Our Favorite Christmas Songs

Classic Christmas music we not only can stand to hear but actually love.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

I know you're doing the dance right now because we all do it.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

We're dancing, we're grooving. We like it.

STEWART: It's the night before Christmas and all through the house and the studio, there are stacks of CD's that can only get played once a year, unless you listen to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" in the middle of June.

MARTIN: Unless you're me. And I'm a big, huge, nerd that plays them all the time.

STEWART: So before this holiday passes, Rachel and I are going to give those CDs one more play. We're going to go through a couple of our favorite songs, gets you in the spirit in the mood.

I'm going to go first. Now this is a classic from my childhood. I'm going date myself a little bit. It was played on local, as I say, urban radio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: It was sung by a six or seven-year-old who discovers that his pops looks an awful lot like Santa. He makes this discovery that I'm not sure a lot of people know.

(Soundbite of song "Santa Claus is a Black Man")

Unidentified Child: (Singing) Oh, when can a (unintelligible) wrong to say what the noise that woke up me, and I saw him by the Christmas tree. Santa Claus is a black man.

STEWART: Santa Claus is a black man. You heard it here first, people.

MARTIN: Yup. Can we hear a little more?

(Soundbite of song "Santa Claus is a Black Man")

Unidentified Child: (Singing) Santa Claus is a black man. Santa Claus is a black man and I found out that's why I'm telling you.

STEWART: He found out that's why he's telling you. Apparently, this was AKIM & Teddy Vann's "Santa Claus is a Black Man." It's from 1973. That was considered a soul power update on "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." Because he - look I saw a Santa kissing up on his mom. If you want to find this, you can find it on a John Waters Christmas. John Waters, being the rather eccentric director of "Hairspray" and the like. It took Waters years to track him a copy the 45 - he calls it his all-time favorite Christmas song. It might become yours, too. It's one of mine.

MARTIN: So speaking of family favorites. When my family gets together we watch a lot of "South Park." Maybe you've heard of it. And then everybody starts talking in really bad "South Park" child voices. It's very frightening for newcomers - for boyfriends and girlfriends, it scares them away immediately. And one of our favorites is "The Christmas Special" from "South Park." And there's a very special Christmas carol that's sung by my favorite character Cartman. Let's listen to a little bit of it.

(Soundbite of song "O Holy Night")

Mr. TREY PARKER (Voice Talent): (As Voice of Eric Cartman) (Singing) O Holy Night. The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior's b-b-b-birth. O holy night! That something in the distant. It is the night with the Christmas trees and pie.

MARTIN: Oh.

STEWART: He's lost, Rachel. He's not coming back.

MARTIN: I just love that switch because I should say I really love this particular Christmas carol. I sung it in church when I was little. I think it's a really beautiful piece of music, but then Cartman's reinterpretation of this holiday classic should not be missed. Here, the chorus.

(Soundbite of song "O Holy Night")

Mr. PARKER: (As Voice of Eric Cartman) (Singing) Fall on your knees and hear the angel's something. O night divine. O night when I get presents.

MARTIN: The night when I get presents.

STEWART: When I get presents.

MARTIN: There we go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: All right. (unintelligible) before a lighting bolt comes in and strikes the studio right now.

I love this one because it's a little bit of - it's a beautiful song. One of my favorite Christmas carols but there's a bit of controversy over its origins. It's Greensleeves' "What Child is This." This is Enya's version.

(Soundbite of song "What Child is This")

ENYA (Singer): (Singing) What child is this, who, laid to rest on Mary's lap, is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary.

MARTIN: You're all very thankful that I'm just lip synching along right now.

STEWART: I love it. It's so beautiful.

MARTIN: It's a beautiful song.

STEWART: Now the lyrics are written at one point and the music is from another period in time. The lyrics were written in 1865. The legend of the tune is that it comes from the 16th century. There's always been a legend that Henry VIII wrote it as a love song for Ann Boleyn. Many stories are believed that the legend still lingers. So you have Greensleeves which the music and "What Child is This" for lyrics from 200 years later.

MARTIN: Very nice.

STEWART: So finally we're going to wrap it up with a song that's just one of my favorite songs. I've actually haven't heard a version of this song that I don't like, but I decided this morning to play for you a version by Sarah McLachlan. This is off of a record that she put out last year in 2006 called "Winter Song." And I thought it was appropriate because it's just one of those classics, there's nothing controversial, nothing cerebral about this. It's a song that everyone can get something in it so let's listen.

(Soundbite of song "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas")

Ms. SARAH McLACHLAN (Singer): (Singing) Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light. From now on your troubles will be out of sight. Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Make the Yuletide gay.

MARTIN: And with that, we want to thank you for listening to THE BPP.

I'm Rachel Martin.

STEWART: And I'm Alison Stewart. We're online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. Listen in tomorrow for Christmas.

MARTIN: Merry Christmas.

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