Advent Day 4: Obscure Christmas Carols

This year I'm blogging through Advent season. The goal is to put up a shorter post every day in December on topics related to the holiday, and I'd like to toy with some different media (music, poetry, art). I may not stay faithful to the format, we'll see, but I'd thank you to come along on the journey with me anyway. I hope this can enhance your Christmas experience as I'm sure it will mine.

I'm sure carols are going to come up at least another couple of times before Christmas, but here is my introduction to the topic. These songs are all, I kid you not, on my Christmas playlist, but I doubt you'll have heard of most of them (and if you have I'll bet you don't know all the lyrics). Good thing you have me around, huh? Anyway, here are:


1. Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord - Boney M.

I first heard this song when we performed it in my high school choir. The arrangement was called "Calypso Christmas" and we had a lot of fun with it. The Caribbean dialectic sounded like nonsense to our uncultured white ears (lyrics like "them found no place for to born she child") so we couldn't sing it without giggling. This version is less obtuse but every bit as delightful, performed by the disco outfit Bony M. (also responsible for this ode to Russian traitor Rasputin). Plus it weaves in a diddy called "Oh My Lord," and includes the line "and man will live forevermore, because of Christmas day," which is actually pretty poignant.

2. The Holly and the Ivy - Annie Lennox

At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, Annie Lennox is just this side of musical goddess. She has one of the voices of our time, and her golden pipes are on full display throughout her gorgeous, experimental Christmas album "A Christmas Cornucopia." I'd never heard "The Holly and the Ivy" before this version and honestly I have no interest in hearing anyone else sing it.

3. I Saw Three Ships - Sufjan Stevens

This is an obscure version of a pretty obscure song (you might recognize the melody), but it's quaint and actually quite lovely. Sufjan Stevens has an amazing Christmas album (Songs for Christmas) and is a pretty stellar musician himself.

4. Good King Wenceslas - Relient K

This is probably another familiar melody, but I'll bet you've never heard it like this before. It's a sillier track on the otherwise superb "Let It Snow Baby, Let It Reindeer," Relient K's addition to the Christmas canon.

5. Candlelight Carol - composed by John Rutter (performed by University of Minnesota Duluth Concert Choir)

I also sang this for choir my sophomore year and it had the most bewitching baritone part. We didn't wind up performing it that year, or any year I was in high school (in spite of my protests) but it has clung to me ever since. It really is beautiful, please give it a listen.

6. In the Bleak Midwinter - Annie Lennox

I apologize for including her twice but Annie Lennox's Christmas album really is phenomenal. And though I sang a version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" in high school it was this one which really hit home for me. The line, and I'll never forget it, "What can I give Him, poor as I am? I'll give my heart," broke my own heart wide open. Please enjoy this.

7. Merry Christmas (Here's to Many More) - Relient K

Alright so this isn't a carol in any significant way. It's about Christmas, but it isn't an old song Relient K covered. It's an original song, on an album which is miraculously chock full of excellent original songs. It is obscure though. And it perfectly captures how I feel during the holiday season: weary but hopeful, and so thankful for the beautiful people who love and support me. And for Jesus Christ.

Ok so those are my favorite obscure Christmas songs. What are yours? Please subscribe and comment! (subtle, no?)


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