It just might be timely for some practical tips on planning music for your Christmas service. The turkey has been carved, and Christmas services are quickly arriving. With the final song selections being put into place, we created a list of Christmas songs for you with our very own Christmas mix-tape or Christmas worship medley. In addition, it is not just about choosing Christmas songs, but how do you create an environment that feels like Christmas, but still flows with modern worship? You can sandwich songs, combine songs, and more. Our mix-and-match medleys will take some of those songs and give you ideas of how to incorporate them into your service. Finally, how about some ideas to mix it up a bit?
Create a Perfect Christmas Worship Medley With These Carols and Worship Songs!
The context of how you present a Christmas-themed service allows you to lead your congregation in worship in many settings. Some of us do multiple services that have different musical styles. The context is always important to consider, so as you take what is familiar and new, the key is in how you deliver it. Singing Christmas songs in a traditional setting can also be spiced up. This is the one time a year that breaking rules with worship are in order. And, it is one of the most dangerous times of year to change directions with worship in a major way. So, walk that line carefully. Know your people and know what you can do well!
With that being said, since people are singing Christmas carols all season long, it makes sense to make them special on your major Christmas services. People will have heard every version of “Mary Did You Know” when they shop at the grocery store, play their car radio or even pump your gas. I don’t know about you, but those gas station pumps with TVs are a bit much. The point is this: we are saturated with Christmas music. So, it might be a great idea to mix it up a bit—even if you are carefully keeping with your church Christmas service tradition.
Christmas Mix-tape: 10 Top Traditional Christmas Carols
If you were to make a Christmas mix-tape for America, what would be on that list? Here is a short list of some of the most popular Christmas carols sung in most churches around the United States. While we all may know these songs by rote, I think it makes sense to understand where they came from. We are singing songs that were sung hundreds of years ago in some cases. What makes each of these special? Part of being a worship leader is understanding inspiration. What is the spiritual message of each of these? Discoveries often require a bit of digging. I’m going to do just a bit of that for you here.
- Joy to the World – Lyrics of this well-known hymn are by Isaac Watts, written in 1719. The text is a paraphrase of Psalm 98 and was published under his Psalms of David Imitated. (1719). You can sing this song liturgically in July now that you know it is related to Psalm 98. But, mostly this is a Christmas hymn.
- O Come All Ye Faithful – “O Come All Ye Faithful” was originally written in Latin as “Adeste fideles laeti triumphantes” by Englishman John Francis Wade in the early 1700s. Frederick Oakley translated the song in 1802. Many competing translations exist, but this is the one that has survived in popularity.
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – This hymn was written by Charles Wesley in 1739. It had another title: “Hymn for Christmas Day.” We do not sing the original words, but an edited version by the great orator and evangelist George Whitfield which read: “Hark, how all the welkin [heaven] ring, Glory to the King of Kings.”
- Silent Night, Holy Night – This tune is by Franz Gruber and words by Joseph Mohr, later it was translated from German into English. It was written on Christmas Eve in 1818, and as the story goes, the organ was not working on the night it was composed, so a guitar was used. Today, a guitar still seems the best fit for this favorite.
- Go, Tell it On the Mountain – This is an adaptation of an African-American spiritual by John W. Work. He published this song in the early 1900s. Work was an early scholar of African-American music, and this famous song adaptation is a treasure.
- The First Noel – The actual authorship of this song is unknown, but it was published in 1833 and an English carol. As far as liturgy, depending on the year, this can be a Christmas Eve or a Christmas Day tune.
- Angels From the Realms of Glory – This is not only a great Christmas hymn, but one that can be used for Epiphany as well. (Epiphany is the season after Advent and Christmas on the traditional Church calendar.) James Montgomery wrote this hymn on 1816, publishing it on Christmas Eve.
- O Little Town of Bethlehem – After the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination, we find a peaceful picture painted in this 1865 Christmas hymn. Inspired by seeing Bethlehem in person, Rev. Phillip Brooks wrote this quieted song. In the world we live in today, it makes sense to remember the simple place that birthed our Savior.
- Away in the Manger – Martin Luther is attributed to writing this tune, along with others who wrote various verses. Of course, this is a children’s hymn. No matter our age, however, this tune has captivated people for many generations just as it does today.
- What Child is This – To the tune of “Greensleeves,” W. Chatterton Dix penned these words perhaps inspired by Isaiah 9:6-7. “For unto us, a child is born…” The pondering of a small child is nothing new, as it came in the prophecies leading up to Jesus. At Christmas time, we can sing with the same wonder about how a child can change so much.
*Thanks to www.hymnary.org for valuable information about these hymns.
Mix and Match Medleys To Create The Perfect Christmas Worship Medley
When we are leading up to Christmas or are in the throws of our main Christmas services, contemporary worship can become almost out of place. Christmas songs sometimes do not bring the same feel or focus that we are used to in a worship set. The desire I think most worship leaders have is to bring in Christmas but keep the mood and sound of their usual worship team. Yes, traditional can sometimes be great to borrow from, but no one wants the Sunday after Christmas to be so dramatically different that people who visit get whiplash!
The medleys and mashups I am listing below are just a few good examples of how you can do your own. However, in the interest of time, some of us might like these as they are presented here. If you find something that works that fits who you are and what you need, then by all means, steal the idea without any remorse. That is being smart. With that being said, don’t limit your creativity. You may have to innovate in order make something suit your unique church setting. That is expected, and the more seasoned you become, the more that idea will be a reality.
How does one arrange a medley for Christmas? Like the examples below, you take two or more songs and define a unified tempo that makes sense for each of the songs. Of course, lyrically you want to be able to match, so the songs go well together thematically. A worship medley should take people in thought somewhere, not just in sound. Click To Tweet Once you have a tempo, you then can discover a groove that will work. Will a straight rock beat in 4/4 time work? Will a shuffle beat in 12/8 work or can you–like in one of the below examples–take a 4/4 song and make it singable and familiar in 6/8 time?
After you have the tempo, theme, and groove, then you need to arrange with a common motif. What does that mean? This means you need a memorable riff of several notes that melodically and rhythmically glue together the frame of your medley. Keeping this motif simple will make it more of a hook than a musical filler. Everything we do in arranging is not about adding, it is about restraint–especially so when the lead vocal for most of what we do in church is the congregation. Their voice is what we desire to highlight. People, particularly during the holidays, want to sing these familiar carols. With your arranging skills, you can achieve taking them further into a worshipful expression, not just a sentimental sing-along.
In a modern worship context, tempo and groove drive the sound. But, we also need to consider the amazing content of lyrics in these traditional songs as we combine them with modern choruses that are written to be catchy. Bridging these two is a delicate balance. If achieved, you can turn your Christmas services into moments that satisfy the theme and your sound that you are used to.
Here are some good examples of medleys for Christmas services, organized by song. Links to listen are to Spotify.com.
Joy to The World
Chris Tomlin: “Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy)” – This energetic arrangement takes one of our favorites and combines it with an original chorus, making a full-sounding band throughout the song.
Paul Baloche: “Joy to the World” with “Our God Saves” – Baloche takes an intimate sound with the acoustic guitar in his medley of “Joy to the World” and his original song “Our God Saves.” The themes fit perfectly.
Matt Redman: “Hearts Waiting (Joy to the World)” is a nice Advent-themed song that also fits perfectly bridging to Christmas day. It is less a medley and more of a quote, but I suggest you make it medley and sing “Joy to World” with this song. It would work perfectly well.
Christy Nockels: “Joy to the World (The King is Coming)” This piano and vocal arrangement can be a beautiful placement in a service where there is a need for a more contemplative moment required. The tagged original chorus is a nice contemplation and prayer at the end for the congregation to sing together.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Paul Baloche: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is tied to “King of Heaven” in the folksy arrangement. “King of Heaven” is perfect in theme and feel to put in a medley with “Hark the Herald” and once again–as many of the songs do–lands Christmas music effectively in a contemporary worship service flow.
Clover Hill Worship: This medley is actually three carols: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Joy to the World/Go Tell It On the Mountain.” The funky beat runs throughout and is a good example of how a good medley works. How does this work? Find a tempo, groove, and hook that works with each song in your medley.
My idea: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” with “Angels We Have Heard On High” works great as a medley. Choose a tempo and groove, and in the key of “F”, it should work well for you. You can go from melody to 2-part to 3-part to make the medley interesting when repeating verses. In one medley, you can take care of two songs! (Sorry, could not find a record for you.)
The First Noel
Paul Baloche: “The First Noel” with the worship song “Above All” is another good example of how to create a medley with traditional Christmas carols within contemporary worship environments. It builds with unison, then 2-parts and then used nice motifs and breaks to tie the whole thing together. This arrangement technique–choosing a unifying motif–helps greatly in medleys.
O Come All Ye Faithful
Paul Baloche: “O Come All Ye Faithful (with We Adore You)” is a nice mashup with a 6/8 time signature that keeps this song fresh. The chorus “We Adore You” helps this song flow in a modern worship context while keeping a Christmas backdrop as well.
Lincoln Brewster: “Our God” made popular by Chris Tomlin is put together with “O Come All Ye Faithful” chorus “O come let us adore him” can easily be the entire Christmas carol with some tweaks.
Rend Collective: “O Come All Ye Faithful” meets the indie folk feel of Rend Collective with the fun and inviting “Let Us Adore” chorus married to this favorite carol. Get your drummer ready to do the train beat and you are set!
Matt Maher: Maher takes “Silent Night” and hooks an “Emmanuel” chorus in a beautiful treatment of this favorite Christmas hymn. I guarantee most of you will sing “Silent Night” for Christmas Eve! The key with songs this well known is not to change the actual song. And, remember the “feel” of the song needs to match the lyric and theme. This chorus added does just that which is why it works.
Mixing it Up for Christmas Services
Now that we have some Christmas worship medley ideas to lead our contemporary worship services with, how then do we create an environment? Some of us do not have big budgets with lighting trees to spare and gear galore. If you are in an A-frame building–like my church–you don’t even have a “stage” to work with. Creativity often comes out of solving a problem, rather than arriving out of thin air. Click To TweetThis is our chance to be somewhat creative in leading our church in worship this Christmas.
Idea One: Placement and “staging” thoughts
If you have a choir, can you encircle the congregation? If you have a vocal team, how about mixing them in the congregation rather than up in front of them. In very traditional churches, the choir loft was built in the back for many reasons. One of these was to have the voices of the choir push from behind as a support to those in the pews so they would have encouragement and inspiration to sing as a church! How do we achieve this in our own church, regardless the size or staging issues? From here, you have to solve the problems to your unique church. Maybe you don’t have wireless microphones to fan out your vocal team. Gaffers tape might help you then! Have some fun thinking differently about where to place your singers for Christmas. Answer this: If you want to get more people singing, how do you accomplish that by placement?
Other ideas about setting or placement have to do with moving the chairs in your congregation. Some of us cannot do this as we have permanent pews. But, if you are like many with chairs, try making the worship team be in the middle with the congregation surrounding the musicians and vocal team. You can forgo a platform and put them all at floor level. If you are a sacramental church, perhaps it is even possible to put a platform in the middle to accommodate the altar and communion. A change of setting like this might be exciting in that it is special for a special service. If you are doing simple, this may be the best “production” idea you can implement with no budget. Of course, you will need some extra hands before and after the services to accomplish this. But, even that can be a good thing.
Idea Two: Order of Worship thoughts
Have you ever thought about having the sermon in the middle or even the front of the service? You can break up the sermon into multiple parts so that songs can reinforce the points. Often, we sing carols and assume context. What if we were to sing them in response to scriptures or the sermon? If we are talking, for instance, about the Incarnation then we can sing “Joy to the World” to signify the Advent. If you read the scriptures of the angelic hosts meeting the shepherds, then singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” have a context.
The order of worship also begs for a central theme. Christ is always a central worship theme, of course. For Christmas services, besides focusing on his Advent and birth, what are other aspects? The idea of “promise” can be a theme. God keeps his promises, one being the sending of his son, Jesus, to earth. God’s promise is to redeem us through Jesus. His promise is to conquer sin and death. When a service can pull itself to a specific theme about the person of Jesus, you are more likely to take even a holiday service and emphasize why we are there to worship. Christ is always our object of worship. Creativity here is taking aspects of who Christ is and his story, but presenting it with one theme.
Idea Three: Choose a cause or two
One Christmas is strikingly special to our family in that we sponsored two children through World Vision during a Christmas service. Our pastor gave us the option of multiple charities that were reputable, and that focused on the whole life of the child we would support. The various charities did not see this as a competition, but were all very helpful to provide personnel and support to allow our members to participate. As an act of giving, our entire congregation was challenged to find a way to give back. Years have passed, and we still have two kids on our refrigerator. Our little girl is new, since the first girl we backed and corresponded with got married! The lasting impact on others and even ourselves is a testament to how a cause can make Christmas services more meaningful.
In the past, I have aided our church in food drives for our community and other projects that were all tied to our gathering of worship. Should a gathering just be about the gathering or should we gather to “spur” one another on to “good works” as the writer of the book of Hebrews so powerfully encourages? The boldness of taking a time that some wish to be sentimental for themselves and instead leading them to the joy of generosity might be a lasting experience for your church. Yes, we plan music as worship leaders. But, there are a few times a year that what we do should clearly include what we all do outside of the four walls of our church buildings.
There are more ideas that we could share here about creating a Christmas worship medley. The hope is that you are inspired and encouraged to take whatever good you read and experienced from this article and lead a spiritually powerful service in your hometown. We all need inspiration. Maybe some of you have some even better ideas on creating a Christmas worship medley that you can leave in the comments. We might choose in a rewrite to credit some of these to help further what we all do as worship leaders and church leaders every week. Thanks in advance, for your participation!