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The Music Diaries | Christmas songs of all sorts to celebrate the season

Published:Sunday | December 25, 2016 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Natalie Cole
Derrick Harriott

Music has become a part of almost every event, activity or celebration on earth. It is almost impossible to make a success of any event without some kind of musical accompaniment.

Christmas celebrations and praises for the birth of the newborn King, Jesus Christ, are no different. Christmas Carols and church hymns had originally been the music of choice for Christians, but with the passage of time, numerous songs in various styles have been written and sung in almost every imaginable genre and language. Church hymns, perhaps, came closest to what Christmas was all about - the coming of Christ, the three-in-one Almighty Saviour. On any given Christmas Sunday morning at a typical Jamaican church, the Christ Child would be glorified and showered with unending praises in unforgettable hymns like Joy To The World, The Lord Is Come, Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem and The First Noel.

In one of the hymn's most popular verses, taken from Go Tell It On The Mountain, they would chant:

"Go tell it on the mountain

Over the hills and everywhere

That Jesus Christ was born

He comes from the glorious kingdom".

O Come All Ye Faithful contains lyrics that were particularly relevant to the festive season:

"O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant

O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem

Come and behold him, born the King of angels.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord "

Written in Latin and released in 1751 under the title Adeste Fideles, it was one of the earliest hymns. An English translation in 1841 by the Reverend Frederick Oakley brought it to prominence.

Alongside Christmas hymns, there appeared Christmas carols, which had a more jocular flavour, depicting a certain level of religious joy and being sung along with hymns. Among the best-loved Christmas carols were Silent Night, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Away In A Manger, The Little Drummer Boy, Carol of The Bells, Ding Dong Merrily on High, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and The Twelve Days Of Christmas.

Some of the earliest Christmas songs were novelty songs, performed solely to produce a comic effect. One of the earliest of such songs was All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, which was first introduced by Spike Jones and The City Slickers in 1948. In 1952, thirteen-year-old Jimmy Boyd recorded the novelty song I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Six years later, Alvin and the Chipmunks recorded The Chipmunk Song, which included a unique squirrel-like sound in the recording. In 1979, the husband-and-wife duo of Elmo and Patsy recorded the hilarious Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

Jingle Bells, which was first made popular in 1955 by Dan Charles, may perhaps be the most popular of the novelty Christmas songs. It was, however, ironic, because the song was not originally intended to be a Christmas song. Originally published in the autumn of 1857 under the title One Horse Open Sleigh, it was originally written to be sung by a Sunday School choir, but later became associated with Christmas.

A great portion of Christmas songs were adopted from pieces initially created for other purposes but were later applied to Christmas or came to be associated with the season in some way.

Some were written to celebrate other holidays, but were eventually drawn into Christmas music. Others fall into the winter classification and merely describe the weather: Winter Wonderland, Let It Snow and Baby It's Cold Outside are three such songs. Mel Torme, the co-writer of Nat Cole's The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire) in 1946, claimed that he wrote the song during the blistering hot summer of 1944 in an effort to try and stay cool.

Music associated with Christmas always seems to retain their 'freshness' and hold a lasting place in the hearts of Christians and Festival fanatics. This may easily be understood because unlike songs for other occasions, they are played only at Christmas time, and so the 'hunger' for them is compounded by the year-long wait. One Christmas song that revelers are constantly hungry for is Augu Rios' DÛnde Est· Santa Claus. In the song, the 12-year-old seems to be searching for Santa Claus as he sings:

"Mamacita, dÛnde est· Santa Claus?

Mamacita, oh where is Santa Claus?

I look for him because it's Christmas Eve."

When Christmas songs eventually entered popular music, they created an even bigger stir, with many entering the pop charts in several countries. Bing Crosby's 1942 recording of White Christmas, in fact, created history when it made the US, charts for 21 consecutive years since 1942. It eventually became the world's biggest-selling single of all time. Other early popular songs that reaped chart success include Brenda Lee's Rocking Around The Christmas Tree (1958), Harry Simeone Chorale's Little Drummer Boy (1958), Robin Holmes' Jingle Bell Rock (1957) and Carla Thomas's Gee Wiz It's Christmas (1963). In 1980, Gladys Knight and The Pips had When A Child Is Born, while Harry Belafone made it with Mary's Boy Child. The Emotions' soulful 1973 Stax recording of What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas is still a must-play on the playlist of Christmas party Disc Jocks. Luther Vandross' 1976 disco-flavoured hit, May Christmas Bring You Happiness was a danceable piece, while Maria Carey delivered with All I Want For Christmas Is You in 1994. Natalie Cole viewed Christmas from a more mature standpoint in her 1999 Atlantic recording My Grown Up Christmas List, in which she asserted that the list was not for herself, but, for a world in need - no more lives torn apart,and that wars would never start.

Among the many Jamaican Christmas songs that became popular were Christmas Coming by Alton Ellis, Santa Do You Ever Come To The Ghetto by Carlene Davis, Santa Ketch Up Inna Mango Tree by Faith D'Aguilar, Christmas JA by Neville Willoughby, Let The Christmas Catch You In A Good Mood by Home T.4's, The Meaning Of Christmas by the Rhythm Aces, and the albums Christmas In The Sun, Christmas Songbook and Christmas Rockers by The Fab5 band, Derrick Harriott, and The Joe Gibbs Family, respectively.