By Andrew Greenhalgh
Few seasons connect through music like Christmas, with familiar holiday tunes drawing out memories of cheer-filled Christmas mornings, family gatherings, and thoughts of the perfect gift. Yet, all too often those songs turn stale as we hear them repeated over and over again, covered by different artists.
Thankfully, good art continues to prevail and every so often an original Christmas song comes along that captures the heartbeat of the season while bringing us relief from yet another rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” Here are ten of our favorite CCM Christmas originals, written and performed by the artist, in no particular order.
1. “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” – Amy Grant
Quickly becoming a classic after its release on Grant’s second Christmas release, Home For Christmas, the track shines with its powerful tale from Mary’s perspective as she awaited the birth of Christ. With verses penned during her own pregnancy at the time from an idea by fellow writer Chris Eaton, Grant’s track conjures a haunting look of fear and wonder and is simply beautiful.
2. Joseph’s Song” – Michael Card
Simple, quiet, and understated, Card’s song looks at the birth of Christ through the eyes of Joseph and manages to capture the amazement and humility found in the story. And as he sings, “Father, show me where I fit into this plan of yours/How can a man be father to the Son of God?” listeners are floored with the gravity of Joseph’s task.
3. “Different Kind Of Christmas” – Mark Schultz
Written after the loss of his father in law, Schultz’s poignant song shines the light on those who find the holidays less than joyous, grieving the loss of loved ones and struggling to reclaim the joy of the season. Schultz’s perspective brings both empathy and encouragement and delivers a powerfully beautiful listen to boot.
4. “Toy Packaging” – Sara Groves
Few songs have captured the playful joy and frustration of a parent on Christmas morning as they labor to work open the gifts for their children, “thoughtfully” packaged by the toy companies. The mood is light, with a bright, jaunty piano backing and Groves’ warm, honest vocal carries forward a playful smile on this song for parents everywhere.
5. “Mary, Did You Know?” – Mark Lowry
It’s the rare song that has caught fire like this one, being recorded first by Lowry’s cohort in the Gaither Vocal Band, Michael English, and then taking off, being covered by everyone from Kenny Rogers to CeeLo Green. But Lowry’s version stands on its own, the artist’s heart front and center as he wonders at Mary’s experience with the baby Jesus.
6. “Christmas Is All In the Heart” – Steven Curtis Chapman
With Chapman’s warm, accessible vocals and the acoustic-flavored backing, this song stands the test of time with a lyric that recalls a Christmas-based, Christian version of “Living On a Prayer” with protagonists holding strong with faith through tough times and the joy in their hearts. As the track fast-forwards to the present and Chapman reflects on watching the joy of the season through his children’s eyes, the goosebumps inevitably come.
7. “Behold The Lamb Of God” – Andrew Peterson
With lyrics reading like they were drawn from the poetry of the holy scriptures, Peterson combines his folksy style with a beautiful backdrop of strings and harmony, turning in a fine piece of Christmas worship. It’s far more complex than its initial simplicity shows, and repeated listens reveal deeper layers of contemplation .
8. “How Many Kings” – Downhere
Powerful lyrics matched by equally powerful vocals combine to create a powerful song. Marc Martel’s insightful lyric that finds him asking “And how many gods have poured out their hearts/To romance a world that is torn all apart/How many fathers gave up their sons for me?” tears at the heart while his amazing vocal prowess shines as he shoots for the high notes, delivering a song that delivers on all fronts.
9. “Mystery” – Selah
Penned by founding member Todd Smith while in college, “Mystery” works a minor chord vibe that showcases Smith’s stirring vocals while singing a lyric that wrestles with the challenge of God become man, predestined to die for our sins. As the track builds, so does Smith’s vocal passion, nailing every note before ending without a full resolution, leaving listeners wanting more.
10. “You Gotta Get Up (Christmas Song)” – Rich Mullins
While best known as the author of such heavyweight hits as “Awesome God” and “Sometimes By Step,” Mullins shows a lighter side here as he captures the complete joy and anticipation of Christmas morning through the eyes of a child. Bright piano tones buoy the excitement of seeing the tree filled with gifts while anchoring it in a hope that “there’ll be peace on earth” because of the hope found in Christ. In less than three minutes, Mullins manages to capture innocence, joy, and hope in song with plum perfection.