10 Best Christmas Songs for Atheists

What do you do if you’re an atheist who likes Christmas carols?

It’s widely assumed that atheists, by definition, hate Christmas. And it’s an assumption I’m baffled by. I like Christmas. Lots of atheists I know like Christmas. Heck, even Richard Dawkins likes Christmas. Plenty of atheists recognize the need for rituals that strengthen social bonds and mark the passing of the seasons. Especially when the season in question is dark and wet and freezing cold. Add in a culturally- sanctioned excuse to spend a month of Saturdays eating, drinking, flirting, and showing off our most festive shoes, and we’re totally there. And we find our own ways to adapt/ create/ subvert the holiday traditions to our own godless ends.

Sure, most of us would like for our governments to not be sponsoring religious displays at the holidays. Or any other time. What with the whole “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” thing. And some of us do rather resent the cultural hegemony of one particular religious tradition being crammed down everybody’s throat, in a grotesque, mutant mating of homogenized consumerism and saccharine piety. But it’s not like all atheists are Grinchy McScrooges. Many of us are very fond of Christmas. Some atheists even like Christmas carols. I’m one of them.

It is, however, definitely the case that, since I’ve become an atheist activist, my pleasure in many Christmas carols has been somewhat diminished. It’s harder for me to sing out lustily about angels and magic stars and the miracle of the virgin birth, without rolling my eyes just a little. And I do notice the more screwed-up content of many Christmas songs more than I used to: the guilty self-loathing, the fixation on the blood sacrifice, the not- so- subtle anti-Semitism. I’m content to sing most of these songs anyway (except “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which always makes me cringe). But for some time now, I’ve been on the lookout for Christmas songs that I can sing entirely happily, without getting into annoying theological debates in my head.

So, with the help of my Facebook friends, I’ve compiled a list of Christmas songs that atheists can love unreservedly.


Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, 10 Best Christmas Songs for Atheists. To see my list of cool Christmas songs that even a hard-line atheist could love — and my reasons for which songs did and didn’t make the cut — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

10 Best Christmas Songs for Atheists

55 thoughts on “10 Best Christmas Songs for Atheists

  1. 1

    Very nice list; just two things.
    1. I don’t think you looked closely at all the lyrics to ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ cause it does clearly mention god.
    2. As someone who started singing in a choir as am 8 year old, I’ve sung countless lyrics that I don’t believe. I was never asked to believe most of them, even when I was singing in a church choir (although that many have been implied, I never held to it). I still sing lots of songs that mention god and it really doesn’t bother me – i guess I’m just used to it. I even sing hymns when I accompany friends to church (usually for a family celebration).
    I draw the line though, at singing the ones I don’t like, regardless of content. Which means I don’t sing Amazing Grace anymore – talk about overdone. I’ve promised to find a way to return from my grave if that song is played at any gathering around my death!

  2. 3

    Well, just to answer your Batman tangent, what do you mean Batman isn’t on TV anymore? Adam West and Burt Ward may be strangers to today’s kids, but animated Batman series have been running pretty much non-stop, through various incarnations, since the early 90s (and some of it quite excellent).
    The currently-running series is Batman: The Brave And The Bold (which I haven’t seen).
    Before that was “The Batman” series than ran from early to late 2000s. Then before that were the various Bruce Timm titles (Batman, Justice League, etc.) throughout all of the 90s and early aughts.
    If you’re a pop culture nerd with even a passing affection for Batman, I highly recommend most all of Bruce Timm’s stuff. The Christmas With The Joker episode even features Mark Hammill (as the voice of the Joker) singing the Jingle Bells parody. πŸ˜‰

  3. vel

    good list, I think. I always like “I’ll be home for Christmas” but it always makes me tear up.
    I would give Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer a pass as even an honorable mentions since it always struck me as approving the idea that the plaid sheep of the family needs to do anything asked of them to be accepted by the bullies of the world.

  4. 5

    Mary: Gosh-darn it, you’re right about “Here Comes Santa Claus”! I had no idea: I don’t think I ever made it past the first verse. How weird to have the Christian theology mixed in with the Santa theology. I’ll be more careful next time. Thanks.

  5. 6

    I love the whole Cheiftan’s Christmas Album, which has many religion themed songs, but the best song is “The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne. It’s about the hypocritical nature of Christians at christmas time specifically, from the perspective of a “heathen”, but it’s a hauntingly beautiful song! It’s obscure, but a must listen.

  6. 7

    “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
    Either the classic John Mercer & Margaret Whiting version or the equally lovely Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone version from the ‘Elf’ soundtrack.
    It doesn’t actually have anything at all to do with Christmas. It’s all classic Mad Men era seduction and faux-reluctance.
    “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses.
    Ok, it’s not really singalong material. But hey, modern, single, urban, secular holiday depression romance. And a sax solo.
    “The 12 Days After Christmas”
    A school choir staple. For all the bitter, exacting geeks who wonder just how much bird-shit you’d have to clean up after all those geese and swans and partridges.
    “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”
    I know, I know. Overdone, annoying, moderately mean-spirited. But it counts, damnit! You can sing along to it, everyone knows it, and even the scroogiest scrooge (which, frankly, is me) will join in.

  7. 8

    I recall you writing about atheists celebrating christmas last year, too, and the same thing bugged me as now: I live in New Zealand, and here, christmas lands in the middle of the hottest, stickiest, most humid time of year. And yet everyone still sings all the carols about snow, and cold, holy nights. It’s really quite ridiculous. Sure, they’ve made up some summer themed christmas songs (though I can’t find any that don’t mention the nativity), but overall it’s still a very much snow-themed, hot summer christmas.
    So, for the past few years I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to celebrate a holiday which from childhood was drenched in religion and snow imagery (even in a city that hasn’t seen snow in decades). I fear it’s turned me into a bit of a scrooge.

  8. vel

    other good one, and I do sing along to it “I beleive in Father Christmas” by Emerson Lake and Palmer. Lovely biting and wistful.

  9. 11

    I can’t get any more bent over Jesus songs than I would over Santa Claus songs. As one commenter said: You don’t have to believe the words.

  10. 12

    I can’t get any more bent over Jesus songs than I would over Santa Claus songs. As one commenter said: You don’t have to believe the words.

    John: People haven’t been shoving the “flying reindeer” mythology down my throat for my entire life. People who believe in flying reindeer aren’t visiting my blog and telling me that I have no morality because I don’t believe that reindeer fly. People who believe in flying reindeer aren’t trying to get reindeer aeronautics taught in public school science classes. People who believe in flying reindeer didn’t vote to outlaw my marriage and make me a second-class citizen, because their invisible flying reindeer friends told them they’d burn in hell if they didn’t.
    Etc. Etc. Etc.
    If other people are fine singing songs of a mythology they don’t believe in, that’s ducky with me. I’m just heartily sick of this particular mythology, and if I can avoid it, I’m going to.

  11. 13

    A few unique ones that I’m partial to that wouldn’t have made your list, if only for being semi-obscure:
    Jonathan Coulton’s “Chiron Beta Prime“. “Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime / where we’re working in a mine / for our robot overlords / Did I say overlords? I meant protectors!”
    2 picks from Futurama: The Elves Xmas Song (“if I weren’t stuck here frozen I’d harpoon you in the eye!”) and the Xmas song from the movie (link)
    Oh, and Blink 182’s Won’t Be Home For Christmas. What do you mean you’re sensing a pattern?

  12. 14

    Yesterday my six year old son asked me, “Dad, how can Santa know everything? Does he have a secret TV or something?”
    I said, “Everett, Sinterkluas got his training in the old East Germany, he listens in on everyone. When that doesn’t work, he bribes local kids to spy on each other.”

  13. Nes

    I like the instrumental versions of the old classic hymns. That way I can still hear the tunes I like, but without worrying about the lyrics that are, as Tim says, quite dodgy.

  14. 17

    I’m glad “Carol of the Bells” made it onto your list! I’m heartily sick of most Christmas music by December 1, but I love that piece – especially the instrumental versions. It’s such a hauntingly beautiful melody. And to find out it’s based on a prehistoric pagan folk tune, even better!
    Also, I second Sarah W’s mention of “The Rebel Jesus”. It’s a folk song written “by a heathen and a pagan”, as the lyrics go, that expresses the Christmas spirit more beautifully than anything I’ve ever heard written by a Christian. It never fails to bring a tear or two to my eye.
    Oh – and how on earth did you overlook Trans-Siberian Orchestra?! πŸ™‚

  15. 18

    I never realized that “Carol of the Bells” had two sets of English lyrics (the other one being called “Ring, Christmas Bells”). The recording that was indelibly stamped upon my brain during childhood was apparently the latter, as I clearly remembered the lyrics “Jesus is King.” I’m glad to know that a secular version is available, and is in fact the older of the two English versions.

  16. 19

    When I was in elementary school we used to have an hour of seasonal singing every day for the week before Christmas holidays. There was about an even mix of secular stuff in the Santa/Snowmen canon, and Christian stuff, and one or two Jewish songs because the pianist was Jewish. It was about the only exposure I had to religious stuff in those days, so I just assumed that the whole Jesus thing was a fanciful tale (in the same way that Rudolph was not really excluded from the reindeer games). I was flabbergasted when I realized, some years later, that for some reason people actually believed the nativity bits. :S
    That said, if I’m going to listen to Christmas songs at all they’re going to be the really old ones that sound best in an ancient cathedral. O Holy Night is one of my favorites, though admittedly I much prefer the instrumental versions (Apocalyptica does a great one…). As Mr. Minchin might say, some of the hymns they sing have nice chords (but the lyrics are dodgy).
    In order to avoid the traditional/modern christmas song debate that comes up in my family every year, we mostly just play old Amazing Blondel records on a loop all day. Not at all christmas themed, but somehow quite festive anyway…

  17. 20

    Yes, there certainly are a lot of beautiful tunes and lyrics plus lots of other things about the season that are quite OK. I just put up our lights today, simply because they brighten the season.
    We’re going to our Lion’s Club xmas party Thursday. Should be fun. If they sing Silent Night, I probably won’t join in.
    It took me a while to get my bearings on this subject, and your posting is helpful in achieving balance. It’s just a solstice celebration to me, and it’s great for family time and get-togethers.

  18. AYY

    I’ll Be Home for Christmas shouldn’t have made the list. The song is pointless. If you’ll be home, just tell whoever is already home that you’re coming. You don’t have to announce it to the world. And the last line is “if only in my dreams” which means that maybe he won’t be home for Christmas at all and negates the idea behind the rest of the song. So at the end of the song I’m thinking that he’s a big talker, but when he has to follow through, maybe he won’t.
    12 Days of Christmas is no good either. No point to it. Just a random list of things that I wouldn’t want, and that most other people I know wouldn’t want, much less want every year. Bah. Humbug.
    And for the commenter who said “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, what have you been smoking? The song is terrible. I have to listen to it every Christmas when they play it at Barnes and Noble and my local supermarket. I always hope that this time the girl will stand firm and throw the bum out. Instead she sings along with him, so what I want to do when I hear it is run out the door.
    There’s no melody or drama in the song. The seduction attempt, if that’s what it is, is inept. And there are unanswered questions. The song doesn’t tell us just how cold it is, or why he yearns for her, or why she’s supposed to get in the mood because the guy complains about the cold. Wouldn’t she be more impressed if he braved the cold?
    And when they sing together “it’s cold outside” it makes no sense in the context of the situation they’re describing. She’s been trying to get rid of the guy, and he hasn’t given her any cogent reason to change her mind, so why is she singing along with him that it’s cold outside?

  19. 22

    I respect your point of view even if I am an atheist who hate Christmas as all other religious events. I don’t care if you call it Christmas or Saturnmas, about divine children being born or being eaten. As the only thing all atheists have in common is we don’t believe in any religion and divinity I can have nothing against the fact that you are able to celebrate Christmas for whatever reason you want. I am not. I hate so deep religion and what it is doing to my life in Romania that for me Christmas is a time of grief and carols sound only like the drums of war songs of an enemy invading army.

  20. 23

    I’m not going to argue – cos I know you’re much better at it than me – but I think it’s worth noting that I’ve always seen O Come Immanuel as talking about metaphorical Israel rather than the actual Jews. (I think it’s the third verse that first uses the words we/us/our.)
    Using “Israel” to reference the christian church is an ancient christian tradition, indicating the broadening of god’s covenant from the Old (just one group) to the New (everyone who opts in).
    I realise that’s problematic in itself – cultural appropriation for a start – but I don’t think it counts as anti-Semitic.
    (Oh, and I really like Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody. Did that make it over the pond?)

  21. 24

    I’m so glad another person’s blog routed me here! πŸ˜€ I’m a fellow atheist who isn’t particularly bothered by the religious bent of an ancient pagan ritual…lol, nor am I bothered by religious content in most carols (having grown up in the Christian faith, I find them mildly nausea-inducing…but I don’t judge what stirs the sentimental hearts of the faithful – so long as they don’t try to cram their beliefs down my throat lol).
    My personal favorite “carol”? The Grinch Song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzXKWKaxt3c) …and just yesterday I received a song recommendation that made my giggle for a long while. If you have any familiarity with Baltimore, this one’ll probably make you giggle as well: Crabs for Christmas (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmOPgG4HNds)
    And now, adding you to my blog roll.
    Happy holidays to you & yours. πŸ™‚

  22. 25

    I like “Amazing Grace”.
    It was written by John Newman, an ex slave trader who was looking for forgiveness within himself for the wrongs he had perpetrated in his past.
    However the theme of the song can be applied to most of us about finding redemption.
    I cannot see anything to hate about it since it is just offering hope (not in some after life) but in the here and now.
    Perhps you were unable to understand that

  23. 26

    I cannot see anything to hate about it since it is just offering hope (not in some after life) but in the here and now.

    I can easily tell you what I, personally, hate about it.
    First, it celebrates self-loathing. (“A wretch like me?” Ew.)
    Second, it assumes that redemption from this self-loathing has to come from God’s grace — it’s not something we can create for ourselves.
    Third, it celebrates fear. (“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear/ And grace my fear relieved…”) It’s everything I hate about the doctrine of hell: it’s basically emotional blackmail, a doctrine that teaches people to be terrified and then offers itself as a solution for that terror. Like advertising: creating a need so they can sell you stuff to fill it.

  24. 27

    I think “I’ll Be Home for Xmas” needs to be placed in a particular context. I think it’s supposed to be someone fighting a war, singing about NOT being home for Xmas. Can probably add in the fear of never returning home.
    One song I enjoy is the Eagles, “Please Come Home for Xmas.”

  25. 28

    Dear Greta Christina let me first of all be polite: I do not think you understand anything about what religion/god or atheism is.
    The words of “Amazing Grace” , whether put in religious terms or not, are all about developing self worth and finding redemption within one’s self.
    If you were really into understanding what atheism and thereby the function of religion/god you would know that the notion of faith and understanding and yes god, always comes from the depths of perception of reality and existence, not from the ignorance of believing that god can only exist as an old man sitting on a rock with a big fork in his hand. A Deity can be just as real when if resides in the inner workings of the human mind, to be called upon when needed.
    Also I note your fear of humility as if you are afraid of losing your identity, yet isn’t humility the first thing that psychologists try to establish when trying to reach past erroneous thinking and guilt transgression that have distorted the mental processes of the person they are treating.
    “I ONCE WAS LOST, BUT NOW I SEE”> Amazing grace for me.

  26. 29

    PS: Is it so wrong to “loath’ the person we once were, who caused suffering for others, but to celebrate the aware person that we have become?

  27. 30

    I see, Carlos. You, of course, understand the true nature of both religion and atheism far better than anyone else here.
    I have never once said that the only possible understanding of a deity is “an old man sitting on a rock with a big fork in his hand.” What I have said, repeatedly, is that, for the overwhelming majority of people, religion means belief in some sort of non-physical entity or substance with an effect on the physical world: whether that’s a human-like entity sitting in the sky, or some force inside each of us, or whatever. And it is that hypothesis that, as both an atheist and a materialist, I object to.
    And I completely disagree with your notion that faith “always comes from the depths of perception of reality and existence.” Again, as both an atheist and a materialist, I think that religious faith exists in direct contradiction to reality and existence, rather than an accurate perception of it. And in fact, religious faith very often involves a flat denial of reality — such as the many religious believers who flatly deny scientific facts.
    As for the particulars of the song “Amazing Grace,” it seems silly to debate it, as it ultimately comes down to subjective interpretation. I am sometimes interested in discussing and debating different subjective interpretations of art forms… but nothing in your purportedly “polite” comment has made me think that doing so with you would be productive.

  28. 33

    Greta Christina I wrote that in my first post. Didn’t you read it before resposnding to what I had to say?
    “I like “Amazing Grace”.
    It was written by John Newman, an ex slave trader who was looking for forgiveness within himself for the wrongs he had perpetrated in his past.”

  29. 34

    Apparently, atheists aren’t even supposed to say we don’t like a particular song, unless we can give evidence that we are aware of, and have adequately studied and considered, all the possible reasons why someone might like it.
    I guess we should say we’re “agnostic” about a song until then?

  30. 35

    “It was written by John Newman, an ex slave trader who was looking for forgiveness within himself for the wrongs he had perpetrated in his past.”

    Strongly implying that the wrongs he was looking for forgiveness for were the wrongs of slave trading. An implication that’s contradicted if he wrote the song while he was still trading slaves.
    And I’ll second what Nurse Ingrid said. You seem to have the idea that your interpretation of “Amazing Grace” is the only correct one, and that anyone who doesn’t like the song is simply mistaken. I’m often up for debating and discussing different possible interpretations of art and which might be more appropriate… but not with someone who’s taking that approach.
    And now, can the rest of us get back into the far more interesting discussion of atheist- friendly Christmas songs? I’ve wasted way too much time on this annoying and pointless debate.

  31. 36

    It’s not a pointless debate, the song itself is unimportant.
    What is important is the lack of acceptance by atheism that people finding ways (even through religion) of coming to terms with their past mistakes is very important.
    After all atheism has no such ways of helping people, or healing their pain.
    Which is certainly more important than whether you enjoy Christmas or not.
    If you cannot stand the heat…etc?

  32. 37

    What is important is the lack of acceptance by atheism that people finding ways (even through religion) of coming to terms with their past mistakes is very important.

    I have no problems with people coming to terms with their past mistakes. I just object to the idea that this has to be done through the grace of God. I object to it because I think it’s mistaken — I don’t think God exists. And I object to it because I think it makes people powerless. It gives them the idea that forgiveness and acceptance of imperfection come from outside, instead of being something we have the power to do for ourselves.

    After all atheism has no such ways of helping people, or healing their pain.

    Carlos, have you ever bothered to read any atheist writing, or talk with any atheists about their atheism? Every atheist writer I know has written about positive tools for coping with life’s problems without belief in God or the supernatural. If you look at the sidebar on the right side of this blog, you’ll see a list of other writing I’ve done about atheism — including plenty of writing about positive atheist philosophies, and ways of dealing with struggles both practical and profound.
    It isn’t even true that atheism has no way of helping people deal with past mistakes. I’ve even written a piece on that very topic: “Everything happens for a reason”: Atheism and Learning from Mistakes.
    If you’re going to make broad generalizations about atheists and atheism, I suggest you spend a little time talking with some first, and listening to what we say about their lack of belief. At least, read the writings of some atheists, or spend a little time in atheist blogs and forums — reading and listening, before you chime in with your opinion. This idea that atheism has nothing to offer to help people through life is one of the most common myths about atheism… and it’s one of the most insulting.

  33. 38

    “After all atheism has no such ways of helping people, or healing their pain.”
    You’re quite right. Atheism offer no set of lies that will comfort people.

  34. 40

    Indeed I have talked to many of them (atheists) and I don’t like what I hear. Not because of their beliefs, or none beliefs, I couldn’t care less. In fact I think that having an opposite philosophy to religion is both necessary and healthy.
    Rather its because of the shallowness and little-picture hypocrisy of the kind of people who become atheists.

  35. 41

    “And I object to it because I think it makes people powerless” Really?
    Of course there is a great deal of empowerment in people being so consumed by their guilt that they take their own life and sometimes the lives of others.
    You understand nothing

  36. pj

    @AYY re ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’ – I don’t think you’ve understood.
    The girl’s not trying to throw the guy out; she’s at his place. She keeps saying she ought to be going but she doesn’t really want to leave, and the weather is a convenient excuse provided by him. It’s basically, “Well, I guess I’d better be off now.” “Really? You’ll get very cold, you know.” “Well, maybe I’ll stay a bit longer, then.”

  37. 43

    Posted by: Carlos | December 14, 2010 at 11:11 PM
    John Newton – he became religious at the age of 23 in 1748. This conversion hardly spurred him to stop slave trading – he only stopped that in 1754.
    Amazing Grace was probably penned in 1772, inspired more by a hymn writing contest with William Cowper then a recognition of his wrongs, and he only started expressing regrets for his role in the slave trade in 1780.
    It took until 1785 for him to actually oppose slavery.
    In other words, he didn’t even see slavery as wrong until eight years after he wrote the song.
    Now you accuse people of hypocrisy and not getting religion. Here’s the thing, we get your religion, a lot of us? We were religious at one point or another.
    And we see the hypocrisy in thinking that apologising to your imaginary friend counts as “salvation” automatically stripping the wronged of their right to forgive or not.
    After all it doesn’t matter if they don’t so long as you God does.
    You’re not deep, you’re just self-righteous, trying to claim you are “better” when in actual fact you are just full of yourself.

  38. 44

    Rather its because of the shallowness and little-picture hypocrisy of the kind of people who become atheists.


    Of course there is a great deal of empowerment in people being so consumed by their guilt that they take their own life and sometimes the lives of others.

    In other words: You don’t have any actual arguments. So instead, you’re just going to resort to bigoted insults and call atheists shallow and hypocritical at best, and suicidal or murderous at worst.
    Has anyone else noticed the irony of the fact that this hateful, bigoted spew came up in response to a post about how atheists enjoy life, Christmas, and singing songs?

  39. 45

    It seems to me that there is much irrational ganging up against a suggestion that there is more to the intricate workings of life than merely ‘if there is a god or not’ and atheists cannot exclude themselves from the same traumas that affect the lives of everyone else, whether they believe in a deity or not.
    The problem seems to be that atheists think they can tease out of all the interwoven interactions of emotions, imaginations, and perceptions the thing that they can call god. A fabricated idea of a god that they need to justify their atheism with ridicule and cynicism. Yet inwardly their wishes and hopes, their dreads and fears are not so different from religionists, except they have a different name for what they focus on.

  40. 46

    A fabricated idea of a god that they need to justify their atheism with ridicule and cynicism.
    Why would we need to justify our disbelief in fictional characters and made-up beings?

  41. 47

    A fabricated idea of a god that they need to justify their atheism with ridicule and cynicism.

    A fabricated idea? You think atheists are making up the kinds of religious beliefs people have?

    It seems to me that there is much irrational ganging up against a suggestion that there is more to the intricate workings of life than merely ‘if there is a god or not’ and atheists cannot exclude themselves from the same traumas that affect the lives of everyone else, whether they believe in a deity or not.

    Of course there’s more to life than the question of whether there is or is not a god. But this is an atheist blog. That’s the question we’re primarily discussing here. We also talk about greater “meaning of life” issues: if you look in the sidebar on the right side of this blog, under the heading “Some Favorite Posts and Conversations: Atheism,” you’ll see lots of other things I’ve written — including atheist/ humanist/ skeptical philosophies about life and death and suffering and meaning and so on. And every other atheist writer I know talks about these issues as well, at great length. But we also like to talk about the question of whether there is or is not a god. We think it’s interesting, and we think it has an impact on human life and the decisions people make. If you don’t think those conversations are interesting and don’t want to participate in them, nobody’s making you. But your assumption that this is all atheists ever talk about is just a little silly. It’s like assuming that Roger Ebert never talks about anything other than movies, simply because that’s all you ever see him talk about.

  42. 48

    Having read this entire thread, I am amazed that nobody’s yet mentioned Fairytale of New York. Maybe it’s not that big a deal over your side of the pond, but as far as I’m concerned it ain’t Christmas until I’m in a pub singing Fairytale. Or, you know, singing the first line, thr chorus and the cursing, and mumbling the rest. It’s kind of like an anthem that way. πŸ˜‰

  43. 49

    I like your list, Greta! It’s very similar indeed to the set of songs I collected for my secular-Christmas/solstice/yule singalong party a couple of years ago. (But hey, I never even knew there were lyrics to Carol of the Bells — I only ever knew it as an instrumental piece!)
    As for a song that hasn’t been mentioned yet — how about John Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War is Over)?

  44. 51

    I smile when thinking about whether I agree with the words after reading several years ago about atheist David Randolph, who directed HandelҀ™s Messiah more times than anyone else (including at Carnegie Hall). He said he refused to let words get in the way of good music! He died last May at the age of 95.
    How he justified it with his atheism is explained here:

  45. Cea

    Love your article. I’m pagan so finding non-Christian carols is hard to do. A lot of yours are on my list for the same reasons. Try the Pink Martini holiday CD for a very eclectic mix. My favorite is a New Years song in Chinese and, they have Carol of the Bells in Ukrainian.
    Enjoy the holidays and thanks for a fun article.

  46. 54

    Well, I’m not crazy about this list, I like the old tunes better. But I’m something of a music geek, a chorister, and also I like the fun dark stuff. Myrrh is mine, and all that blood imagery. And Gloria in Excelsis Deo in 4 part harmony with descants… But didn’t you have a post on enjoying this last year, Greta? Have you changed your mind?
    I also like the cutesy medieval ones in which the story is morphing into folk tale, with all the cliched tropes. The cherry tree carol, and Great King Herod’s cock! And then there was this one otherwise boring song I did this year that had a lot of SM-like imagery, with gazing rapturously on his wounds and stuff. O Come Quickly! *snicker*

  47. Ben

    Ugh. A worthy post, but I fear that by ruling out all music with reference to Christ you’ve also ruled out all music written by trained professionals. The list you’re left with consists of songs that make my skin crawl because they are an offense to the notion of “music”.
    Yes, I’m a music snob, obviously. And a musician, albeit an amateur.
    I’m an atheist and always have been, but one of my all-time favourite pieces is Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. I even learned some Christianity (not to mention some German) so I could understand the piece a little better. Now I know why it’s usually played at Easter, but that doesn’t diminish my appreciation of the music.
    You have a lovely article called “Trekkie Religion and Secular Judaism”. It seems that this article would be a great place to provide context and a strong motive for secular Christianity (er, anti-semitism is a noble part of our cultural heritage???)? At least it would leave some pieces written by actual composers in your ok-list.
    One more thought: would making sure to sing plenty of songs from other religions’ solstice festivals take the curse off the mention of Jesus? Most everyone has a solstice festival of some sort. Of course, I’m not convinced that any non-Christian culture has ever achieved musical greatness πŸ˜‰
    Last idea: it would be fun to write a “Christmas carol” about the facts–the doubt about Christ’s existence, the knowledge that he was definitely not born in December, the history of atrocities and lies and usurpings of other religions’ tropes–in Latin or Hebrew or something, and set it to a really beautiful and memorable tune.

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