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12 Songs of Christmas (from all around the world)

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BEN STANSALL / AFP

Matthew Becklo - published on 12/23/16 - updated on 06/07/17

We are one body, one flock, one family

One of the great privileges of writing for Aleteia is seeing your words and ideas reach people all over the world. Even with our English Edition, our readership on social media seems routinely to transcend continental divides.

This is a testimony to the hard work of Aleteia’s staff and writers. But it also speaks to the great breadth of the faith across political and cultural lines. The Church draws together what Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo called “the full symphony of humanity,” and it does it without compromising either the diversity of its parts or the unity of its whole. We are one body, one flock, one family. It’s an amazing and powerful thing to be a part of, especially in an era increasingly marked by tribalism and atomism.

In that spirit, here is a collection of 12 Christmas songs from all around the world. These songs are all very different: some are new, some old; some are energetic, some meditative; some are well-known, some you likely never heard until now. But they are all inspired by the birth of Christ to Mary in Bethlehem. You’ll need the translations (provided below each video) to understand what’s being said, but you won’t need them to understand why. These songs bind us in a spirit of awe and celebration, because at their heart is an event that changed the course of all our lives – and all of human life – forever.

Merry Christmas!

1. “Przybieżeli do Betlejem” (Poland)

I regularly heard this traditional carol, sung here by the Filharmonia Narodowa choir of Poland, in my hometown church, which was deeply rooted in an immigrant Polish community. “Przybieżeli do Betlejem” is about the joy and gratitude of the shepherds coming to see the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. (English translation here.)

2. “Betelehemu” (Nigeria)

“Betelehemu,” sung in the Yoruba language of West Africa, is a song of adoration of God and celebration of the Son’s arrival in that “city of wonder.” Above is a powerful performance of “Betelehemu” delivered by The Morehouse College Glee Club at WNYC. (English translation here.)

3. “The Lamb” (England)

English visionary William Blake’s poem “The Lamb” takes on a haunting and transcendent character in John Tavener’s 1982 composition. The King’s College Choir of Cambridge performs this song the way it was probably intended to be: surrounded by flickering candles in a dark church. (Lyrics here.)

4. “Caro Gesù Bambino” (Italy)

In this video, Andrea Bocelli introduces and sings “Caro Gesù Bambino,” a “very, very sweet song” that he recorded for his 2009 Christmas album. Pier Quinto Carriaggi’s heartbreaking lyrics center on a poor child making a single request to Jesus. (English translation here and in the video.)

5. “Minuit, Chrétiens” (France)

Most will recognize this melody from the English adaptation, “O Holy Night.” But the original song, sung here by French tenor Roberto Alagna, opens on a darker, richer note than we’re used to: “Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour when God as man descended among us to expunge the stain of original sin and to put an end to the wrath of his father.” (English translation here.)

6. “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” (United States)

Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson gives a rousing performance of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” a 1934 song composed by Robert MacGimsey. The lyrics meditate on the Son coming to save a world that didn’t – and often still doesn’t – know or acknowledge him. (Lyrics here.)

7. “Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil” (Ireland)

“Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil” is a traditional Gaelic carol that offers a simple but stirring picture of Christmas night in Bethlehem: the sky’s light and the earth’s cold, the angel and shepherds, and the arrival of “the Word” to a Virgin mother. Altan’s performance in Dublin adds a layer of mystery and loveliness to this Celtic treasure. (English translation here.)

8. “Talj Talj” (Lebanon)

Like a couple of other songs before and after this, I had the pleasure of discovering “Talj Talj” while pulling together this list. Lebanese singer Fairuz’s delicate, gorgeous song is all about falling snow, and taking that image to new depths. (English translation here.)

9. “Mi Burrito Sabanero” (Venezuela)

My sister-in-law introduced me to this infectiously fun Venezuelan song about a child traveling with a donkey to see Jesus. Performed here by the Mexican group Los Papis RA7, “Mi Burrito Sabanero” is next to impossible not to dance and clap to, and is the perfect celebratory soundtrack for Christmas morning. (English translation here.)

10. “Thank You, Ang Babait Ninyo” (Philippines)

This equally lighthearted and fun track written by Robert Labayen is an original take on a Filipino Christmas carol. Performed by some talented young singers for ABS-CBN in the Philippines, this is a refreshing anthem of humility, hope, and gratitude. (English translation here.)

11. “Giv Mig Ej Glans, Ej Guld, Ej Prakt” (Finland)

This list comes to a close with two songs performed in a universal language: instrumental music. The first is Mårten Lundgren’s smooth jazz rendition of “Giv Mig Ej Glans, Ej Guld, Ej Prakt”, a 19th-century song from Finland about the longing for peace. (Lyrics and English translation here.)

12. “El Noi de la Mare” (Spain)

The second instrumental comes from a Catalan song about bringing an assortment of rich foods to the infant Jesus. Guitarist Andres Segovia’s rendition is filled with all the warmth, joy, and beauty of a Christmas spent by the fire with loved ones. (Lyrics and English translation here.)

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