42 Religious Christmas Songs for Your Holiday Playlist
Jesus Is the Reason for the Season: Make a Playlist to Celebrate
Between the tinsel and festive gift wrap, the Christmas cookies and the mistletoe, it's all too easy during the busy holiday season to become distracted by all that is bright and shiny. It's too easy to forget the purpose of Christmas.
Even those among us who are spiritual but not religious probably have fond memories of once attending Christmas church services or participating in a church play or performance as a child. (My younger brother was once a reluctant wise man.)
Celebrate the reason for the season with a playlist of favorite religious Christmas songs by popular pop, rock, country, R&B, and contemporary Christian artists. We have a long list of good ones to start you out.
Be honest. What's your favorite part of Christmas?
1. "Noel" by Chris Tomlin (featuring Lauren Daigle)
This contemporary Christian Christmas song from 2015 celebrates the birth of Jesus. It was written by Chris Tomlin and performed by Lauren Daigle, whose voice is simply inspired. An unsuccessful American Idol contestant in 2010 and 2012, she became a popular Grammy-nominated Christian artist within five years. Listen to this song and you'll understand why.
2. "Away in a Manger" by Martina McBride
Country singer Martina McBride was introduced at a CMT Awards ceremony as “one of the greatest voices ever created by God.” Although this 1998 Christmas carol doesn't showcase her range, she performs it exquisitely.
"Away in a Manger" was first published in the late 1800s throughout the English-speaking world and commonly misattributed to German theologian Martin Luther. It is now believed to be entirely American in origin, however.
3. "Mary's Boy Child" by Boney M
Here's another celebration of the birth of Christ which set the world aglow and made heaven's angels sing. This Christmas song is non-traditional, an upbeat 1981 calypso tune sung by German group Boney M. The group was internationally popular during the disco era.
4. "Angels We Have Heard on High" by Pentatonix
In this Christmas carol, the angels exclaim, "Glory to God in the highest." They gleefully celebrate the newborn King with sweet melodies that exalt the momentous event.
Derived from a French song, this Christmas favorite has been recorded by artists as diverse as REO Speedwagon, The Carpenters, and Christina Aguilera so you definitely have your pick of singers. The a capella group Pentatonix 2012 offers a laudable version.
5. "O Holy Night" by Josh Groban
Josh Groban delivers a masterful performance in his 2002 version of this traditional Christmas carol. It paints the setting for the night of the Savior's birth, describing the manger scene, the wise men, and the hope that Jesus brought to the world.
Especially in these troubled times, it is meaningful to turn to the message of redemption offered in this song:
Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
6. "The First Noel" by Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood's 2007 cover of this simple, joyous Christmas carol lends a light, airy quality to it. The song commemorates the holy birth, describing with wonder the bright Star of Bethlehem.
7. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Barenaked Ladies (featuring Sarah McLachlan)
How ironic that a group named "Barenaked Ladies" can deliver such a memorable performance of this Christmas song, but it absolutely works, particularly with the angelic vocals offered by Sarah McLachlan. If you've never listened to their 2004 rendition, stop what you're doing and give it a try. Together they have transformed one of the oldest Christmas carols (dating to the 16th century or before) into one that fits seamlessly with contemporary culture.
8. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" by Amy Grant
She may not have the high flying voice of Mariah Carey, but the versatile pop, Christian, country, and pop artist Amy Grant does a lovely job in her 1983 version of this hymn. Dating back to the 1700s, the Christmas song was originally slow and solemn. It also contained several now-deleted verses about Jesus redeeming the entire environment rather than focusing on humanity alone. (I wish they had retained those verses.)
9. "Silent Night" by Kelly Clarkson (featuring Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire)
Listening to this Christmas song, one can almost imagine being in the hushed presence of the newborn Savior. The song highlights the tranquility of the manger setting as the blessed infant is urged to "sleep in heavenly peace."
The 2013 rendition by original American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, backed up by two divas of country music, is powerful. "Silent Night" is so culturally significant to Christianity that it was named by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage in 2011.
10. "O Come All Ye Faithful" by Anne Murray
This Christmas hymn is a birth announcement that beckons the faithful to Bethlehem to celebrate the arrival of the newborn King. The richly textured voice of Canadian pop and country singer Anne Murray provides a beautiful 1988 cover of this traditional tune.
11. "The Christmas Shoes" by NewSong
Some might call this original Christian song from 2000 sappy although others may consider it bittersweet and touching. Told from the perspective of a bystander, the Christmas song recounts the tale of a poor little boy who seeks to buy his dying mother a pair of shoes she had been wanting. As he attempts to make his purchase, the child comes up short, but the stranger helps him out so that the boy's mother can have the pair of shoes she wanted in case she met Jesus that night.
12 Ideas for Keeping the Christ in Christmas
1. Set up a Nativity scene in a prominent area of your home. As a family, discuss what Mary, Joseph, the wise men, innkeepers who had no room, and others must have been thinking or feeling.
2. Invite someone who would otherwise be alone to spend Christmas dinner with you. Or go to them, taking them dinner (e.g., nursing home resident, shut-in).
3. Create a gratitude or blessings chain. From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, have each family member secretly write one thing they are thankful for on a slip of brightly colored paper. Assign one color for each family member. Create a paper chain, with the writing facing inwards. As a part of your Christmas Eve or Christmas Day celebration, read aloud each thought of gratitude or blessing.
4. Educate your children about the symbols of Christmas and what they mean.
5. Attach a synopsis of the legend of the candy cane to individual candy canes. Distribute to friends as well as strangers.
6. Listen to religious Christmas songs. If you don't know all the words, learn them. Share a playlist with someone you care about.
7. Attend midnight mass/Christmas Eve services or a religious Christmas performance.
8. Give to those in need. Bake homemade dog biscuits for the local animal shelter or start a food and toy drive for homeless animals. Donate toys to a battered women's shetler or toiletries and blankets to a homeless shelter.
9. Anonymously give a single mother a gift card to a supermarket, gas station, or retailer like Walmart or Target. Include a note of inspiration and encouragement.
10. Select nativity books for children and read them as a family.
11. Take current events or dilemmas from life and discuss with your family, "What would Jesus do?" Give it a Christmas spin by selecting holiday scenarios.
12. Collect flat stones and paint them solid red or green. Then paint (or ModPodge) words of faith and inspiration. Leave them in random public places for strangers to find (e.g., at the ATM machine, on restaurant tables).
12. "Hallelujah (Light Has Come)" by BarlowGirl
This all-female Christian rock group memorializes the birth Christ in this 2008 Christmas song:
Hallelujah! We've been found
A child is born to save us now
Jesus, Hallelujah light has come
A savior set us free.
13. "Go Tell It on the Mountain" by Dolly Parton
Backed up by a choir, country singer Dolly Parton delivers a rousing performance in the 1990 release of this traditional African American spiritual describing the nativity scene. In a celebratory manner, the song encourages the listener to spread the good news of the Savior's birth.
14. "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)" by Amy Grant
With its Celtic influences, this 1992 Christian song doubles as a Christmas tune, too. It details the Virgin Mary's thoughts and feelings as she faces impending birth. She is cold, weary, frightened, and confused. Wondering if she is up to the challenge, she asks God for help as the future unfolds.
15. "Mary, Did You Know?" by CeeLo Green
A modern Christmas classic, this tune addresses Mary and asks whether she foresaw that her son would be the Redeemer of mankind. Although recorded by various country, pop, and Contemporary Christian artists, I like this 2012 R&B version because it perfectly showcases CeeLo Green's versatility as an artist. The tune was featured on the 2014 soundtrack for the movie, "Son of God."
16. "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" by Norah Jones
This traditional Christmas carol is different in that it doesn't focus on the nativity but rather on war and peace. Singing against the background of a conflicted and pained world, the angels spread their wings and strum their harps. They call for peace and goodwill to all. Norah Jones' 2012 jazz-influenced rendition of this Christmas song is simply dazzling.
17. "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" by Sarah McLachlan
This popular Christmas carol concentrates on a description of the setting in which Jesus was born—Bethlethem and its dark, still streets contrasted against the light of the guiding star that announces the birth of Christ. In her 2006 verion, Sarah McLachlan's voice is so heavenly it simply floats, perfectly capturing the emotion of the setting she describes.
18. "Do You Hear What I Hear?" by Whitney Houston
No one could match the heavenly voice of Whitney Houston when she was in her prime. This 1995 release by the late pop diva lends an impressive vocal range to the 1962 Christmas song. It was written about the threat of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis and features a little lamb telling a little shepherd boy to pray for peace.
19. "I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day" by Casting Crowns
This Christmas song is based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the era of the American Civil War. Wadsworth endured personal heartbreaks, including a house fire that left him severely burned and killed his beloved wife. He was also left crestfallen by his son's sudden enlistment in the war and subsequent battle wounding.
The song initially echoes the poet's personal despair: "For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men." However, it then takes a more joyous turn with the rediscovery of hope:
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.
The 2008 rendition of this song by contemporary Christian group Casting Crowns is splendid, particularly with a children's choir as backup.
Which do you prefer to use?
20. "A Baby Changes Everything" by Faith Hill
A contemporary Christmas song that was written by the singer, this 2008 religious holiday song concentrates on Mary's perspective. The opening stanzas describe an unwed
Teenage girl, much too young
Unprepared for what's to come.
It isn't until the middle of the song that the listener learns that the young mother-to-be is actually Mary. With the birth of the newborn King, she appreciates that a baby changes everything.
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