I have become increasingly less religious as I age so therefore it might be odd for some to hear that I still enjoy a good religious Christmas song. Maybe it’s a recurring side effect of being locked in the Catholic education system for something like 14 years, but I can still appreciate religious Christmas music and I look forward to it every December. Since I’d rather not wait until next December, here are my rankings of 10 religious Christmas songs from worst to best. I came to these conclusions while sitting on a toilet, which should satisfactorily indicate how much thought I put into this.
10. O Holy Night: Putting this joyless hymn in dead last was the easiest part of compiling this list. “O Holy Night” is essentially a more boring version of the spectacularly overrated “Silent Night,” which might qualify it as the most boring song ever written. Were it not for that South Park Christmas special where Cartman has to sing this song while being zapped with a cattle prod, most people my age probably wouldn’t even know it exists.
9. Away in a Manger: Ninth place goes to the song that is most likely to be mumbled by some out of tune seven-year-olds in a Christmas Pageant. This by itself knocks it down a few pegs. It was a staple of the St Isabella School Christmas plays, in which I got to be one of the angles way back when I was in the first grade. I can say with reasonable confidence that my performance was above average, which sadly could not be said for the rest of the heavenly choir I was a part of. Moving on…
8. Silent Night: As I mentioned before, this one is spectacularly overrated and is probably tied with “Sleigh Ride” for the Christmas song I actively avoid trying to listen to every December. There have been good and sometimes even great renditions of it but people really need to stop trying to make the next amazing “Silent Night” performance. The above video is the worst possible version I can find, which I chose because this song richly deserves to be taken down a few pegs.
7. The Little Drummer Boy: That “pa rum pum pum pum” loses me every time. It is the dumbest thing ever put into any Christmas song. Also, unless you’re Chris Adler, playing drums for someone should not be considered a gift. I mostly remember this song for the Rankin/Bass Christmas special it inspired. Here is an exert from the Wikipedia plot summary:
“In the special, the narrator (Greer Garson) tells of a young boy named Aaron, who’s a misanthropic orphan who only finds enjoyment from playing his drum for his friends Samson (a donkey), Babba (a sheep, also known as BaaBaa), and Joshua (a camel); originally, Aaron was a happy child who lived with his parents who gave him his very own drum as a gift. One night, bandits (in an attempt to take the family’s sheep) killed Aaron’s parents and razed his house down, thus making him hate all humanity.”
The moral of the story is to never be good at drums. Or anything at all.
Joy to the World: “Joy to the World” gets lumped in the middle because while there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s nothing really right about it either. That and you really need some harmonized vocals to make this song special, which is simply beyond the ability of most carolers. Fun fact: the people in the above video were in Pitch Perfect 2.
Hark the Herald Angles Sing: I won’t lie to you; pretty much all of the good will I have towards this song is solely because it was the recipient of one of the greatest musical numbers in Peanuts’ history. Enjoy.
The First Noel: This is where shit starts to get real good. I’m about 90 percent positive “The First Noel” was the first religious Christmas song I heard as a lad, so its impact was quite huge on me. In a decently sized church with good acoustics and a choir that knows what they’re doing, this one is something else.
O come, O come, Emmanuel: Another epic, cathedral-worthy Yuletide hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel” can raise some goosebumps (in a good way) if performed well.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: The number two spot goes to the song that you probably think is called “Comfort and Joy.” It’s grossly underrated and always a delight to hear. The lyrics even directly mention Satan! How metal is that?
Do You Hear What I Hear: Nothing about this song should work. I mean, it not only asks you to believe that lambs can talk but that the night wind can also talk and that said lamb can have a coherent conversion with said wind and a human child. Who the hell writes that? But work it does. It’s infectiously joyous and builds to a wonderful crescendo. It’s pretty much the perfect Christmas song, at least in my book. There’s about 6 billion versions of it, but I always prefer a female vocalist, so I embedded the Carrie Underwood rendition.