Reflections on Christmas and 25 Favorite Christmas Recordings Before I Take an Indefinite Break

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Lots of pictures and words tonight. But this is sort of a post for many days… for days past and days ahead… so it’s a long one.

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Well, here it is the Monday after a long Christmas weekend. I finally got around to digging into all my photos from Christmas Eve and Day, and picking out my favorites. All of the above photos were taken either on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning while Izzy opened the gifts he found under the tree, or Christmas day/night, from both our drive out to my mom’s house {a mostly-rural journey I always love to take} and our time there in her home. The ornament/tree shots with white lights were taken of our tree at home. Any shots with the colored lights are photos of my mom’s tree. There was no “perfect” white-washed landscape as we drove out to my mom’s house… no white Christmas. But we noticed that the sunset and clouds were rather beautiful, so we enjoyed the stark-but-pretty-winter landscape and cloud formations in lieu of the white fluffy stuff.

Here is the slide show of all those photos, for a larger view of each individual picture, if preferred…

Our Christmas was relatively quiet, as were the days that followed it. I thought that I would take some time to reflect on this season with pictures and words, the way I have in my thoughts over the holidays and the post-holiday weekend, as I start this new week… the last week we get of twenty-fourteen before twenty-fifteen comes rushing in.

Christmas this year was joyful. It had its share of pain and sorrow, too. And just like one might expect, that pain was in even the simple things, like picturing how different Christmas morning with Izzy might have been if his little sister had been healthy and still here with us.

Today, as I reflect back over the holiday, I am so grateful for what I saw in my InBox the day after Christmas and had the chance to read today… two very thoughtful and thought-provoking blog posts, both full of day-after-Christmas reflection {that still applies for me today}… both of which contained several words and themes that had already been very much on my heart the two days before they were written… even throughout the days that led up to Christmas Eve.

The first post {or article} was this one.

To avoid outright copyright infringement of the article, I will simply try to recap what it is about. It’s titled 3 simple lessons on bravery that I learned from Mary. The title alone was enough to bait me into clicking over to read it, which I did and am glad for.

There is something special about Christmas that I’ve been pondering, more so last year, but again this year, too… about how I identify with Mary so much more now than ever before… more than I did before I was called to carry a baby who, I believe, God revealed to me I would not get to keep {which I mention, because I never felt a calling from God that I’d be part of a story where my daughter would be healed, but rather, I felt a calling on my life to carry a little girl who He would ultimately allow me to lose, but whose life was no less important, valuable and impactful than the life a healthy child that did not pass}.

I first realized this connection I feel to the story of the birth of Jesus as I listened to words sung about Mary at a Christmas concert we went to a year ago… when I was still carrying Anysia.

Upon reading the “lessons on bravery from Mary” article today, I immediately identified with the writer and the lessons she revealed, which, summed up, had to do with these three brave actions… asking questions, being willing to do the work, and not going it alone. I look back on my pregnancy, carrying Anysia all those days before and leading up to her birth just before Christmas Day 2013, and I can honestly say that those three actions marked my pregnancy… and only by the grace of God, because though I was brave as a whole, there were parts {or days} when I could hardly be brave enough to get out of bed… and I believe it was God who got me up out of my bed on the worst days.

I’ve had people tell me {back then, and still today} that I was/am brave to go through what I did. I always give God the credit for that courage. But I liked this article, because it made me see that part of the braveness we display in life has to come from ourselves. We still have to do our part, even when God is doing His, because I believe He’s given us the tools {as a friend once wrote to me regarding Anysia, “All of our trials are fitted for us by a loving God.”} I think God is there—an ever present help in the time of need—but lovingly encouraging us to do our part, too. And often, our part is simply to obey. But also to be brave simply by acting in courage, even when the feeling of courage is nowhere in sight.

The phrase in the article that stood out the most to me was this one… “Yet [Mary] trusted she was following her calling, and so she accepted it with strength and dignity.”

That nearly made me cry. I have not talked to very many people about the call I felt on my life… still feel… knowing God gave me a daughter I could not keep. It’s not something you can tell just anyone without being misunderstood. Calling or not, it took courage to go through what we did. I often wonder how much I failed in my journey to do what I thought was right {or what I thought God required of me}… more so in the details as opposed to the big picture. But I see an article like this, reading words like those found in it, and it comforts me in my memory of those days. It comforts me in the grief I’m still working through. The blog post was so poignantly, but perfectly placed in my path… at a time that could not be any more special, as I think of Mary and her journey to carry the Savior of the world in the form of man as a baby, unwed and facing what a woman in her position would face in the day and culture she was in.

This was huge. Yes, she was charged to carry the son of God. I don’t mean to compare that specific {most important} part of the story with mine. But I too faced, lived and continue to live with something enormous… life-changing, really. That is the part I relate to, as well as the physical aspect of bearing and birthing a child.

A beautiful blog friend {who I hope to meet in person some day and who said/wrote the sentence about the trials God fits us with that I mentioned above} put it to me like this in an e-mail back when she first found out about my pregnancy and Anysia’s condition…

I am so moved by the love and dignity you are bestowing upon this precious baby in your womb, despite the amazing sacrifice you are giving. I think this is what makes me cry the most. I do cry for you and your pain, but I also cry for this little baby and the gift you are giving her. What an honor to be inserted into your womb. Really. I see it this way. Her days were foreordained before the beginning of time and God chose to insert her into your story, into your womb, because He knew she would be given the utmost respect and love. And because of that I know He will tend to you as a mother during your time of grief, as painful as those days will be.”

She was right… He did.

Her words stuck with me so much… almost every day since the first day I read them. And never more do I sense what she meant than I do during the Christmas season… than I did last year at Christmas, right after Anysia was born, and this year as well. Not only is it easy to physically relate to Mary, but it is easy, as well, in light of the bravery theme of the article I’ve been reflecting on… something that can be applied to any situation, test or trial we face. I love that the person who wrote this piece could see what I have too {but could never have expressed quite as eloquently}. These are the very thoughts, unuttered for lack of words, that I have been thinking as I have reflected on this Christmas.

Another post {from a different blog I also subscribe to} came into my InBox the same day that the post on bravery showed up… one similar in theme and equally favorable for reflecting on what we had celebrated the day before.

This one is called Be Gentle with Yourself Today… “today” being December 26th when the article was posted, but just as easily applied to today, three days later, as I think and write about what Christmas has been to me this year. In the article, one of the headings states, “I feel grief is most present when I celebrate.”

Yes. Me too.

I wish I could go much more into the this second post to explain specifically how it relates to what I’ve been reflecting on. But for the sake of space and time, I will keep it to what I’ve written thus far… and also point out how much what I read in the second piece {which I urge anyone to read, but especially those who feel broken right now} relates to the Christmas song I’ve included the words to at the bottom of my post… words that tell the second, less-told but all-important end to the Christmas story.

It is a part of the message {and the reason so many believers most celebrate Christ’s birth} that has never been more meaningful to me than it is now.

With some painful things I’ve seen and heard over the past several day, along with the painful memories I have of our loss one year ago, these are the things… the thoughts… that ring the loudest {and most gently} in my ear, as I intentionally look back on this season.

• • • • •

In my attempt to intentionally create time to reflect back on Christmas this year, I realized that I want to take a break from this space, as well. Not that I was consistently or frequently posting here anyway, but I want to take a rest from this space regardless… as is my plan for any sort of online presence I normally have… so that I can use that time to work on some things in my life that have been put on the back burner as a result of several months of a crazy busy schedule.

I will be getting back on here to catch up on my Project 52 posts before the new year, wrapping up that series {can’t believe the last one is this Thursday!} But other than that, I aim to take a break. My hope was to do another Project 52 series in 2015, but maybe I’ll have to backlog the first few posts for a bit and publish everything from any weeks that have passed when I feel I’m ready to jump back into blogging more consistently. {Or, I may quietly come back here only to post a single wordless photo of Izzy once a week during my break from writing and from typical blogging, but after the new year, I’ll officially be on a blogging break.}

It’s been a year of grieving out loud here {and I am especially glad I was able to be more present here toward the end of this year, to reflect on the person my daughter is as we celebrated her first birthday and Christmas}. While I feel like the biggest hurdles of my grief are behind me, I know there will still be more grieving ahead. I intend to grieve less outwardly than I have, though. I do not regret a single word or vulnerability I have put out here. It has all been cathartic, therapeutic and healing. I simply want to go in a new direction in my grief, and maybe even with this blog. That is not to say I will never again mention Anysia here. I will always jump at the chance to type {and share} her beautiful name or any part of her story.

I have no idea, actually, about where I will take this blog down the road. I simply know what my next step will be. Tears form now, as I type, because of the gratitude I feel about this space, in being able to openly write about and share this story, and about the many who have shared in our story with me here, watching it unfold and allowing me to be personal and transparent. I don’t think I would have done grief well this past year without transparency. It might not be for some. But it has been perfect for me.

I’ll miss this space every day that I’m on a break from it, whether my break is brief or lengthy. It won’t be the first break… I unintentionally took one throughout most of late Fall and early Winter this year. But this one will be the first break that I intentionally created.

I know it won’t be easy. But I will do it anyway. I’ve got so many wonderful books calling my name, sitting by my bed and waiting for me to turn their pages. It may be that the remainder of my mourning will be lived out in the words of others now… as opposed to my own words. That is actually somewhat of a comforting and appealing thought. I like to think of what other brave souls wrote before me as doing the delicate work of grieving for me while I rest a bit. And with a new year to start that new chapter of grief in, I look forward to a freshness and renewal—spiritually, emotionally… even physically. The biggest area of my life that I aim to protect in the new year is my sleep, because I believe that in doing so, many other things will fall into place. But that’s something I can save for writing about upon my return to more regular blogging next year.

• • • • •

And now for those 25 recordings…

So, a very long time ago on a blog far, far away, I wrote a post called 25 for 25… 25 favorite Christmas recordings. It was a post I published on my very first blog… one that is not even public anymore because of inactivity on my part there… a blog that was basically design- and lifestyle-related on which I wrote about all things music, art, film, fashion, etc. The post was published for Christmas-time, but as I looked for it tonight, I figured it would had been published on the 1st of December… so others could take a listen to each recording as each day in December came… an advent of music recordings, if you will. But my original post was not published on the 1st. Having just retrieved the post {so that I could copy and paste all the information from it into what I’m writing here tonight}, I discovered that it had been published exactly seven years to the day before Anysia was born… December 19th, 2008. I was actually somewhat moved when I noticed that. I mean, in the big scheme, it means nothing, really. But I am always moved when I see Anysia’s birth date, and clearly, it’s not just for the year she was born or subsequent years, but for years prior to her life as well.

Anyway, not only was I late to the game in sharing my top 25 favorites back in 2008, but I’m even later to the game this time. I mean, anyone who sees this and finds it worth checking out might be thinking, “why now?… why not before Christmas?” Well, that is a valid question. The answer is, I was too busy to do it in the days that led up to Christmas. And, not wanting to wait until after New Years when my schedule slows down a bit {because people have already begun to de-Christmas-fy their homes and minds, even without the push a new year brings to do so}, I wanted to post it while there is still a slim chance that someone out there is still listening to Christmas music post-Dec.25th, despite the fact that all the radio stations shut down the festivities at 12:00 a.m. sharp on Christmas night.

I figured there has to be at least on person out there that plans to listen to Christmas music over New Years weekend as they sit next to their still-decorated tree. I know we will be.

Even if there is no such person, one could always take note of my list for next year… bookmark it perhaps. That is to say, if there is anyone who might be interested in these recordings to begin with. It might seem that I have a somewhat “out there” taste in music when you see each of these together. But, for whatever it’s worth, I’m sharing my list. I promise… there is bound to be at least one recording in the list that you would like if you don’t already.

Probably the biggest reason I share my list is for Izzy, who will one day inherit all my Christmas CDs {and will, hopefully, one day read my blog}. I’m sure he will recall some of the albums we always listened to during his childhood, just as I did of my parents’ Christmas albums after I grew up. But just in case he doesn’t or in case the list of what he remembers is smaller than this one, he’ll have my picks for favorite Christmas recordings… as will anyone who reads this and gives a hoot.

Image Map

{The images above are also links, so clicking on any album cover will take you to the
Amazon page for that album. And, no… I’m not getting paid by Amazon… I only wish I was.
I created a visual link for anyone who doesn’t feel like reading through what I wrote below.}

Here is what I wrote in my original post way back when…

I’ve always been a big fan of Christmas music, and I’m one of those people who starts listening to it the day after Thanksgiving {but not a minute sooner}. I have built up a collection of about 80 Christmas CDs over the years, though I always end up only listening to approximately the same 25 each December. And my CD player at home holds exactly 25 CDs. Perfect!

I’ve listed those 25 recordings below. They are among my favorites, but they in no particular order. I highly recommend you check some {or all} of them out!


Eric Rigler – Christmas in Ireland {CD} This is a simple, peaceful and quiet listen… perfect for background music while entertaining, or for putting on just to sit and relax {or take a nap} to. It’s by Eric Rigler of the Braveheart soundtrack and Scarlet Rivera who worked with Bob Dylan. 

Chanticleer – Sing We Christmas {CD} This recording is also a peaceful listen {except for a couple of more upbeat tracks at the end}. It includes some of the most beautiful Christmas music you can find—especially if you are as much a fan of a cappella as I am! Track no. 5, O Jesulein süß, o Jesulein mild! is hauntingly beautiful {as are many others in this album} and was the first song I ever heard them sing {circa 2007}.

Jewel – A Holiday Collection {MP3} I love this whole recording, but track no. 2, O Holy Night, is so wonderful!… one of my favorite renditions of my favorite Christmas song!

Ray Coniff Singers – Here We Come A-Caroling {1986 Columbia CD} I love this one, mostly because of the nostalgic feeling I have while listening to it. It’s a rare disc that blends two Ray Conniff Christmas recordings my father used to play—his vinyl records—when I was just a little squirt, and I love the memories that are tied to these songs. The medley with Count Your Blessings is one of the best of the bunch!

Dean Martin – Making Spirits Bright {CD} This has got to be one of the greatest and most feel-good Christmas albums ever recorded! Dean is a personal favorite of mine—more than Bing or Frank! I can’t pick a favorite from this recording, because every track is so good!

Avalon – Joy: A Christmas Collection {MP3} All I can say is I love this album and that one particular member in this group has one of the most controlled voices I have ever heard {listen to Don’t Save it All for Christmas Day}. His voice amazes me every time I hear it!

Ludwig Gutler {trumpet} – Christmas Music for Trumpet and Organ {CD} This recording is one I discovered at my local library, and listening to it just about makes me cry. Because these are classical pieces beautifully performed by a trumpet player, I cannot help but think of my father as the one playing the pieces… up in heaven, just as he played while he was still here on earth. It is a heavenly listen, especially track no. 10—I actually do cry when I hear this one.

The Cambridge Singers – Christmas Night, Carols of the Nativity {CD} Again, if you love a cappella, The Cambridge Singers is a group you can never go wrong with—at Christmas-time or year round. The singers on this album have beautiful tone and perfect blend… never going even remotely sharp or flat. This one is the slower of the two albums recorded by this choir that I included, with a more peaceful, quiet—even almost dark—mood, but enchanting and ethereal as well.

Carpenters – Christmas Portrait {MP3} I always liked the Carpenters, but my husband got me even more hooked on them. Their Christmas recording is packed with music. There are some definite favorites for feeling that good old-fashioned Christmas nostalgia. {I grew up in the 70s and 80s—what can I say?}

Jaci Velasquez – Christmas {MP3} Powerful voice! Powerful music! I like this one a lot!

Chanticleer – Our Heart’s Joy {MP3} Any Christmas recording from Chanticleer is worth your money and time, I say. But I especially love this particular recording because of the version of Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria that is on it. Another hauntingly beautiful work… which makes the entire CD worth owning, yet there are so many more good tracks on this recording.

Nat King Cole – A Christmas Song {CD} {vinyl here} What can I say? Who does not love the voice of Nat King Cole? This is one great recording!

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas {MP3} More nostalgia from this little gem. {I remember decorating our Christmas tree as a child to this album, along with the Chipmunks Christmas album}. It makes me feel like a kid again. I love this recording!

Russ Taff – A Christmas Song {MP3} I love this recording because it is Russ Taff doing something a little outside of his normal style. He chose to do all the songs in a sort of lounge/big band style. It’s a really enjoyable listen!

Over the Rhine – The Darkest Night of the Year {MP3} I discovered Over the Rhine by going to a music festival called Cornerstone many years ago. I’ve been hooked on this band from Ohio ever since. The female lead singer has a powerful, yet sometimes soft voice that is perfect for Christmas music—some of it traditional with a twist, and some of it original writing by the duo that makes up Over the Rhine. This is a really unique and interesting listen—again, almost dark… thus the name.

Diana Krall – Christmas Songs {MP3} Oh, how I love the voice and music of Diana Krall. This is not just a favorite Christmas recording. It’s a favorite recording period! Wonderful big band sound, with lots of screaming trumpets… in a good way!

Johnny Mathis – Merry Christmas {CD} Again… what else can I say? The name says it all!

Michael W. Smith – Christmas {MP3} This is one of the first Christmas recordings I ever owned. I bought it when I was in college, and it got me through some late-night cramming for finals before Christmas break. It has some wonderful, worshipful Christmas music and Michael’s voice is at its best here! When I hear it, even all these years later, it gives me the best feeling and really puts me in the Christmas spirit!

The New World Orchestra – A Classical Christmas {CD} Bach, Handel and more. This one is a quiet and peaceful orchestral listen—great for background music.

Chanticleer – Let It Snow {MP3} I love this recording for several songs that are on it, but mostly because it includes a particular song that became very special to me last year.

Various Artists – The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas {CD} This is probably the best compilation album out there for a collection of Christmas songs from various artists spanning over four decades all in one place! There are two discs in the CD set with a very large selection of all the great Christmas songs we know and love!

Barry Manilow – Because It’s Christmas {MP3} Tracks 2, 4, 5 and 6 are my favorite! But they’re all pretty great. A cheerful listen.

The Cambridge Singers – Christmas with the Cambridge Singers {CD} This one is loaded with songs… some newer with orchestral accompaniment, and others more “old world” and madrigal-esque sung a cappella, but all beautiful—especially tracks 11, 12 and 17. Oh, goodness! They’re all beautiful! Of the two Cambridge Singers albums I included, this one is the more upbeat.

Vince Gill – Breath of Heaven {CD} I love Vince Gill’s voice. I used to be a big fan! I don’t really listen to him now, but still love this Christmas recording. It’s really good—especially track no. 10, Breath of Heaven.

Bryan Duncan – Christmas is Jesus {MP3} One powerful recording from one powerful voice! The best track is no. 4. I crank the volume up on this one and sing aloud with it, becoming almost breathless because it is so moving! It gets me in a very worshipful Christmas spirit!

There they are!… my top 25! Since I left off with Bryan Duncan’s recording, I will wrap up my post with words from another track on the album… track no. 10, which is Angels We Have Heard on High/I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Toward the end, Duncan sings the most powerful words in the entire medley with that powerful voice he summons when he really wants to belt something out… the best part of the song. It’s in those last three lines, and it gives me chills every time I hear it! His version only includes part of the I Heard the Bells carol. But I’ve included the lyrics of even more verses below. These are some of the best verses in any Christmas song, in my opinion…

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.

I take such hope and comfort in the reminder those words give!

The wrong shall fail and the right will prevail. With peace on earth, good will to men.

That is the part of the Christmas message I don’t really hear too much of. It’s usually just all about Jesus coming to us as a baby… but less often are we reminded about how the story ends. More and more every year, this piece of the message {written about in the final verse above} is the one I treasure and cling to the most.

With all the trouble, hurt and brokenness I see all around at every level, these are words I sing loudly with my voice and heart… have been singing loudly as I reflect on Christmas 2014.