Saturday, December 21, 2013

Essential Christmas Music

Music makes a very strong impact on us. It can change or create moods, make us feel things, cause happiness, sadness or even terror in people listening to it.

In Western cultures, with long tradition of Christianity, there is a special style of Christmas music. A style profoundly impacted by Christian Church music. But this style isn't the same for each country.

When I first came to Ecuador one of the reasons the Christmas was such a hard time for me was the difference in Christmas music. Finnish Christmas music, like most Finnish music, is usully played in minor key with a very slow rhytm. While Ecuadorian music, just as almost all Latin American music, is played in major key with a very fast rhytm.

There are additional differences that made Ecuadorian Christmas music impossible for me. I just couldn't recognize it as Christmas music. It didn't make me feel Christmas.

I took refuge in English Christmas music, and by this I mean, music from England. Later on I developed a gusto for American, more modern, Christmas music. And now there are even some classics of Latin American Christmas music that I enjoy.

Here is a list of my Essential Christmas Music.


1. Handel "The Messiah"

I just can't feel the Christmas without The Messiah. This version of The Choir of King's Collage from Cambridge is especially dear to me. When I hear the first sounds, I instantly know it's Christmas. Jesus, Our Saviour, has been born. And with the Halleluyah choir I am transformed, imagining myself a peek of Heaven.

2. Angels We Have Heard On High

This was one of the songs I sang every Christmas in the High School and Church's choir. It really helped me to accept the Christmas in Ecuador to be able to listen to something that was so familiar and traditional for me. Even though I was used to sing it in Finnish.

3. What Child Is This (Greensleeves)

Another of my favorites from childhood. This one I learned to love in English. It wasn't part of our traditional family Christmas but it was something I was already familiar with, so I was able to accept it as part of my new Christmas.
And Charlotte Church's voice just makes it seem angelical.

4. Breath of Heaven

One of the very few Christmas CD's we could find here was one by Amy Grant. I have always loved her music, just like my mother, and it was a touch of home to listen to her voice. This song wasn't on the CD but I have learned to love it. It makes me imagine what Maria must have felt, knowing that she will give birth to the Saviour.

5. The First Noel

This is one of the Christmas Carols I adopted to my new Christmas. Now there is a large amount of songs that bring me the Christmas feeling. But each one of them has a history. There has been a process to incorporate the sound and the message to make it part of my Christmas.
The message in this song makes it a very important part of my Essential Christmas Music.


1. Sylvian Joululaulu

A very traditional Finnish Christmas song written more than one hundred years ago. It was done by a Finnish poet who was in Italy during Christmas time. The song's name is "Christmas Carol for Sylvia", nobody knows who Sylvia is.
The song tells about the authors yearning for Finnish Christmas and about the suffering of a caged nightingale. (Yes, I told you. Finnish Christmas songs are in minor key and usually very sad and about the suffering world. That's just how Finnish people are.) I always imagined the caged bird to be Sylvia when I was a child and it gave me chills to imagine how she must have suffered even if it was Christmas time. (Yes, I am very Finnish.)
I have listened  this song since I was born and it is one of the first Christmas songs Finnish Children learn to sing. At school we are told about the history of the song.
So, when I came to Ecuador, this became my Nr. 1 Christmas song. The Finn, suffering far away, missing the real Finnish Christmas and feeling the suffering of the world through the lights and merryment of Christmas. Yes, very Finnish.

2. En Etsi Valtaa Loistoa

Another Finnish Christmas song by the same author (he is very popular in Finland). The music is by Jean Sibelius and it is one of the most beautiful Finnish Christmas songs, especially in choir version.
The name means "I don't seek for power nor splendor" and the song goes on to say neither do I wish for gold but I seek for the light of Heaven and peace upon earth.
This is a song I always sung in the church in the Christmas service. It makes me yearn for home, the real home of Heaven. Even when I was a child this song would make me realize that Christmas wasn't about the gifts and the glitter but about Jesus, and seeking His grace.

Still learning:

1. Ya viene el niñito (The child comes now)

A very traditional Ecuadorian Christmas Carol, or Villancico as it is said here. The author is very famous Ecuadorian poet and the song was written over a hundred years ago.
The songs tells about baby Jesus and how he comes playing among the flowers and the birds sing to Him. As you can listen the rhythm and style is totally different from Finnish Christmas Carols.

2. Mi burrito sabanero (My donkey from the plains)

A very traditional Latin American Christmas Carol in a little more modern version sung by Juanes from Colombia.
The song tells about the donkey that goes to see Jesus with the other animals. This is actually one of my favorites and it is sung every Christmas by children all over Ecuador.

3. Cha`ska Ñawi Niñucha Villancico Cusqueño, Perú  (A Child With Star Bright Eyes)

This is Peruvian Christmas Carol in Peruvian Quechua. The language is different from Ecuadorian Kichwa but it is based on the same Incan Lingua Franca.
The music style is very similar with Ecuadorian traditional Andean music. Very different from my traditional pietist, quiet and solemn Christmas. But very typical for Andean Region of South America. 

If you enjoyed this article about Essential Christmas Musica maybe you'll also enjoy another one about Essential Christmas.


  1. I love Christmas music. I have been listening to it non stop since Thanksgiving!

  2. What Child is This is one of my absolute favourites! It has such a wonderful melody, and puts me in the Christmas spirit immediately.

  3. I went through a lot as a kid growing up and if it wasn't for music I don't know were I would be.

  4. I love listening to music...Christian music to be exact!

  5. I really like exploring all kinds of music, so this is really fun for me. I tried to expose my kids to a big variety too.

  6. I, too, associate Christmas with the traditional English songs. But I love hearing music from other cultures, so thanks for sharing.

  7. It's nice to learn how different cultures celebrate holidays. Interested information about how the music has connections to western holidays.

  8. My family does not celebrate Christmas, but we are very familiar with these selections.

  9. The "Now" songs are some of my favorites. "The Messiah" is probably my favorite one, though.