Christmas carols: why are they so magical?

Christmas carols: why are they so magical?Most Decembers I think about non-Christian people and how they must feel about hearing endless music and lyrics emanating from almost every audio orifice in western cultures, most of it either telling the story of baby Jesus or – usually in warm climates – going on about snow lying deep and crisp and even.

Being a stark realist I do sometimes feel a little creeping cynicism when I hear lyrics telling me I should believe in a 2000+ year old story, especially when other religions tell equally plausible or implausible stories of their own. However, this article is not about theology. And the beauty of Christmas is that irrespective of your religious faith, it nearly always engenders its spirit of goodwill to all which – to me – is what it’s really all about.

Modern Christmas music: beautiful or banal?

I studied music all the way to university level and played in folk and rock bands for many years, so feel qualified to cringe when I hear most modern offerings of Christmas songs that emerge year in, year out, and consist largely of simple tunes that make a lot of noise and add some largely superfluous bonhomie to already drunken and garrulous festive parties.

So many popular musicians, despite some at least being capable of producing some very high quality songs during the rest of the year, drop their lyrical pants around their ankles at Christmas and come up with boring, insipid stuff that makes narcolepsy look like a stimulating alternative.

And so they go on, all earning substantial profits from the ever-hungry Christmas party market. From Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” (seen here being watched by actors dressed up as US soldiers, no doubt aiming to bring schmaltz to the US troops in WW2 – a noble thing to do, but arrrggghhh!) … Elvis Presley’s various Christmas offerings … skipping decades on to the Christmas offerings of Status Quo … and skipping on even further to weenies like Justin Bieber … they all cash in on the wistful Christmas sentiments.

Traditional Christmas carols: my favorite

This is where I, as a closet musician, admit that despite agnosticism I do like some of the old Christmas songs, purely because some of them are very beautiful pieces of music. My own personal favorite, the Coventry Carol, is rather dirge-like and in a minor key, but it stirs my soul. Yet its lyrics are fiercely Christian and, frankly, not very clever by today’s standards. However in my view that can be forgiven considering the music is superb, and that the piece originates back in the 16th century.

The Coventry Carol, 16th century: composer unknown

If you’re a music-reading type, check this out (see above ^^^) – otherwise listen to the following rendition of the piece. It’s stunning, and will stir your emotions no matter what your religious inclinations.

And the other “traditional” Christmas carols?

Those of us who live in western cultures will know all the standard classics like “Away In A Manger,” “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy To The World,” “Ding Dong Merrily On High,” “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” etc., etc., etc. For a comprehensive list, click here.

Several of the melodies used in these Carols have origins in much earlier places, and have been snatched from there into new use as Christmas songs with new lyrics. But what I like – from a musician’s perspective – is the way that these old tunes can still beat the pants off most of the new, la-la-la efforts that turn up in our soundwaves during the Christmas festivities now.

Christmas carols: why are they so magical?

Whatever your choice, enjoy the sing-song!

As I said above, Christmas is a time of goodwill, kindness and sharing irrespective of your religious or political views.

So hey – let’s enjoy its music. As Status Quo say in their song, “It’s Christmas Time,” …

Another year’s gone rock and rollin’ by

Oh how time flies

It’s funny but it seems like yesterday

I put the tinsel away

It’s a time we can all look forward to

I like to feel the festive spirit don’t you

When you switch on your lights and say

It’s Christmas time, it’s Christmas time

Stand up stand up and raise a glass of wine…

…Sounds good to me.

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photo credit: BitchBuzz via photopin cc
photo credit: USACE Europe District via photopin cc




  1. Thanks for sharing that, Suze. I had not heard ‘The Coventry Carol’ before – beautiful!

    • It is a beautiful song, isn’t it? The choir that sang this version is from Ghent in Belgium. They are wonderful, but I noticed that in the last verse one of the girls sang a really bum note … so, so hard to sing in tune in unaccompanied voice!


  1. […] with some more of our favorite carols! I shared my all time favorite with you on Sunday – “The Coventry Carol” – but here are some more you may […]