The Christmas season is a busy one that often stresses a lot of people out. Between getting the right gifts for your friends and family. And then even just figuring out what’s for dinner…. It can be easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and forget what Christmas is all about. I feel the same way. With all the activities that we have going on, I find that I just lose track of time.
Gospel Christmas music has a calming nature. I feel that it can bring us back from the edge and help us truly enjoy the holiday season.
Gospel music brings out the spiritual element of Christmas, but you don’t have to be a Christian to fully appreciate it. Whether Christmas is a religious holiday for you or a time to gather around the tree with the ones you love, gospel Christmas songs are a great way to get into the holiday spirit and connect with what Christmas is all about.
Keep reading to discover the top gospel Christmas songs that just fill your hearts. Some of them haven even kept us grounded over a century, as well as some popular recordings by some well-known artists.
The History of Gospel Christmas Songs
With Christmas originating as a Christian holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus, most Christmas gospel songs have their roots in Christianity.So, many of them are at least inspired by, if not full renditions of, gospel or psalm verses from the Bible. Most gospel Christmas songs date back to at least the 19th century. And many being written in the 20th century and others being so old that we’re unable to fully trace their origins.
In short, Christmas gospel songs are essentially meant to be played and sung in a church setting.. Unlike other genres of Christmas music and more modern tunes, gospel Christmas music tends to focus on Christianity and that’s okay. They do feel a bit more serious and less fun but that’s okay! Every song, emotion and feeling at Christmas has it’s place.
Beyond the theme of religion, there are several common themes that you’ll find in Christmas gospel songs. Many are focused on retelling the story of the birth of Jesus and different aspects of the event. Whether that be Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, Jesus in the manger, or the visit of the three wise men.
Another common theme in these songs is joy and happiness. Christmas is a season that brings joy to many households, and it’s a time to celebrate everything we have. Naturally, many of these Christmas songs have a happy tone to them. Even if the song is more serious, it’s meant to give hope and inspire you to truly understand what Christmas is all about.
The Top Gospel Christmas Songs
There are SO MANY awesome gospel Christmas songs. It’s so hard for me to remember them all, so thanks Google :). Luckily, we’ve compiled some of the best and most popular gospel songs for Christmas so that you can load up your soulful playlist. And if you’re like me – you might pull it out in July sometimes too ;).
O Holy Night
First on our list of the best gospel Christmas songs is “O Holy Night.” Did you know? This was originally written in French in 1843 and inspired by a French poem! This is one of the most recognizable and loved Christmas gospel songs of all time.
This classic Christmas tune has been sung and recorded by the likes of Nat King Cole and Mahalia Jackson. Both have beautiful and popular versions of this song. With so many versions of this gospel Christmas song, it’s difficult to choose just one.
Top recording: From the Queen of Christmas herself, Mariah Carey’s 1994 version of her wildly successful Merry Christmas album. She may not be known as a gospel singer, but she has the vocals that are needed to do this song justice.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Next on our list, we have “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
“O Little Town of Bethlehem ” is a very popular gospel Christmas carol that dates back to 1868. It’s sung both in North America and Europe, but to different tunes. It’s been included in several Christmas albums by modern artists and is one of the most familiar Christmas carols.
Top recording: Elvis Presley’s 1957 version. Although known as the King of Rock, Elvis was known to dabble in several different genres. Coming from a religious background, gospel is no doubt close to Elvis’ roots. A close second is Nat King Cole’s classic rendition of this song.
Next up on the list of the best gospel Christmas songs is a favorite of many, “Silent Night.”
Everyone knows the first verse of this gospel Christmas song, and it’s one of the most recognizable Christmas hymns of all time. Written and composed in 1818, this song was actually deemed an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. This song has been sung by hundreds if not thousands of artists. It’s also featured in almost any Christmas film that has a church scene.
Top recording: Nat King Cole’s 1960s version. As mentioned, Nat King Cole has many recordings of Christmas songs, but this has to be one of my favorites. With so many versions of “Silent Night” to choose from, it isn’t an easy decision. Honestly though, her soft baritone voice really brings the soul into this song. That being said, Bing Crosby has what is arguably the most popular and successful version of this Christmas hymn, having sold over 10 million copies.
Joy to the World
Next on our list, we have “Joy to the World.” Yes, of course this would be on my list!
Written in 1719, this is one of the oldest gospel songs on our list. The lyrics of this song are an interpretation of Psalm 98, and it has the reputation of being the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. The lyrics of this song are simple and the message is joyous, which makes it easy to understand why it’s had such a lasting effect on the holiday season.
Top recording: Anne Murray’s 1981 version. Although not the most gospel-sounding version of this song, Anne Murray’s husky yet soothing voice is exactly what this song needs.
“Ave Maria” isn’t necessarily a gospel Christmas song, nor is its origins even musical. The classic “Ave Maria ” song that you’re thinking of is actually a musical rendition of “Hail Mary.” It’s one of the most well-known prayers to the Virgin Mary, in Latin. This traditional prayer has been set to music numerous times, both in the church and in recordings.
What’s more, being a traditional prayer, “Ave Maria” isn’t necessarily a Christmas song, but a song used for numerous occasions. Nonetheless, you’ll hear this song most often during the holiday season, and it’s featured on multiple Christmas albums.
Top recording: Walt Disney’s version in the film Fantasia (1940). Sung by a mixed choir, this version of the famous song is a beautiful rendition that brings tears to your eyes while you watch the movie. If you’re looking for a modern version that’s closer to the gospel sound, check out Beyonce’s song, “Ave Maria.” Beyonce’s version is probably my favorite version of this song. I just really love her voice for it.
Do You Hear What I Hear
The next song on our list of the best gospel Christmas songs is “Do You Hear What I Hear.”
Written in 1962, this is one of the more modern gospel Christmas songs on this list. It has a darker past than many may realize, being written as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Despite its origins, Bing Crosby made this song into a Christmas hit, and it has endured for years as one of the best Christmas tunes.
Top recording: Whitney Houston version from A Very Special Christmas, 1987. Whitney Houston can do no wrong, but she raised this song to a new level and added a stronger gospel sound to it. Can I get an amen? AMENNNN!
The Little Drummer Boy
The last song on our list of the best gospel Christmas songs is “The Little Drummer Boy.”
Written in 1941 and recorded in 1951 by the Trapp Family, this Christmas song gained the most popularity after a 1958 release. It has since been recorded and released by several different artists, including Pentatonix and Justin Bieber.
Top recording: Bing Crosby and David Bowie in 1977. Although a bit of an unusual pairing, these two made it work and their version climbed to No. 3 on the UK chart. If you haven’t heard it, check out this clip of the two late greats performing the song for Crosby’s last Christmas special.
Conclusion: Gospel Christmas Music is the Foundation of Christmas
Gospel Christmas music serves to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. Even if you aren’t religious, you can still appreciate the elaborate arrangements and strong vocals that many of these songs boast.
What’s more, many modern artists have recorded renditions of these popular gospel Christmas songs. It really does make it easy to find a version that you love.
If gospel really isn’t your genre of choice, check out these top Christmas rock songs to get you on your feet this holiday season.
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