We celebrated Thanksgiving as a family, our tree is up, and the new church year (Advent) starts tomorrow. I am in a merry mood and want to share our very best Christmas articles from the archives plus my very favorite Advent and Christmas songs, both relatively unknown ones and timeless, cherished ones. I hope you enjoy my “grown-up Christmas list.” ~Elizabeth
When Singing “Joy to the World” Feels Too Hard by Elizabeth. If you’re mourning or grieving this Christmas, that’s OK. Skip the other posts and read this one instead.
A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any by Jonathan. More for the hurting among us, and a reminder of what Christmas is really all about.
The Tree That Tells Our Story by Elizabeth. Does your Christmas tree tell the story of your family. A post especially for Third Culture Kids and global nomads.
I Need a Silent Night by Elizabeth. Do you need some soul rest or some unrushing this Christmas season? If so, this one’s for you.
When God Paid for Christmas by Elizabeth. Still one of my very favorite Christmas stories. It was the year money was tight and God gave us Christmas anyway.
In Search of Christmas Spirit (or, an ode to Christmases past and present) by Elizabeth. About our first Christmas overseas. Also for Third Culture Kids and Global Nomads.
A Christmas Prayer by Jonathan. A beautiful prayer for the universal church of Jesus Christ.
He Unbreaks It by Elizabeth. This one looks back on Christmas from the perspective of Epiphany (Three Kings Day or the Twelfth Day of Christmas).
When I talk about “Advent,” I’m referring to the period of four weeks in which we prepare for Christmas. It memorializes the long wait for the Christ Child thousands of years ago and is reminiscent of our current wait for the return of our King. A lot of Advent songs have a minor sound, as there is longing and ache in the wait (and you know I love that minor sound).
Ready My Heart by Lois Shuford, performed by Steve Bell. I learned this song two years ago from a missionary friend who led it during a Christmas service. Short, but I think you will find the message and melody sticks around in your head and on your voice. Here are the lyrics.
Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel, translated from the Latin by John Mason Neale. This is an absolute favorite of mine. Don’t cheat yourself of the theology in this song — you really must sing all the verses (you can find them here). Musically speaking, our family favorite is Aaron Shust’s version.
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, by Charles Wesley and Rowland Prichard and performed by Chris Tomlin. Another favorite pre-Christmas song of mine.
Little Drummer Boy by Katherine Kennicott Davis and performed by Pentatonix. Every time I hear this song I am a puddle of tears. Every time, people. At least, every time since we were in the States three years ago and the preacher at our sending church mentioned it in a sermon and shed a new light on it for — specifically the “I have no gift to bring.” I’d always liked the song, but now I love the song. Now my children look at me a little cross-eyed whenever this song plays, and I can’t for the life of me explain in understandable terms why I cry so hard. I think it is just that at this stage of my life, I feel and know deeply that I have nothing to give the Savior — nothing in myself — but I will give what little I can. And the promise of the song is that God is pleased with us when we give what little we can. OK, no more philosophizing, just go experience the song. Again and again.
In the Bleak Midwinter by Gloucester Cathedral Choir. A friend sent this to me last year. It may not be completely historically accurate (it wasn’t that cold in Bethlehem), but it’s metaphorically accurate and oh, isn’t it beautiful?
Do You Hear What I Hear by Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker. I’ve loved this song vaguely since childhood, as my mom played a version of it. But it’s only been in the last couple years have I truly understood the message of the last verse.
Vicit Agnus Noster by Michael Card. Beautiful and — as is par for the course with a Card song — deeply theological.
Mary Did You Know by Mark Lowry, performed here by Kenny Rogers and Wynona Judd. A favorite from childhood.
Welcome to our World Chris Rice. A little off the beaten path, but good.
Canon by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. A family favorite.
Carol of the Bells by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Another family favorite.
Emmanuel God With Us by Amy Grant. The album this song comes from is a family favorite. Ethereal and prophetic.
For Unto Us a Child is Born, from Handel’s Messiah and sung by Amy Grant.
Which brings me to my last linked song, Hallelujah Chorus. You really need to listen to Handel’s Messiah in its fullness, but for many this chorus is synonymous with Christmas and with the entire work. Something to remember about this chorus, though, is that you have to sit two-thirds of the way through the program to get to this triumphant song. Victory always involves waiting. For me this song represents the “now and not yet” reality of the kingdom, and though I cry over the beautiful partial fulfillment of these words, I still cry in longing of the full and final redemption of this world.
Other favorite carols of mine (though I’ve hardly ever met a carol I didn’t like):
- What Child is This? (oh look, another minor song, for which you really must sing all the verses)
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (yes, more minor, and more gospel reminders)
- It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (for a full effect, all the verses are necessary)
- Oh Holy Night (in which I break my minor streak, and in which you must also sing all the verses)
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing (again, all the verses)
- Of course I also love Silent Night and The First Noel — but you have to sing all the verses to those too.
- And finally, people, I love Joy to the World, but for goodness sakes, WAIT to sing it till Christmas morning. You must absolutely must wait for the joy. Otherwise it’s silliness. And when you sing it on Christmas morning, you gotta sing all 4 verses, people, all four verses.
Share your favorite songs in the comments.
BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS AND THE CHURCH YEAR
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. I grew up on this story, and this year I decided to read it aloud to our kids. Plus, we are going to see an international high school production of the play next week!
The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Conway Ireton. I am relatively new to the church year, and this book walked me through it this past year. Kimberlee’s prose is friendly, fresh, and rooted. I continue to rave about several sections, including Easter and the Transfiguration. You really do need the paperback version, though, as it’s an all year by-my-side type of book. Kindle won’t cut it here.
Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite. Walking through the church year with Kimberlee was so good that I knew I wanted to walk through it with someone else (but I’ve got Kimberlee’s book near so I can grab it when I want to). I’d been exposed to Guite’s poems (sonnets, really) and read enough of them on his website that I knew Guite was just the teacher I needed to walk me through the church year this year. The book is a cycle of 70 sonnets for the church year. I was going to wait until the first day of Advent (first day of the church year) to crack open the poems, but I cheated and read the prologue out loud (the only way poetry is supposed to be read of course) last week and then immediately burst into tears. I thought, this is going to be a good year.
The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle. I enjoy Madeleine’s (rambling) prose and plan to read this book alongside Malcolm’s. It’s arranged by section of the church year, just like Kimberlee’s.
Share your favorite church year resources in the comments.
FAVORITE FAMILY CHRISTMAS MOVIES
The Muppet Christmas Carol. A classic, and a family favorite. This story always gets me in the Christmas mood. This year I’m going to go further than the movie and read the actual book. Probably out loud and in a British accent.
The Nativity Story. I don’t care if you think this version is not historically accurate enough, it is emotive and beautiful and true to the spirit of the story.
It’s a Wonderful Life. This is an absolute Hunzinger family favorite. We watched it every Christmas Eve growing up, and waited till our Christmas Eve showing to crack open the big flavored popcorn tin under the tree. But you must watch it in black and white. It’s silly to watch it in color.
Share your favorite Christmas movies in the comments.