Put in those earbuds, take a deep breath, and wait for it – because Christmas is most definitely not here yet.
A few days after Halloween this year, I went into a department store to pick something up and was met with a barrage of snow, stockings, and Santa Clauses.
In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy: boy, that escalated quickly.
Yes, a certain holiday about gratitude and peace is bulldozed like a helpless little paper mache turkey in the mad dash to start a-wassailing – that, we’ve come to expect. And yes, Christmas seems increasingly flattened and commercialized, made to dance for us like a shiny little servant devoid of spiritual substance – that, we’ve come to expect too.
But this means that Advent, the sacred time of expectation and preparation that gives the joy of Christmas its depth, is losing ground too – and fast.
G.K. Chesterton once said: “It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is.” But like an officious Ned Flanders all hopped up on peppermint mocha, Christmas is here well before the party starts, plowing over the solemnity of early winter with its grating carols, gaudy sweaters, and merry jolly happiness – and it’s not going anywhere.
Two months of compulsory cheer, of course, tends to diminish the excitement of Christmas day when it finally rolls around. In fact, our collective lack of Advent may be pushing us to end Christmas early. After hearing “Jingle Bells” on the radio ad nauseam, elbowing through holly-decked malls from Black Friday to Christmas Eve, and arriving at the anticlimactic day with empty pockets and bad tidings, people naturally want very little to do with Christmas after the 25th. Traditionally though, the celebration lasts 12 days, from Christmas day to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.
How can we make Advent sacred again?
The word “sacred” actually has very practical roots: it means making something holy by setting it apart from everyday things. To make the time before Christmas (and consequently, Christmas) sacred, we need to fight for its space, to set it apart from the world before the world gobbles it up. And what better way to set something apart than to give it its own soundtrack?
In that spirit, here are ten Advent songs that just might make your holiday celebration a little longer a whole lot lovelier. So put in those earbuds, take a deep breath, and wait for it – because Christmas is most definitely not here yet.
A standout track from his new album, Voice of Joy, this quintessential Advent classic is brought to soaring heights here by Friar Alessandro, a Franciscan from Assisi, Italy.
Brooklyn husband and wife duo Vito and Monique Aiuto give this 19th century hymn about the coming of “great David’s greater Son” some indie-pop flavor.
You can download this unreleased track from Audrey Assad – an elegant take on a classic song about spiritual longing – free at NoiseTrade.
This track from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles 2012 album Advent at Ephesus is a tranquil meditation on the Annunciation.
John Tavener recently passed away on November 12 – but his choral arrangement for William Blake’s poem “The Lamb,” one of his most beloved works, will live on forever.
Another Annunciation carol, these strange-looking lyrics come from an early 15th century manuscript roll in the library of Trinity College in England.
Sufjan Stevens’ wacky and wonderful Christmas album Silver & Gold has its hits and misses, but this contemplative song about the world’s pomp and impermanence is an Advent bullseye.
Marcy Priest’s rousing cover of this 18th century Advent hymn will wake you right up with its marching snare, anthemic vocal
s, and twist of post-rock intensity.
This classic from Handel’s Messiah is what Advent is all about; Isaiah’s prophecy points toward the great revolt launched in the Christmas manger, where the King of kings is born among the poor and outcast. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly.”