night” that doesn’t include barking dogs.
    “Christmas at Denny’s” by Randy Stonehill, the saddest Christmas song ever (but a reminder to not forget the less fortunate).

  14. Nat Cole’s Christmas album is still the one, for my money:

    Have also found that I am partial to the “God Rest Ye”/”We Three Kings” medley by the Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan:

    But Christmas was forever changed for me the year a friend pointed out that “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” can be sung to Pachelbel’s canon. 😉

  15. any of the Windam Hill Christmas selections…

    The Vineyard Music Christmas selections…

    and the first Happy Christmas CD. Sarah Masen’s Heaven’s Got a Baby one of my favorites…

    along with Switchfoot’s Evergreen

    O Holy Night my favorite Christmas Carol…

    and of course, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from his Messiah one of the most soul stirring pieces of music ever written & performed…

    King of kings and lord of lords
    King of kings and lord of lords
    And he shall reign forever and ever
    Forever and ever and ever and ever
    (King of kings and lord of lords)
    Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah


  16. Okay I-Monestary…..I have a confession to make. I still have a lot of Christian contemproary Christmas music. I’ll probably listen to a couple here and there. Some of the music is cathcy…I’ll admit that part.

    But here is some of what I have…

    Avalon – We are the Reason

    Avalon – Light a Candle

    Amy Grant – Silent Night

    Michael W Smith – The Promise

    Michael W. Smith – Christmas Day

    Michael W Smith – Christmastime

    Chris Rice – Welcome to Our World

  17. Anything by Mannheim Steamroller is nice. But it is mostly instrumental!