On Saturdays, I usually make pancakes for family breakfast. (If you have the misfortune to normally make pancakes from a mix, try switching to doing it from scratch -- it only takes five minutes longer and is infinitely better.) A couple weeks back, I must confess, I pulled up iTunes and put the Christmas category on shuffle. Yes, it wasn't even Advent yet, and I had Christmas music on. I am part of the problem. For all of the "time of waiting", I for one never make much of an effort to keep the Christmas music off until the twelve days themselves.
However, I've often found that when I say, "Christmas Music" I'm not talking about what others are talking about. Last year when I mentioned liking "traditional carols" to a co-worker, she replied: "Yeah, I like some of the newer stuff, but those Perry Como and Bing Crosby songs are really good too."
Ummm... Not so much.
So here's a sampling of some of the Darwin Christmas favorites.
Unfortunately, one of my favorite Christmas CDs is currently out of print so far as I can tell, it's called A Victorian Christmas and features the only version of Jingle Bells (as it calls it "The One Horse Open Sleigh") that I've ever liked. It looks like there might be some used copies here, but as it's been OP for a while, I can't swear they're categorized correctly. Also great on this CD is "I Saw Three Ships", "The Seven Joys of Mary" and the "Wassail Song".
Another favorite that I grew up with was: Sing We Noel: Christmas Music from England & Early America Especially good on this one are "Nowel, Owt of Your Slepe", "Nova, Nova; Aue fitt ex Eva", "While Shepherds Watched" and "Lullay, Thou Tiny Little Child".
A lot of my early Christmas memories center around going to the annual Christmas Star show at Griffith Observatory, where my father was a planetarium lecturer. Several of Eugene Ormandy's exuberant orchestrations of Christmas carols were on the soundtrack there year after year, which eventually led me to track down and buy a couple of Ormandy Christmas CD's. Joy to the World features a great "Carol of the Bells" and Greatest Christmas Hits of the Philadelphia Orchestra has a splendid "We Three Kings". Between the two, there are also great versions of pretty much all the standards, some strictly orchestral, some orchestral with chorus. When it comes to no-hold-barred full orchesta christmas music, you don't get much better than Ormandy's stuff.
Speaking of great versions of standard carols, another great album is Christmas Star, Carols for the Christmas Season by the Cambridge Singers. This is simply as good as it gets for most traditional carols that you want to hear sung by a large corale, though the english voices can get a bit odd when they attempt something like "Go, Tell it on the Mountain". Still, this is great for "Silent Night", "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" or "Joy to the World".
Getting back into the carols which are no longer heard, two great collections of historical Christmas music are:A Baroque Christmas, by the New York Ensemble for Early Music and A Medieval Christmas, by the Boston Camerata The latter opens with a medieval Jewish setting of Isaiah's prophesy of the coming messiah in Hebrew, and then moves through a series of alternating readings and medieval music (chant, polyphany, and accompanied styles not so often found in mass settings, but common in popular music from the time).