The Music of Christmas


As Christmas approaches, we are fortunate to have a variety of musical offerings to enhance our Christmas celebrations. Performances of Handel’s Messiah and Singalong Messiahs are an annual event as are evenings like Islington United’s Christmas in Islington service. One of my earliest memories of Christmas music is the Salvation Army Band visiting neighbourhoods in the1950s. They would gather under streetlights and play a medley of carols while volunteers collected offerings door to door.  More recently, a Salvation Army band and choir have participated in the Toronto Star Concert held at St. Paul’s Bloor Street for the past 44 years.

Here at St. Matthew’s we have our annual Advent Lessons and Carols service, and over the years each of our music directors has introduced new anthems or arrangements of traditional carols to expand our repertoire of Christmas music. Tom Bell’s “Once as I Remember” carol and Tyler Versluis’ recent “The Angels Sang A Song of Love” are memorable examples. Tyler also introduced an online Carol Sing during our first pandemic Christmas which we continue to observe.

When the movie Scrooge played one Christmas in Toronto theatres, Mary and I attended a performance at the Eglinton theatre and purchased an LP recording of the music which I have played every year since while setting up and decorating our Christmas tree along with a CD, A Celtic Christmas, which I bought after hearing it playing in a gift shop in the Calgary airport. Last Christmas we received a phone call from friends in Calgary who decide to phone us after receiving our Christmas card and so provided the very special music of hearing good friend’s voices no matter the interval since our last conversation.

There are three pieces of literature that I try to reread every Christmas whose texts are music to my ears.

The first is the King James Bible’s story of Christmas in the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, whose Shakespearean lyrics are unmatched by any current version.

The second is A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which to my mind captures the musical lilt of a Welsh voice in its verse.

Finally is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Dickens’ brilliant characterizations and sensitive insight into human nature create a symphony of words that never fails to touch the heart and inspires us to follow in the footsteps of the reborn Scrooge and commit ourselves to “honour Christmas in our hearts and strive to keep it all the year.”

Bruce Gleeson