It's the MUSIC!!!!!
I love carols! The older, the better, of course.
For that reason (either being older or sounding older or using Latin, etc.), here are my top five Christmas Carols:
(Aren't you lucky???)
1. "Greensleeves" ("What Child Is This")
2. "O Holy Night"
3. "Angels We Have Heard on High"
4. "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"
5. "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."
Why, ask you?
Well, each carol obviously has a bit of a history. A friend gave me a wonderful book called Christ in the Carols, which has a little history and devotion about each carol.
Unfortunately, they missed my favorite! But I learned somewhere that "Greensleeves," my #1, was an old English tavern tune, then later more appropriate words were set to the tune in 1865. However, the melody itself dates, I believe, back to the 1500s. And with all simplicity, John Denver sings my favorite version.
My #2 favorite, "O Holy Night" makes me want to "fall on [my] knees/ O hear the angel voices," even if I happen to be walking through Target at the time. John Denver's rendition again is my favorite; I videotaped him on the Today show, singing it the Christmas before his death, and I watch it every Christmas Eve after the kids are all abed. It's a French carol, dating back only to the nineteenth century, but the Gospel truth portrayed, especially the world "in sin and error pining," always touches me.
#3, "Angels We Have Heard on High," gets me with the Latin every time. "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" -- Glory to God on high! This carol is also not listed in the book cited above, but it remains one of my favorites to both play and sing. I also like to hear Bing Crosby or Charlotte Church sing this one.
"Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus," #4, is a carol that I didn't learn until recently, but the words simply stab me in the heart. It was penned by Charles Wesley in 1744 and captures so perfectly the expectation of the Israelites for their Messiah. Lines like: "Israel's Strength and Consolation," "Joy of every longing heart," and "Born to reign in us forever" make my heart strain to become His more fully than ever.
My fifth favorite, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," I prefer to hear in Bing Crosby's mellow voice. The words are Longfellow's and were written in the throes of the American Civil War. The setting of wartime is clearly seen in the verses: "For hate is strong/ And mocks the song/ Of peace on earth, good will to men." Then we are reassured: "The wrong shall fail/ The right prevail/ With peace on earth, good will to men!"
So take time to sit back and really, truly HEAR the words of these familiar carols. Curl up with a mug of hot cider or cocoa, look dreamily at your Christmas tree, and remember once again and even more fully, He who is the Reason for the Season.