I'm not religious, but my three favorite Christmas songs are "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent", "Coventry Carol", and the Ralph Vaughn Williams "Greensleeves". I actually performed the Vaughn Williams in harp several years ago, and it was such an amazing experience that song will always be a favorite of mine.
We go caroling Christmas Eve every year. When I was a kid (and my dad and his siblings before him) Santa came while we were out.
I love the traditional carols. Silent Night was my childhood favorite. Up on the Housetop, Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing. We sang Joy to the World at my aunt's funeral - she loved Christmas and that was her favorite song. Very odd choice for a funeral but it worked. And now I can't hear that without thinking of her.
I actually work for a caroling company and get hired out at the beginning of November until beginning of January, and I have sung about every secular and sacred holiday song under the sun at this point. I truly cannot stand Little Drummer Boy (it is boring to sing and boring to listen to, in my opinion). The other day a man asked our group if we could sing 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," and I replied that unfortunately we didn't have that song on hand (which was true) and did he have another request, he snarled at me and asked who the heck didn't know "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." Apparently that is now standard Christmas rep? I missed that memo.
I love "es ist ein Ros entsprungen" (Lo how a rose e'er blooming) and "still, still, still."
I would say I love "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion" from Messiah, but at the moment the runs are driving me batty, and I keep having dreams that I'm practicing them, but then I worry they're not correct, so there I am at a piano at 3AM checking the score. ACK.
also, for any anglophiles out there, Britten's Ceremony of Carols remains one of my fav works ever. That's the one time I wish I still sounded like a boy soprano because I was a soloist for that for years at church.
I think I love that because of It's a Wonderful Life. I haven't even seen the Christmas thread movie, but there it is.
'Every man on that transport died because Harry wasn't there to save them because you weren't there to save Harry. You see, youv'e really had a wonderful life."
And now back to regular programming.
I also love Silent Night, especially by Manheim Steamroller. And O Holy Night by anyone with a good vouce. Perry Como anyone? And for fun, I like Holly Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives, and The one Bobby Helms sings. I am blanking on the name....
Cantique de Noel (more commonly known as O Holy Night. But it had better be sung by a REALLY top-notch soloist who does not use it to showcase their own vocal signatures (hello screaming Mariah, gurgling Celine, and windbaggy Josh Groban). One of the best versions I ever heard, no kidding, was sung by Robert Guillaume on a "Benson" Christmas special!
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is probably my most favorite contemporary one no matter who sings it. I don't even think Judy Garland's version is the best, but it's very good..
I cannot get past having heard what the original lyrics were going to be (it's from "Meet Me In St. Louis". For context, it's from a low point in the movie when they think they'll be moving away and whatshername, Judy Garland's character, sings it to little sister Margaret O'Brien.) The original song went "Have yourself a merry little Christmas/it may be your last/next year we may all be living in the past..." Apparently Garland went to the writers and said, "I can't sing her THIS! People will think I'm a monster!"
Likewise I can't get around that Handel's Messiah is meant for Easter, not Christmas (the Hallelujah Chorus is about Christ rising from the dead.)
My favorite overall is one that does NOT get a lot of play-The Sans Day Carol. ("The first tree in the greenwood/it was the holly.") Also love "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (or Harold Angel, if you're Sally Brown), "Adeste Fidelis), "Joy To the World", "In Dulce Jublio", "Gaudete", "Good King Wenceslas", "The Holly and the Ivy", "I Saw Three Ships", "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella".
Contemporary/modern written...My favorite is probably a pretty obscure one except to Muppet fans, "It's In Every One Of Us" (John Denver sings it in "John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together", which is an AWESOME special, btw.) I also like "God Bless Us Every One", which was written for the 1984 "A Christmas Carol" with George C. Scott as Scrooge.
And unfortunately, I work in a restaurant that plays background music. At first, I was relieved that we started holiday music because I was starting to think there are Satanic messages in Frank Sinatra's Duets album. Now if I hear "The Christmas Song", "Here Comes Santa Claus", "I'll Be Home For Christmas", or "Baby It's Cold Outside" one more time I may do something violent. Over and over and over and over...and the owner is using Pandora! It should be picking more than the same few songs in different covers! But it doesn't!
Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" (their Carol of the Bells version). I love that song, gives me chills every time I hear it.
TSO comes to this area almost every year, next year I want to get tickets because hearing that live would be freaking amazing.