5 (+1) Carols for the Holidays- Merry Christmas!

The holiday playlist for our family gathering tomorrow is just about ready, and as I play it through once for fine-tuning, here’s a few of my favorite carols this year. Last year I heard the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” for the first time, after Keith Harkin mentioned it. I also spent a lot of time listening to Irish holiday radio stations, mostly Radio Snowflake, and fell madly in love with the Junkbox Band’s “Wash Our Socks For Christmas”. I had also learned the identity of the Irish lullaby in my favorite holiday youtube video, a gorgeous performance of “Cuireadh Oileanach do Mhuire”. We sang Personent Hodie and and English translation and arrangement of Quanno Nascette Ninno, and another choir in our concert sang “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”. Those 5 songs wound up as my core soundtrack for last year’s holiday season.

This year, most of the songs I’ve been stuck on are ones I already knew. “Coventry Carol”, “A La Nanita Nana” and “Fum, Fum, Fum” have all been part of my holidays before, though I did not know them so well before. I rediscovered the Amy Grant holiday album from my childhood, and reacquainted myself with her song “Little Town”. The lads from Celtic Thunder recorded a few holiday acoustic videos this season- Emmet sang “Mary, did You Know”, Keith sang “River”, and both of these songs have lodged themselves securely in my head for this year’s holiday season soundtrack.

Coventry Carol

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

This beautiful song is among the most gruesome of popular holiday music. The carol refers to the “Massacre of the Innocents”, in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, in order to eliminate a competitor, the newborn King of the Jews. Written sometime in the 16th Century, perhaps originating even earlier, this song is a part of a play from that time.

A La Nanita Nana

According to wikipedia, the carol originated either from Spain in the 18th century or perhaps the song was written by Segundo Cueva Celi,from the city of Loja, Ecuador. It was featured in The Cheetah Girls 2, and as occasionally happens, the film version of this song is actually very good. I know this song from elementary school, where we sang it as a part of one of our holiday concerts. We were not in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, so sadly we sang the verses in English, but it’s a lovely song, bilingual or all-Spanish.

I also found a version on spotify by the group Aliqua, a fantastic 8-part choral ensemble from Vancouver. My readers and internet friends from that area are lucky to live in a place with such a fantastic singing group, and no doubt there will be more from these ladies on my blog in 2013.

Fum, Fum, Fum

This was another song we sang as part of an elementary school Christmas show, though it was my sister’s grade that got to sing it. We nearly got to sing it this year- the Men’s Choir here at CSU had it in their caroling packet, but ended up skipping it, so while I got to sing some great stuff while joining this choir’s caroling, we missed this great lesser-known carol. The wikipedia page for this song has a fantastic side-by-side lyrics section that allows easy comparison between the English, Spanish and Catalan versions of this traditional Catalan carol. It dates from the 16th-17th Century, and “fum, fum, fum” may imitate the noise of a rocking cradle, while the rhythms come from the Sardana, a courtly dance which originated in Catalonia and the Provence.(wikipedia) One version I found amusing this year is a flashmob performance:
On spotify, the version I liked best was one by a Catalan a cappella group Cap Pela, though there are several great versions available of this tune.

Little Town

This is not a traditional carol, though I have know this song since I was a little kid, so I always forget that not everyone knows it. The words are basically “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”, but sung to a more up-tempo tune. If I need a song to get me in the mood for holiday family gatherings, this is at the top of my list.

Mary, Did You Know

Cee Lo Green is not usually on my radar, but I absolutely love his version of this song. I had originally looked for versions of this song on spotify after my ukulele playing choir-buddy was working on an arrangement of it for her ukulele. Then Emmet Cahill’s video came out on the internet. Since Emmet’s version is not on spotify, I had to find a different version for my songlists, thus I ran across Cee Lo’s recording. Emmet’s version can be found in the videos section of the Celtic Thunder webpage.

Mark Lowry wrote the words to “Mary, Did You Know” in 1984 when his pastor asked him to write the program for the living Christmas tree choir presentation. The music was written by Buddy Greene. Michael English was the first recording artist to record and release ‘Mary, Did You Know?” on his debut album titled Michael English which was released on January 1, 1992.(wikipedia) It turned up on country music radio the following year, and has since gained in popularity. So, yes, there are a few great, enduring holiday songs that have been written since I was born.


“River” is a song by Joni Mitchell, from her 1971 album Blue. It was never released as a single by Joni Mitchell, but it has since been recorded by many different artists, as one of the prettiest of the melancholy holiday songs. Most recently, my favorite of these covers is that done by Kieth Harkin for another of Celtic Thunder’s ‘Live Sessions’. I really hope that Keith records this one more formally, so it can join my playlists next year. In the meantime, check out the Celtic Thunder page for his version.

O Holy Night

And, while it’s not on my top 5 list this year, “O Holy Night” is always one of my favorites. It did finally assert itself into my holiday this year, thanks to the lovely Mr. Ryan Kelly. After an unexpectedly long trip home he is finally back in Moy, and took time to record a new Christmas video for us today. He sings more than just the usual first verse, so this video version of this classic song is particularly cool.

“O Holy Night” (“Cantique de Noël”) was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by Placide Cappeau (1808–1877). Cappeau, a wine merchant and poet, had been asked by a parish priest to write a Christmas poem. Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight, editor of Dwight’s Journal of Music, created a singing edition based on Cappeau’s French text in 1855(wikipedia). As with “A La Nanita Nana”, wikipedia offers a nice side-by-side lyrics comparison, between the original French poem, the French lyrics, and the English versions. The version Ryan sang for us today is the John Sullivan Dwight lyrics, the first 2 verses.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

About Ravenmount

Independent science nerd/writer/music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently in Colorado.
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