Christmas Carols I Might Not Know
November 29, 2022 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Yes, it’s another Christmas music question!y tastes in Christmas music tend toward traditional carols—think God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Riu Riu Chiu; Ukrainian Bell Carol—and I’m hoping to add some lesser-known ones to my playlist this year. What are your favorite lesser-known traditional carols (or lesser-known arrangements of popular carols) available on Spotify? Please go by as broad a definition of “carol” as you like, and arrangements themselves do not have to be traditional!

For anyone who knows the Christmas Revels, another way of asking this question is “what is a song you think the Revels should do?”

I am also open to modern compositions done in a style that says “traditional carol” to you.

I’m happy to look beyond Christmas to other December/winter themed songs.
posted by capricorn to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I love Good King Wenceslas with a simple lower harmony line added.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen & We Three Kings, the way the Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLaughlin do it. Here's another version without Sarah.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:26 AM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella (recording with a full choir, you may be able to find something more stripped down with a single singer)

Coventry Carol
posted by LionIndex at 9:42 AM on November 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

For arrangements of more well-known carols

O Come, O Come Emmanuel by Belle and Sebastian

Auld Lang Syne by El Perro del Mar

For lesser-known carols, the Sixteen have some on their Complete carols album. Their version of the Holly & the Ivy is my favorite of any carol.
posted by microscopiclifeform at 9:51 AM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

For anyone who knows the Christmas Revels, another way of asking this question is “what is a song you think the Revels should do?”
Cos'è uno by Riccardo Tesi - a kind of Italian "Partridge in a Pair Tree" would be my suggestion in this category.
posted by rongorongo at 10:05 AM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

A carol I've come to love in recent years is In The Bleak Midwinter. (I don't use Spotify, so that's a YouTube link. ) The lyrics is by Christina Rossetti, and the music is by Gustav Holst.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:14 AM on November 29, 2022 [9 favorites]

Not on Spotify: pinkstainlesstail, Jingle Rock Bell

I don't know if I can link through cuz no spotify acct but these all seem to be on spotify:

The Roches, Winter Wonderland (the whole album We Three Kings is good)

Boston Camerata, Pretty Home (off American Christmas)

Boston Camerata, Convidando Esta' La Noche (not technically Christmas but I choose to think of it that way)

Mel Torme, Good King Wenceslas

Boston Camerata, Tura Lura Lura

Custer LaRue, Jesus Born in Beth'ny (not strictly Christmas)

Waverly Consort, Exultation

Bad Religion, Hark the Herald or O Come Emmanuel
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:17 AM on November 29, 2022

Shout for Joy! I didn't love this collection immediately, but it has become a favorite. A coworker played it in the bookstore where we worked, and I eventually tracked it down and bought it.

Children, Go Where I Send Thee
Angels From the Realms of Glory
Mary's Boy Child, Harry Belafonte
Gaudete, the Steeleye Span version
Once in Royal David's City
In the Bleak Midwinter

I love this, thank you.
posted by theora55 at 10:17 AM on November 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

When I was a kid, we had a winter Revels and the 8th grade chorus traditionally sang Here Comes the Sun. I'm not really a Beatles fan (SORRY EVERYONE) but you really can't beat it.

Another unrelated song -- the band Low has a song called Just Like Christmas which is about community and newness and is beautiful. It is, however, a Christmas song with Christmas in the title and in the refrain.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:20 AM on November 29, 2022

Sufjan Steven's Christmas records have traditional and less traditional arrangements of carols (along with original songs.)

I like "I Saw Three Ships."
posted by sevenless at 10:25 AM on November 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

Shchedryk is Ukrainian carol about a swallow flying into a house to bring wealth in the following spring. Pink Martini's version. (yes, you know it already).
Couple of alternative versions of songs already mentioned: Harold Darke's version of In the Bleak Midwinter
Auld Lang Syne - original version.
posted by rongorongo at 10:27 AM on November 29, 2022

My friend has a pretty huge Christmas playlist, sorry, not Spotify. Who knew Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence was so pretty?
And I forgot to mention Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming
and At The Closing of the Year, from Toys, a lovely and weird movie with a terrific cast.
posted by theora55 at 10:39 AM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

My group is doing E la don don (not us, just a random YT link) this year, which I hadn't heard before.
posted by brentajones at 10:43 AM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

An album I grew up with was Winter's Coming Home which, since it is by the monks of Weston Priory, is very religious and even includes a gospel reading and litany. The songs are amazing and for me do everything the best Christmas carols do: provide a sense of light in the darkness and cold. Especial favourites are the title track, Shepherds and Kings, and the last one, A child is born.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:11 AM on November 29, 2022

Carol of the Children (Rutter)
Ev'ry star shall sing a carol (Carter)
The Holly and the Ivy (Gardner)
Ceremony of Carols (Britten)
In the bleak midwinter (Darke)
Coventry Carol (trad)
O Little town of Bethlehem (trad arr Vaughan Williams)

There's a nice version of It came upon a midnight clear by Sixpence None the Richer, which was used on Grey's Anatomy, but I can't find it on Spotify. Here's a YT link.
posted by plonkee at 11:20 AM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

Wexford Carol aka Carúl Inis Córthaidh also on Spotify
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:37 AM on November 29, 2022

I don't know if this is on Spotify, but the beautiful, haunting Finnish carol, Sparrow on Christmas Morning (Varpunen Jouluaamuna) is wonderful.
posted by essexjan at 11:51 AM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also In the Bleak Midwinter, but by The Crash Test Dummies
posted by poppunkcat at 11:56 AM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've long thought In dulci jubilo ("O, that we were there") is underrated, probably because the lines in Latin are challenging for English speakers.
posted by praemunire at 12:09 PM on November 29, 2022

Chariots by John Kirkpatrick, also called the Carol of the Alliterations, is delightful.
posted by octothorp at 12:21 PM on November 29, 2022

Come And I Will Sing You is a carol that is more popular in Newfoundland, and it's a progressive-list song like "The Twelve Days of Christmas". That previous link is how I heard Great Big Sea do it first, as a faster-paced a capella arrangement; they also did a slightly slower-paced cover with instrumentation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:32 PM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Cherry Tree Carol is my favorite deep cut not already mentioned above. The theology is deeply weird, which is A+ caroling, in my book.

My family are very fond of The Dream Isaiah Saw, which has an epic orchestral accompaniment.
posted by DebetEsse at 12:46 PM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

This is my favorite type of Christmas music, and this is the one I’ve had on repeat this year: People, Look East
posted by tinymojo at 1:19 PM on November 29, 2022

Ooh, sorry, missed the Spotify request. Here it is: People Look East
posted by tinymojo at 1:24 PM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Mary's Boy Child, Harry Belafonte

Or Boney M's version
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:53 PM on November 29, 2022

I can't find any of them on Spotify, but there are regional carols that have always been sung in specific pubs in Yorkshire. (You might have some luck finding them recorded by local folk groups?) gives a sample of what I mean.
posted by Shark Hat at 2:21 PM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day - Rutter.
posted by rongorongo at 2:36 PM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Further to Shark Hat, here's a Spotify album of the Yorkshire/Derbyshire pub carol tradition which will give you a good sample. The idea is robust and joyful - even rowdy - participation rather than polished performance, and consequently these carols are almost all an absolute blast to sing. I'm particularly fond of all the many tunes to which While Shepherds Watched... is set; try Pentonville for example, or Sweet Chiming Bells. You might turn up more examples by searching for 'Sheffield carols'.
posted by FavourableChicken at 3:11 PM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

In dulci jubilo
posted by pinochiette at 3:17 PM on November 29, 2022

Nowell Sing We

Drive the Cold Winter Away


Huron Christmas Carol (Jesous Ahatonia)

Orientus Partibus (The Song of the Ass) - tune is related to The Friendly Beasts

Personent Hodie

The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came



Il est Né le Devine Enfant

Como Poden

Adeste Fidelis

Alle Jahre Wieder

Als I Lay On Yoolis Night

Adam Lay Ybounden


I have no Spotify Account so I can't give you links, just titles.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:55 PM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

There's an album of a cappella Christmas song by a group called First Call. The album is titled "An Evening in December." I was surprised to see that Spotify has it, because it's from 1985 and not terribly well know but, yay!, it's there. I kind of love the whole album, but for traditional carols, check out their versions of:

O Come, O Come, Emmanual
Lo, How A Rose Ere Blooming
When Jesus Was a Tiny Baby
How Great Our Joy
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:09 PM on November 29, 2022

While neither traditional nor particularly "carol-y", Tim Minchin's "White Wine in the Sun" is wonderful and deserves to be heard and appreciated.


posted by EKStickland at 6:11 PM on November 29, 2022

The Watersons recording of Malpas Wassail just totally knocked me on my ass when I first heard it, and it never ceases to give me goosebumps.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:29 PM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Star in the East
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:37 PM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oops, you wanted Spotify. Here it is: The Watersons, Malpas Wassail.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:38 PM on November 29, 2022

Joy by Tracy Thorn is a sad/beautiful song that is criminally under-known:

"We'll gather up our fears/and face down all the coming years/all that they destroy/and in their face we throw our joy, joy, joy"
posted by heyforfour at 9:15 PM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

Christmas at Sea - Robert Louis Stevenson poem here from The Longest Johns
An Nollaig in Éirinn - Colm McGuiness - Christmas in Ireland; another shanty.
Sound Your Instruments of Joy - another Watersons interpretation
Here We Come a Wassailing - Kate Rusby version here.
posted by rongorongo at 10:17 PM on November 29, 2022

Silent Night - Delta Goodrem and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu - this is a YouTube extract, but it appears to be on Spotify too. A beautiful arrangement. The late Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was known as Gurrumul, and also referred to as Dr G. Yunupingu. He was a blind Aboriginal Australian musician of the Yolŋu peoples. There is an excellent documentary telling his story (“Gurrumul”) and a foundation was set up in his name.
posted by The Patron Saint of Spices at 12:03 AM on November 30, 2022

Also splendid: Bowie and Bing Crosby - The Little Drummer Boy - not sure if it’s on Spotify though. (Fast forward through the initial banter to get to the song…)
posted by The Patron Saint of Spices at 12:18 AM on November 30, 2022

Angelus ad Virginem 14th century

Dixit Maria J. Leo Hassler 1564-1612

The White Dove Brahms (German)
posted by donut_princess at 12:30 PM on November 30, 2022

Best answer: OK capricorn - so now Spotify and Youtube's algorithms are spitting unusual carols at me - so it would be churlish not to share some more here:
The King - Steeleye Span
O Holy Night- Brandi Carlile
Jolly Old Hawk - The Watersons
Star of Wonder- The Roches
The Seven Joys of Mary - Maddy Prior and June Tabor
Cold Winter - Kate Rusby
posted by rongorongo at 2:44 PM on November 30, 2022

Mary did you know?

Sleigh Ride
posted by oceano at 3:43 PM on November 30, 2022

Non-traditional arrangements, did you say?
We Wish You a Mambo Christmas
White Christmas by Esquivel
posted by plinth at 7:23 AM on December 1, 2022

Response by poster: okay how did I not know that whole Steeleye Span album goes so hard????

keep 'em coming, everyone! This is great.
posted by capricorn at 7:37 AM on December 1, 2022

Ah, if you like Steeleye Span then I bet you'll like the albums from Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band! I listen to Carols & Capers all the time.
posted by moonmilk at 7:57 AM on December 1, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you! I already think the Jethro Tull Christmas Song is the best one of all time so it should have been a no brainer...
posted by capricorn at 8:03 AM on December 1, 2022

Response by poster: I'm going to shamelessly self-answer here because I just saw that the Hamrahlid Choir has an album of Icelandic Christmas carols on Spotify.
posted by capricorn at 12:40 PM on December 1, 2022

Cultural note: Rural England: you might get the nice polite Christian carol singers at the door; rosy faced kids with their choir master singing about baby Jesus and collecting for Oxfam.

Or… you might get the mediaeval pagans: attired like characters from The Wicker Man - masked, already very drunk and lured here by the posh neighbourhood you call home. They start putting some kind of bizarre musical. In exchange they want your food (“got any figgy pudding mate?”), your booze, and your cash. Then they might go away and bother somebody else without breaking anything.
The Pace Egging Song: The MacCalmans - technically for Good Friday in parts of Yorkshire - but still a carol. These really are people who dress as Nelson and ask for your “eggs and strong beer”. This is what it looks like.
posted by rongorongo at 1:13 AM on December 2, 2022

A couple years ago I heard Brightest and Best as arranged for choir by Shawn Kirchner and it immediately went right onto my list of Christmas favorites. Here is a version on Spotify done by the Eastern Michigan University Choir but I sort of love this very energetic rendition from the USC Thornton Chamber Singers on Youtube best (especially watching the violinist go off).
posted by sigmagalator at 6:56 PM on December 4, 2022

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly and Still, Still Still are beautiful
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:41 AM on December 5, 2022

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