UK’s Top Ten Christmas Carols — Any Surprises?

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by Steve Pauwels

The United Kingdom’s Premier Christian Radio recently sponsored a survey to identify favorite Christmas carols. The results? Some predictable, some mildly unexpected.

The top spot was snatched by a choice that surprised me just a tad: “O Holy Night” (15%) is undeniably a ubiquitous holiday fixture (anyone listening to 24/7 Christmas radio can hardly challenge that). Composed in 1847 by Roquemaure, France’s Mayor Placide Clappeau, it’s an ambitious one to sing — Premier’s Pam Rhodes noted it’s not the most common congregational sing-along, more often experienced as a performance piece. “O Holy Night” certainly boasts all the elements that make for memorable music: a lovely, dramatic melody that gathers into a crescendo (thus its vocal challenge), thoughtful lyrics (the lesser known second verse is especially poignant ).

I concede all that — still: for some reason, it’s not among my best-loved. (Although the inimitable Andy Williams’ timeless rendering? Always worth a listen.)

Felix Mendelssohn/Charles Wesley’s “Hark!The Herald Angels Sing” hovers in the second spot (14%). An inarguably stand-to-your-feet composition, its rousing music and poetry will combine to stir any heart open to being stirred to appreciate afresh this festival’s wonder. Talk about crescendos!: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; /Hail the incarnate Deity, /Pleased as man with man to dwell; /Jesus, our Emmanuel.” Glorious.

This poll’s “show” position (11%) was taken, in my opinion, by another dark horse — yet a delightful one, at that. I’m a bit embarrassed to confess I wasn’t familiar with Christina Rosetti’s haunting “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” until a handful of years ago. I grew up exposed to all kinds of Christmas music, but this one, unaccountably, stayed out of earshot.

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