Christmas brings with it the sounds of carols, choruses, and songs that we hear every year. Whether you turn on the Christmas music before or after Thanksgiving, chances are, you’re going to hear “Feliz Navidad” at least 40 times, “Jingle Bell Rock” at least 81 times, and “Silent Night” at least 400 times. Merry Christmas.
When it comes to your Christmas worship service, we aren’t recommending “Jingle Bell Rock,” but here are ten time-tested, well-loved and long-awaited songs that you should definitely put on your Christmas service song list.
Top Seven Christmas Carols for Your Christmas Service
1. “Joy to the World”
It’s hard to get any better than “Joy to the World,” which was written by Isaac Watts in 1719. Even though it’s getting close to its 300th birthday, the song is still powerful, relevant, and soaked with theological truths. “Joy to the World” is based on Psalm 98, and not only rejoices Jesus’ coming to earth as a baby, but also his return to earth at the end of the age. The song is one of pure joy, as it praises God for his kingship, his redemption, his truth, and his grace.
Because of its cheerful and familiar melody, this song is perfect for opening a Christmas service.
2. “O Come All Ye Faithful”
Another very old Christmas song, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” is also known by its Latin title, “Adeste Fideles.” It may have been written as early as the 13th century! The song is particularly meaningful because it invites us into the act of worshipping Christ, the King of Angels, as if we were part of the group who saw him in Bethlehem after his birth. This song, too, is filled with solid theological truths — Christ’s virgin birth, his sonship, his love, and his identity as the Word of God.
“O Come All Ye Faithful” is a song that helps to set a worshipful Christmas atmosphere in your service.
3. “Silent Night”
It’s hard to think of a Christmas service without the singing of “Silent Night.” The history of “Silent Night’s” writing is itself a gem of Christmas storytelling. On Christmas Eve in 1818, a priest and organist collaborated to come up with the song — “Stille Nacht” — and it was first sung in Christmas Mass the next day. Every Christmas since that snowy night in 1818, Christians around the world have sung the carol, which has since been translated into 140 languages. During Christmas celebrations during the terrors of World War I, soldiers in opposing camps sang the song together as they observed the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Silent Night’s” meditative melody and worshipful feel make it the perfect hymn for a candlelight service or closing song.
4. “O Holy Night”
“O Holy Night” is one of the most popular songs for vocalists to put on their Christmas recording. The familiar arpeggio and sweet melody make it a much-loved song. But the words of the song itself are like a sermon all their own! The song begins by lamenting the world’s sinfulness, and ends with a triumphant shout of Christ’s victory over sin. The truths of the song are even applied as we are encouraged, “Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease.”
Many churches choose to have their musicians and congregation sing this song in a responsive way. The verses lend themselves to a soloist performance, while the chorus can be sung by the congregation.
5. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
Philip Brooks, an Episcopal minister from Philadelphia, wrote this Christmas carol in 1868. The words for the song were inspired when Brooks visited Bethlehem in 1865. On his trip, he attended a Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This event was so moving to Philip Brooks that the words it inspired are sung today. Brooks wrote the song to be performed by a children’s choir. Phrases like “Children pure and happy / Pray to the blessed Child,” remind us of this.
The melody and words of “O Little Town” make an ideal children’s song to add to your Christmas service.
6. “Away in a Manger”
This Christmas carol reminds us of the lowly origins of Christ’s birth. Mary “wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). Because it’s such a familiar song, we usually sing these words without realizing how shocking it is — to place a baby in a feeding trough is surprising enough. To realize that this Baby was the King of Kings is even more shocking. The song reminds us that Christ was willing to come, to be born in squalor and poverty, and to sacrifice his life as the atonement for sins.
The song is one of tenderness and thoughtfulness. Nearly everyone is familiar with both melodies and the words, making it a great song for a Christmas night service.
7. “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
We may not know what it means precisely, but we all know the joyful sound of this chorus, “Glo-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-O-ri-a in Ex-cel-sis De-o!” (It means “glory to God in the highest.”) The carol tells the story of the Bethlehem shepherds who heard the very first Christmas carol ever sung — the song of the angels announcing Christ’s birth. We, like the shepherds, are invited to “Come to Bethlehem…Come adore…Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”
This is a rich and meaningful song, and makes the perfect addition to a Christmas celebration.
There are hundreds of contemporary Christmas carols that are sung in many churches. These songs are perfect for worship bands or special music. Many churches choose to sing the old familiar ones for congregational worship. Since many visitors choose to attend Christmas services, they can participate easier when the songs are well known. Whatever your plan for Christmas, you can’t go wrong with these much-loved Christmas carols for church.