The genre of Christmas music is vast. In fact, I am pretty certain that the number of holiday songs ever written would stretch all the way to infinity, if you lined them up next to each other. And within that genre are other vast genres. When you type in "Christmas music" on Pandora radio, it will ask you what kind. R&B/Pop Holiday? Classical Christmas? Peaceful holiday? Christmas blues? Country Christmas? Folk holidays? Jazz holidays? Rockin' holidays? Or Swingin' Christmas? (Umm...I really had to wrestle with that selection.)
Musicians have been creating Christmas music for, I guess, 2,010 years. Contemporary musicians, if they are more than one-hit wonders, are expected to release a Christmas album at some point. It's just what you do. No other musical genre exists that is only to be consumed for one month out of the year. We have to cram every bit of our Christmas listening into December (or the end of November, for those who just cannot wait.)
So this Christmas, I have contemplated which Christmas song, out of all the ones ever written, is the best. Above all others. It's a tough challenge, especially for someone like me who hates to be asked to pick a favorite movie, favorite song, favorite singer, favorite food of all time. When confronted with those questions every now and then, I usually just wring my hands and think, oh that's a good one...but what about?....how can I pick that one over that one?...I can only pick one? Really?...I know there's one I'm forgetting... And I end up having to list several.
Not so, for this Christmas challenge to myself. One song. And only one. And not only the title, I also must explain why I selected that song as the winner, put it out here on this blog, and be prepared to face my peanut gallery.
Maybe I should do this like the competitive singing shows we love.
And now...the ones who have NOT been chosen to go on to the next round: Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer...I'm sorry, but you have not made the cut! Jingle Bell Rock...you've worn out your welcome! Sit down! I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas...nope, it's definitely not you! Thanks for playing! O Holy Night, you were almost it. I stand up and give you the slow, deliberate Randy Jackson clap. Your drama and beauty have my utmost respect. Sometimes second place is good...even fourth or fifth. Just ask Chris Daughtry.
But ladies and gentlemen, in all seriousness, the best Christmas song of all time is...wait for it...
*boom! confetti falls* The crowd sits there in shock because that was all somehow anticlimactic. Silent Night? Are you sure that's the winner? But...but...it's slow! The melody is too...simple! It's not glittery enough. Not big enough. Not showy enough!
Neither was the stable.
The judges stand by their decision. Silent Night is the greatest Christmas song ever written. No other song captures the essence of Christmas like it does. It seems like an ancient classic, written in 1818. But that is still 1,818 years after the night Christ was born. Back then, Joseph Mohr, an assistant pastor in Austria, asked his friend Franz Gruber to set to music the words to a poem he had written for Christmas Eve midnight mass. They sang it as a duet, accompanied by a choir and a guitar. The idea that people all over the world would still be singing it hundreds of years later would have been laughable to them.
This is a boys' choir singing it as it was written, "Stille Nacht." Have a listen, please.
The music those two men created in 1818 is a soundtrack for the scene that night in Bethlehem. The mother and the child. The shepherds quaking at the sight of the angels. Heavenly hosts singing Alleluia. Jesus, Lord at thy birth. The melody - tender and mild, gentle, humble. Lyrics that evoke reverence, stillness, and wonder. When I sing it, holding a candle on Christmas Eve, then I am able to be there, too, at the manger, witnessing the greatest moment in history...when a baby was born into the most humble of circumstances, a baby who would one day save the world.
It is the lullaby that allows one to enter in, alongside the shepherds and the animals, welcoming the Lord. Peace has quietly come to the earth on a silent night. Heavenly peace between God and mankind. Winter Wonderland and Silver Bells are happy and fun, but truly, there is no better piece of Christmas music than this one. There is no more beautiful a song to sing than one that speaks of the peace that all of mankind longs for...and finds unexpectedly, illogically even, in a baby.
Shhhhhh. Christ the Savior is born.