Little known Christmas songs to bring you some unexpected holiday cheer

Photo by Eva Ou

‘Tis the season of carolers and curling up by a warm and cozy fire every night — If you are so lucky as to have one. With Black Friday having passed, some have already begun to shop for Christmas gifts for their friends and loved ones. For many, this involves at least one or more trips to the mall. 

As soon as Nov. 1 hits, many radio stations switch over to playing Christmas music 24/7. This naturally extends to stores, which start putting out Christmas decorations and the like before last year’s Halloween rejects that stores bring out every year have even collected the slightest amount of dust in their boxes. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll think this automatic shift to the Christmas season on Nov. 1 is too much. In addition, you may also be tired of hearing the same overplayed and generic Christmas music on the radio and in stores every year. 

Justin Beiber’s “Mistletoe” and Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me.” While these songs are so-called iconic staples of the Christmas season, the revolving musical loop that they are put on gets exhausting very quickly. 

By the time Dec. 25 comes, many are eager for the radio to go back to playing its usual repertoire, finally dropping the Christmas music theme that has been going on for over a month and returning the sanity to everyone’s ears.

What unappreciated musical gems are we missing every year during the Christmas season in favour of long worn out classics like “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”?

Speaking with Daniel Cabena, a voice instructor at  Wilfrid Laurier University, I asked these exact questions to someone with an extensive knowledge of music. 

When questioned about what his favourite and least favourite Christmas songs are, Cabena responded that his favourite was “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

“It’s a really beautiful poem,” Cabena said.

A poem written by Christina Rossetti, “In the Bleak Midwinter” has been covered by choirs all over the world as well as famous celebrities such as Julie Andrews and Annie Lennox. 

In contrast, Cabena’s least favourite Christmas song is “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney and Wings

This is one of many Christmas songs that are heavily overplayed during the Christmas season during the hustle and bustle of gift buying. 

These so-called “earworms,” as elaborated by Cabena, “stick with you in a way that drives you around the bend a little bit.”

The Christmas songs and albums that are heavily played — such as Bing Crosby’s Christmas Collection — may be charming, but by the time Dec. 25t hits, it’s only natural to be tired of them. 

For Cabena, the Christmas songs he truly enjoys have a “coziness” to them that make you feel warm inside during the bitterly cold winter weather. 

Many of these songs are not known widely by the public. 

One group mentioned by Cabena is Chanticleer — a Grammy award winning male vocal ensemble from San Francisco that cover a wide variety of music, including Christmas classics and underrepresented compositions.

The group has a Christmas album titled ‘Chanticleer Sings Christmas’ that is nominated for a 2022 Grammy Award. The album features many classic Christmas hits such as “Away in a Manger” and “O Little Town Of Bethlehem,” but also has little known carols like “Staffan var en stalledräng” and “Reges terrae.”

“They’re so catchy and sometimes rigorous, rhythmically exciting — you know sometimes they’re just really beautiful,” Cabena said of non-traditional Christmas songs. 

In addition, Cabena brought up an important point — the hyperfocus on Christmas music, excluding members of the population who do not observe the holiday. 

“Huge, vast swaths of the human population are not that interested in Christmas for very good reasons, you know?,” Cabena stated.

Christmas songs isolate those who do not celebrate the holiday — other holidays that take place during the winter months and have similarly iconic musical compositions, such as Hanukkah, aren’t observed to the same extent that Christmas songs are. 

By playing more of them in commercial spaces, more of the population would feel included in  seasonal festivities and not be forced to hear the same Christmas “classics” constantly on repeat. 

Diversity is a key issue in modern Christmas music, something that Cabena noted is not present to the same extent in music of the 16th century and periods prior. In these centuries, there is a “kind of embedded diversity.”

Cabena suggested that there should be a revival of medieval Christmas carols, laughing while detailing how there could be a spot for music from the “Iberian peninsula that’s inflected with mozarabic chant.”

“We should shake it up by going in the TARDIS and going back in time,” Cabena chuckled. 

Imagine being able to go into a mall and not hear yet another pop singer’s rendition of “Santa Baby.” So much of what we associate Christmas to be is wrapped up in the music we listen to — this can be dangerous, according to Cabena. 

Cabena stressed how much of the Christmas music we hear today is “inflected with the commercial overtones” that make us spiral into shopping sprees during the Christmas season. Through doing this, we often forget what the Christmas period is really about – spending time with loved ones. 

Few Christmas songs are joyous without a commercial angle — one such forgotten Christmas song is “Gloucestershire Wassail,” an English Christmas Carol dating back to possibly the 18th century or earlier. 

This song is full of non-commercial joy, the cries of “With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee” sung at the end of each chorus. 

Step aside, “All I Want for Christmas is You”.

By returning to old Christmas classics such as this one, we can recapture a Christmas period long lost — one in which there wasn’t mega malls to shop at. While it is nice to show those you love that you love them by buying gifts for them, it shouldn’t surpass the importance of showing them that you love them by being present. 

What day should we even start listening to Christmas music anyway?

Cabena states that he believes that Christmas music should start being played around December 21 — the winter solstice.

This seems more appropriate — begin the winter season by breaking out old Christmas records. By starting Christmas festivities and music as soon as Halloween is over, many Christmas songs start to feel old even faster. 

Please take the time to observe non traditional Christmas “classics” this year. Too many go unnoticed, and you may find a hidden gem.

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