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Christmas is a beautiful time of year!  And it can be hectic or stressful, can remind us of the great joys and great losses of this last year.  I asked our vision team what they turn to this time of year to help them remember the story?  What recommendations did they have for art, music, film, that draws us deeper into the wonder of God come among us in the babe Jesus.  What follows are some of their responses! 



Joyeux Noel (2005) This movie tells the remarkably true story of the Christmas Day truce in 1914, when for a brief moment amidst the brutality of World War One, the French, British and German soldiers sung Christmas carols and raised their glasses to the one who comes to bring Peace.  Watch the trailer here. (ask Matt to borrow the DVD!)


A Christmas Carol (1951) – with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, in a heartwarming transformation. (Watch for free here). 


A Child’s Christmas in Wales - with Denholm Elliot, a magical story a grandfather reliving his own childhood Christmas. (Watch for free here). 



The Bishop’s Wife (1948) with Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven - what do you do when God’s answer to your prayer is to send an angel in the form of Cary Grant? Witty, wise and poignant. (Watch online here). 


Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas (1977) - Jim Hensen production from 1970s.  Watch online for free here). 

The Original 1966 The Grinch Who Stole Christmas! movie  

How The Grinch Stole Christmas - Song Lyrics and Music by Boris Karloff  arranged by smrenwick1 on Smule Social Singing app


First Coming by Madeleine L’Engle. In this short poem, L’Engle (a lifelong Episcopalian) tells the story of Christ coming near… “he did not wait til the world was ready…. Did not wait for the perfect time… did not wait til hears were pure…” and having come to tell this amazing story of the Word made Flesh she ends calling us to Doxology: Rejoice Rejoice! 


He did not wait till the world was ready,

till men and nations were at peace.

He came when the Heavens were unsteady,

and prisoners cried out for release.


He did not wait for the perfect time.

He came when the need was deep and great.

He dined with sinners in all their grime,

turned water into wine.


He did not wait till hearts were pure.

In joy he cameto a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame

he came, and his Light would not go out.


He came to a world which did not mesh,

to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made Flesh

the Maker of the stars was born.


We cannot wait till the world is sane

to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain,

He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice! 


Here and here are two lists of Advent-themed poetry I (Reba) continually return to -- you'll recognize some that I've used in our worship services. Rather than recommend any of them in particular, I think they are worth exploring as collections of different themes and perspectives on the season. From the second list, "Mary," by Anthony Wilson hit me like a tonne of bricks this year. It creates a really nuanced and human portrait of her that invites us into her experience of growing God in her womb. 




O Little Town of Bethlehem (1868) Written by episcopal priest Phillips Brooks, this carol captures for me the cosmic weight of the Christmas story and the miraculous nature of God’s coming in the babe Jesus.  How wondrous that the hopes and fears of all the years are met - are known - are embraced - by the God who becomes human in Jesus.  Listen to the Cambridge Boys Choir sing here


O little town of Bethlehem,

How still we see thee lie!

Above your deep and dreamless sleep,

The silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light,

The hopes and fears of all the years,

Are met in thee tonight.


The 25th Day of December by the Staple Singers (1962).  This long lost gem which was finally re-released on vinyl last year is a great album with powerful soulful / R&B gospel arrangements that the Staples are known for.  I absolutely love what they do with "Joy To The World" with Pops Staples on lead vocals.  Throughout, the family harmonies, the Hammond B3 organ and Pop's signature tremolo guitar are so sweet. I cherish my original vinyl copy that I got for 50 cents.  Listen here.


Sufjan Stevens' Songs For Christmas Singalong box set (2006).  This 5-disc 2006 quirky hipster compilation includes common and obscure Christmas classics, some self-penned songs - as well as some traditional non-Christmas hymns ("Holy Holy Holy", "Come Thou Fount", "Amazing Grace") - and includes a booklet with words and chords to sing and play along.  Listen here.


Bruce Cockburn's Christmas album (1993).  Earthy / acoustic arrangements of songs with instrumentals and songs sung in Spanish, Huron/Wendat, French and English from Canada's musical treasure. Mostly traditional carols with a few of his own compositions too.  Though "I Saw Three Ships" gets the most mall and radio play (and is a bit worn out for me), the whole album is worth a spin.  Listen here.


The first A Very Special Christmas album (1987) featuring Sting doing "Gabriel's Message" (The Angel Gabriel), Run DMC's rapping of their original "Christmas In Hollis", U2's fun Darlene Love cover of "It's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and Stevie Nicks doing "Silent Night" is a mix of fun, silliness and 80s pop goodness. A bit uneven overall, but still fun. Listen here.


Sy Mann's Switched on Santa (1969). Super-cheesy reverb-drowned Moog synthesizer arrangements of Christmas songs building on the Moog work of pioneering trans musician Wendy Carlos (though not as good as her work). Enough said. Listen here.


Boney M's Christmas Album (1981).  The Jamaican / Arbuan / German Disco-Funk group known for "Rasputin" and "Nightflight to Venus" deliver with fun Carribean-influenced, disco arrangements of "Mary's Boy Child", "Feliz Navidad" and even a disco Christmas song to the tune of the Easter hymn "Thine Is The Glory" ("Zion's Daughter").  Listen here.


Advent At Ephesus - The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles (2012).  Ok, it's technically an Advent album (of which I have many other faves, BTW)  - but it's just so lovely to hear these young nuns chanting and singing Advent / Christmas classics as a counterpoint to the commercialism and kitsch of the season so I keep it playing long after Advent is done.  Listen here.


Go Tell It On The Mountain (2003) by the Blind Boys of Alabama featuring contributions from Michael Franti, George Clinton, Chrissy Hynde, Tom Waits, Mavis Staples and others.  Franti's "Little Drummer Boy" and Hynde's "In The Bleak Midwinter" are worth the price alone. Listen here.


And, of course, Elvis' Christmas Album (1957).  Equally kitschy and devoutly pious - drawing on the diverse traditions 50's rock and roll, americana - and both white southern and African-American gospel - this really is a real classic.  The somewhat out-of-place non-Christmassy song on side 2 (did he run out of Christmas songs?) of Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey's "Peace in the Valley" and "Precious Lord" and Mahalia Jackson's "I Believe" are my own fan favourites that provide some unexpected gospel solace amidst the struggles of the season.  Listen here.


Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong, the only one I’ll pull out on 1st Sunday because it’s not too Christmassy!  Listen here.


The soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, was groundbreaking for film at its time, and the jazzy vibes of the Vincent Guaraldi Trio still take me back!  Listen here.

And Also With You podcast released some awesome Advent episodes this year. One is a general exploration of Advent; one explores Joy, and especially, "what does it mean to be joyful in a world like this one?"; the last takes a deep dive into Mary, with the tongue-in-cheek question, "did Mary know?" 


I like Sister Sinjin's album Incarnation and In the Town of David by Ordinary Time. Folksy, a mix of classics and less-known carols, haunting vocals on both. 


Two of my favorite Christmas albums are "Winter Songs" by Ola Gjeilo (one of my most beloved contemporary composers of choral and piano music) 


"If on a Winter's Night" by Sting.  They are both wonderfully contemplative.  Heart-music from very different genres. 



For art, there's the now-classic Jose y Maria by Everett Patterson which always makes the rounds. Every year, it feels evocative of the times, and it is also a scavenger hunt for biblical references. I also love The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner: I think it captures the emotional intensity of the moment and it's unlike any other Annunciation art I've ever seen -- something about that wrinkled rug on the floor!


What recommendations would you add to our list?