Christmas songs featuring Jesus don’t top the global charts, as a recent CT piece noted. Of those that have gained popularity, many are translations of Western carols. Though they may not be indigenous to that country, they’re beloved for their theological truths and their retelling of the Christmas story.
We asked Christian leaders and musicians representing nine countries and territories to share their favorite songs, both those originally from the West and ones closer to home.
Mariel Deluca Voth, theological education consultant for Latin America and the Caribbean, reSource Leadership International:
“La Navidad de Luis,” written by León Gieco, is one of my favorite Christmas songs because it reflects on the values of empathy and solidarity. The song mentions that Luis does not accept the wine and the panettone given by his boss because he understands that charity or pity do not mitigate poverty and oppression. Instead, he chooses to accept words spoken by his own father, words that give him life: Jesus is like me.
My favorite Western Christmas song is “Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Angels We Have Heard on High).” As a child, I always lived in an urban setting, but my home had a huge terrace where I could swing for hours, seeing shapes in the clouds and imagining stories. So during the Christmas season I would open my eyes wide to see the multitude of angels singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” I love this carol even today because I can accept the invitation to adore Jesus and do so in tune with angels, mountains, and shepherds.
Xiaofei Wang, director, Xiamen Pastors’ Wives Fellowship:
My favorite Chinese Christmas song is “The Starlit Blessing.” The lyrics of this song are from Luke 2:8–14. The lyrics are very simple and easy to remember, yet they clearly express that the birth of the Lord Jesus lighted up the dark hearts of the world and awakened the sleeping spirits of humans. He is the true light of the gospel, and the promised Messiah has come quietly. Thanks be to the Lord!
Our country’s favorite Western Christmas song is “Silent Night.” It is a beautiful melody, and it gives a very peaceful feeling. The progression of the three sections of lyrics shows that Jesus Christ is our only hope. The first section speaks of the Virgin Mary and the holy infant so tender and mild. The second section speaks of the shepherds and heavenly hosts rejoicing. The third section reaches its climax: God is love, and his love is made known through his holy Son, Jesus Christ, who brings the redeeming grace.
Aliece Chen, biblical counselor and executive director, Tree of Life Counseling and Research Center:
Most of the Christmas songs that I sing were translated from English. “Joy to the World” was the first Christmas song I heard when I celebrated Christmas as a Christian, and we sang it in Chinese. Every time I sing this song, I’m reminded of God’s glory.
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” is my all-time favorite Christmas song. The Christmas story is about the bad news that no matter how good or smart we are, we can’t save ourselves from trouble—because the deepest trouble comes from within us. However, it’s also about the good news of Christ, who came to this world to save us. When I sing this song, my heart is filled with joy and solemnness and awe of Him.
Lucía Parker, musical artist, nominated for multiple Dove Awards and Latin Grammy Awards:
“Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano is played on the radio nonstop during Christmas, not only in my country, El Salvador, but all around the world. Surprisingly, we love a lot of salsa and merengue and tropical music during Christmas because it means we can dance during family get-togethers. You’ll hear American Christmas carols at the mall, but in reality, salsa music is what everyone is dancing and celebrating with.
My favorite Western Christmas songs are anything that talk about snow and cold weather, like “Let It Snow” or “The Christmas Song.” Where I grew up in El Salvador, it’s 90 degrees during Christmas, so these songs would take me to a place I could only dream of or see in movies. I didn’t grow up with chimneys, snowmen, or reindeer, so I just love the classics.
Marie Gomez, singer, songwriter, and worship leader, Abiding Word Ministries
My favorite Christmas song in Wolof, my local language, is “Cha Bethlehem (In Bethlehem).” This anthem tells the whole story of Christmas: It narrates all the events in Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth, the annunciation by the angels, the stars in the sky, the Magi. The story of Christmas is simplified for people of all ages and educational backgrounds to understand in their mother tongue.
My favorite Western song is “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It is so special to me because it’s a call to all who believe in Jesus to behold the newborn King, to march in triumphantly and see where he lies, the King of angels. It’s a call to adore and worship at his feet.
Sarah Breuel, Revive Europe director and evangelism training coordinator, IFES Europe:
Originally written in Latin, “Veni, Veni, (O Come, O Come) Emmanuel” is very close to the Italian “Vieni, Vieni, Emmanuel.” My soul is always moved by the instrumental version with a majestic cello, bringing me to a place of longing. The line “mourns in lonely exile” in the original Latin is gemit in exilio, which literally would translate to “groans in exile.” It makes me think of the groaning of God’s people in Egypt (Ex. 2:23). What a powerful image of Immanuel’s coming!
I love that “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is a worshipful song. “O come, let us adore him”—I often sing over and over just that one line. It invokes my soul to do what we were ultimately created for: pure adoration of Christ as Lord. It invites the faithful to come and behold. It summons choirs of angels. Indeed, because he came, we are joyful and triumphant!
Lidya Siah, lecturer of worship theology and history of worship, Reformed Theological Seminary of Indonesia:
My favorite Christmas song from my country is “Yesus Arti Natalku (Jesus, the Meaning of My Christmas).” The beautiful lyrics were written by Rev. Budianto Lim, my husband, and the melody was composed by Cindy Pelenkahu, a member of Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church (Indonesian) in Singapore. Beginning with a Christmas message on the birth of Christ to save humanity, the song ends with a personal response to serve and worship the Savior: the real meaning of Christmas.
My favorite Western Christmas carol is “Mary’s Boy Child” by Jester Hairston. The song has a complete Christmas story in it and the key message that speaks to me to this day: “And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day.” Christ was born so that I may live. Thank you, my Lord.
Connie Main Duarte, copastor, Meeting Point Church:
Portugal, as a Catholic country, has several pieces of sacred music for Christmas, but they are not part of the over 150-year evangelical tradition. Evangelical churches borrowed from the Protestant musical tradition and translated those Christmas hymns into Portuguese. My favorite is “Joy to the World.” This song is a constant reminder of the joy we have, not in our circumstances, but in the Lord.
The more traditional song “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is pure praise and adoration—something we don’t do enough of. The theology is simple, and it stirs the heart and mind to focus on God becoming flesh!
Also, the song “Mary, Did You Know?” gives us the complete story of Jesus. Not just his birth but also his identity as God and His work on the cross. It points us to the past, the present, and the future.
Brenda Rodriguez, director of missions mobilizations, Christian and Missionary Alliance–Puerto Rico district:
I love our cultural Christmas songs or aguinaldos, which are very similar to Christmas carols but with a Caribbean flare and instruments. Our music includes percussion instruments like pleneras, maracas, güiros, and tambourines, as well as Spanish guitars and cuatros—a blend of instruments that results from the melting of our three cultures: Taíno Indian, Spaniard, and African. The songs remind me of families getting together to visit different homes throughout the night and staying out until 6 in the morning. The last house welcomes everyone with a breakfast feast of café (coffee), bread, and fruits.
My favorite Christmas song is “El Niño Jesús” by Tony Croatto. It’s about how people sometimes can be so religious that they forget the true meaning of Christmas. It brings me joy and sometime tears.
My only memory of Western Christmas carols was while I was in high school in Miami, where I learned “Little Drummer Boy.” I love these lyrics:
I have no gift to bring …
That’s fit to give our King …
I played my drum for Him …
I played my best for Him …
Then He smiled at me.
Natalia Bulka, regional leader: Cru Student Led Movements, Europe Region
My favorite Ukrainian Christmas carol is “Спи, Ісусе, спи! (Sleep, O Jesus, Sleep!).” Many Ukrainian carols are written in minor keys, reflecting the history of the country and the suffering it has endured. This carol is unique in the ways that it offers love and empathy, by trying to comfort baby Jesus and protect his sleep. At the same time, it reveals that we are the ones who will prepare a cross for him to endure on our behalf. Its final lines read, “Let me beside him take a rest / Here on earth and there in heaven.” They offer the hope and assurance that with him rests the peace, no matter what.
“Mary, Did You Know?” is my favorite Western Christmas carol. It’s a true mystery beyond comprehension to see the great I Am as a baby boy. At times I wonder if it is even fair to ask Mary if she knew. Do we always know? How do you spot the sacred in the finite? It is risky to see and to be seen like that. Nevertheless, she treasured and pondered all the memories in her heart after she agreed to “let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, NKJV).