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10 Best Classical Christmas Songs

Updated on September 13, 2014

Give the gift of heavenly music this Christmas!

My favorite selections of classical Christmas music.

One of the greatest things about Christmas is the music of the season. So many beautiful songs in so many genres.

For a lot of people, Christmas may be the only time of the year that they hear classical music. And the classics embody the season so beautifully. The sounds of ancient music connect us to the spirits of Christmases past, to the people and the places where the holiday has been celebrated for centuries. Giving classical music as a gift is a beautiful way to share the Christmas spirit with someone you love.

Here are my picks for the 10 best classical Christmas songs that I know.

Classical music first came into my life at Christmas time - Thanks, Grandma!

Phonograph photo shared on Wikimedia Commons by Paulnasca
Phonograph photo shared on Wikimedia Commons by Paulnasca

I remember the first time I ever seriously listened to classical music. I was a girl and we were at my grandmother's house. I'm pretty sure it was Christmas.

We listened to her album of Handel's Messiah and the orchestrated version of Claire de Lune. I loved it, and it was the beginning of my lifelong love of the classics.

A few years later I was asking for classical albums as Christmas presents. On Christmas day, the first gift my parents presented to me was obviously in the shape of an LP. "Ooh, I know what this is!", I said. Sure enough, it was an album containing one of the pieces that I had asked for. Hooray!

The next gift they handed me was a medium-sized box. I had no idea what it might be. When I tore off the wrapping paper, I saw that they had gotten 6 more albums that included other musical pieces I had requested, taped the albums together in the shape of a cube, and wrapped it!

You can brighten someone's Christmas the way my Mom and Dad brightened mine with the gift of classical music!

Make someone a gift CD with your own musical selections!

Grab some of this gorgeous holiday music, or some picks of your own, for someone who is special to you. You can burn your chosen selections onto a CD and give them a Christmas gift that is personal, homemade, and unique.

My Top 10 picks for classical Christmas songs.

And the Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed - Handel

"And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it."

This is my favorite chorus from Handel's Messiah. A majestic setting of Isaiah 40:5.

The Messiah recording that I grew up hearing was this one by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (that's the one my grandmother had), and it's still one of my favorites. I know that other people prefer other renditions, but what I like about this one is that you can really tell that they're speaking English!

Coventry Carol - English carol

"Lully, lullay, thou little tiny Child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay."

This haunting, plaintive carol is actually a 16th Century "show tune". It was first sung as part of a medieval play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The song alludes to the Massacre of the Innocents, described in Matthew 2:16-18. It is the song of a mother mourning for her child.

This performance is by the Magdalen College Choir, Oxford.

Ding Dong Merrily on High - Traditional/Woodward

"Ding dong merrily on high,

In heav'n the bells are ringing:

Ding dong! verily the sky

Is riv'n with angel singing.

Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!"

The joyous melody of this carol is a traditional French dance tune, and the lyrics were written by English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward. The long, melodious "Gloria", similar to "Angels We Have Heard on High", is a favorite.

I wish I could find a recorded version of this arrangement that's done by the Aarhus Girls Choir (YouTube link), but I can't so we'll go with the David Willcocks arrangement.

Performed by The Sixteen And Harry Christophers.

I Wonder As I Wander - Niles

"I wonder as I wander out under the sky

How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die

For poor on'ry people like you and like I

I wonder as I wander out under the sky"

John Jacob Niles wrote "I Wonder As I Wander" in 1933, starting with a couple of lines he'd heard a girl singing in Appalachian North Carolina and turning it into this exotic and ancient-sounding Christmas song. It has since been the subject of several different classical choral arrangements, with stunning results.

This performance is by the choir of Trinity Church in New York. The Amazon listing says that the arrangement is by John Rutter, but it is not the same arrangement that I find in my book of Rutter Christmas carols.

In the Bleak Midwinter - Rossetti/Holst

"In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow

In the bleak midwinter, long ago"

The lyrics were written by Christina Rossetti as a poem in the late 1800s. The music is by Gustav Holst and was published in an English hymnal in 1906.

I live in Los Angeles and I've never had a snowy Christmas, but when I hear this carol I feel transported, thousands of miles east and hundreds of years past, to a place where winters were bleak and cold. I think the description of a frozen and fruitless land parallels the bleakness of the state of mankind before the Redeemer came.

Here, the carol is sung by the Choir of Christ's College.

Lullay My Liking - Traditional/Holst

"Lullay my liking, my dear son, my sweeting

Lullay my dear heart, mine own dear darling

I saw a fair maiden sitten and sing

She lulled a little child, a sweete Lording"

The words to this Christmas lullaby date back to the 15th Century. There are two well known musical settings of it -- a more anthemic tune by Richard Terry, and this entrancing a cappella setting by Gustav Holst.

Here it is performed by the Christ Church Cathedral Choir.

Once In Royal David's City - Alexander/Gauntlett

"Once in royal David's city

stood a lowly cattle shed

where a mother laid her baby

in a manger for his bed"

Words by Cecil Alexander in 1848, music by Henry Gauntlett in 1849.

Quoting Wikipedia:

"Since 1919, the King's College Chapel (King's College, Cambridge) has begun its Christmas Eve service, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, with "Once in Royal David's City" as the processional. The first verse is sung by a boy chorister of the Choir of King's Chapel as a solo. The second verse is sung by the choir, and the congregation joins in the third verse."

The arrangement the King's College Choir sings is A. H. Mann.

Sans Day Carol - English carol

"Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk,

And Mary bore Jesus, who was wrapped up in silk."

This traditional carol was first written down in the 19th Century. It's lyrics are similar to "The Holly and the Ivy".

It's best known for the transcendent arrangement done by John Rutter.

This performance is by the Emory University Concert Choir.

Silent Night

"Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright"

For me, it wouldn't be Christmas without hearing the King's College Choir sing Silent Night.

Originally written in German, of course, by Joseph Mohr (lyrics, 1816) and Franz Gruber (music 1818).

Stille, Stille, Stille - Götsch

"Still, still, still,

Weil's Kindlein schlafen will"

I like the German version better than the English. This sweet, lyrical lullaby was written in 1819.

The childlike quality of the song is captured beautifully by the Vienna Boy's Choir.

Explore on your own!

Find some music that someone you love will love!

More Classical Christmas Music

We wish you a Merry Christmas! - Your comments are welcome

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    • Loretta L profile image

      Loretta Livingstone 3 years ago from Chilterns, UK.

      A really interesting lens. I enjoyed it.

    • Tonigr profile image

      Toni Grundstrom 5 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Nice to show some history about the songs you featured. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • profile image

      jewellery-junkies 5 years ago

      all great Christmas songs - my favourite is Silent Night

    • JeremiahStanghini profile image

      JeremiahStanghini 6 years ago

      I'm a sucker for Silent Night... :-)

      With Love and Gratitude,

      Jeremiah

    • JulietJohnson profile image

      JulietJohnson 6 years ago

      Joan, we've talked about this lens before. I love it, as you know, and it is my pleasure, to officially bless it now that I'm the Neighborhood Angel for Classical Music!

    • Lady Gotrocks profile image

      Lady Gotrocks 6 years ago

      Very nice lens!

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 6 years ago

      Music at Christmas is a must!

    • sorana lm profile image

      sorana lm 6 years ago

      Great selection of Christmas song and beautiful lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Awesome choice of classical Christmas songs!

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 6 years ago

      Absolutely great choises. Blessings

      Have a great New Year

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 6 years ago from London

      All these pieces are truly wonderful...Good Choises. I sang in the Messiah once, (nothing fancy, in the alto section!) and it was a total experience. Hearing it always makes me feel like straightening up and standing a few inches taller. Oh , and the coventry carol makes me stop in my tracks every time. Happy Christmas Joan, and thanks for the visit to my Poirot lens.

    • polly72 lm profile image

      polly72 lm 6 years ago

      Merry Christmass to you too!

    • surgimesh lm profile image

      surgimesh lm 6 years ago

      Wow.. I felt nostalgic.. Merry Christmas!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What a nice selection of Christmas classical music.

    • Cal-gal profile image

      Meredith Davies 6 years ago

      Classical music is so beautiful, why do most people only enjoy it at Christmas? You have a wonderful page here and some great gift ideas.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 6 years ago

      Amazing and beautiful choices, off the beaten path

    • MyCrazyAdventures profile image

      Melissa 6 years ago from Albuquerque, NM

      Your love for this music really shines through Joan. Beautiful lens, thanks!

    • Missmerfaery444 profile image

      Missmerfaery444 6 years ago

      Lovely selection of Christmas music! Well done

    • joanhall profile image
      Author

      Joan Hall 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      @giacombs-ramirez: LOL!

    • giacombs-ramirez profile image

      gia combs-ramirez 6 years ago from Montana

      On the fifth lens of jenga, dear Joan gave to me....Teeeeen! classical songs!

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 6 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      What a great list and a beautiful lens. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • profile image

      gravityx9 6 years ago

      Chopin is my fave of classical pianist. great lens! THUMBS UP AND FAVE!

    • juliannegentile profile image

      Julianne Gentile 6 years ago from Cleveland, Ohio, US

      Such a lovely lens!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Wonderful Christmas music.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      I love all kinds of Christmas music. Blessed by a squidangel and added to my December Blessings lens

    • ICanCook profile image

      ICanCook 6 years ago

      I love listening to the Classical Christmas Music here. Thank you for sharing them with us.

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 6 years ago from USA

      Merry Christmas!

    • GreenTeaTime profile image

      GreenTeaTime 6 years ago

      How many memories!

    • profile image

      gods_grace_notes 6 years ago

      What a great list... Ding, Dong Merrily On High is a personal favorite!

    • PaulaMorgan profile image

      Paula Morgan 6 years ago from Sydney Australia

      Love the old skool record player :-)

    • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image

      ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

      Great addition to the Jenga! I'm really getting into the Christmas spirit now!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      Fabulous! A wonderful list of Christmas music!

    • ILoveLegosToo profile image

      Tom Fattes 6 years ago from Naperville, IL

      Love the list.

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 6 years ago from Western Mass

      wonderful list. happy holidays!

    • Christene-S profile image

      Christene-S 6 years ago

      Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

    • DecoratingEvents profile image

      DecoratingEvents 6 years ago

      Fabulous selections Joan. You know your music!

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 6 years ago

      Wonderful selections, especially helpful for someone like me who doesn't know much about Classical music, but has fans on my gift list! :)

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 6 years ago

      A beautiful lens about beautiful Christmas music!

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 6 years ago

      Love your choices! I love "In the Bleak Midwinter" but a version with the lyrics, from one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums by Dan Fogelberg (The First Christmas Morning).

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 6 years ago from Royalton

      You picked my favorite classical Christmas Songs. It must have been hard to limited it to only 10.

    • Not-Pop profile image

      Not-Pop 6 years ago

      These are some beautiful choices and wonderfully displayed. Thanks for the recommendations! I lensrolled this to my Christmas Playlist and Holiday Music Collection lenses.

    • kerbev profile image

      kab 6 years ago from Upstate, NY

      I love "I Wonder As I Wander". My list would also include "I Saw Three Ships" which is so under-used at Christmas.

    • capriliz lm profile image

      capriliz lm 6 years ago

      Love your choices for the Christmas music list.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 6 years ago from Arkansas USA

      What a wonderful page of music! I love your selections, as well as your presentation. Great job on completing your Jenga Challenge assignment!

    • ReemaSharma1 profile image

      ReemaSharma1 6 years ago

      Great lens Joan

      I really loved it

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 6 years ago

      I had forgotten about the Vienna boys choir if you can believe that. Never knew about some of these carols. Merry Xmas. Blessed by an Angel.

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 6 years ago

      Joan, another wonderful music lens from you. Loved your choices! The Jenga tower is growing.