We’ve carved the turkey. We’ve packed up the leftovers, and got them back out fifteen minutes later to finish off. We’ve fought through the crowds at Wal-Mart to score a good deal on a TV, and checked our phones every five minutes to see what Cyber Monday had to offer. After all that, we’re ready to settle in for a long winter’s nap. But wait – there’s more! Christmas is just around the corner, and it’s time to deck the halls… and the living room, and the kitchen, and the porch, and the yard (my favorite is those people who leave their icicle lights up year round). However, if your mood right now is more If We Make It Through December and less Joy to the World, we’ve got just the fix.
Here are ten of our favorite bluegrass Christmas songs to get you in the holiday spirit.
Beautiful Star of Bethlehem
One of the few Christmas songs with Appalachian roots, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem is often attributed to A.L. Phipps of Knox County in southeastern Kentucky. Most sources say Middle Tennessee native R. Fisher Boyce wrote the lyrics, but Phipps, who played Carter Family-style music with his family band, is credited with the arrangement so beloved by bluegrass groups. Larry Sparks, Rhonda Vincent, Patty Loveless, and others have recorded it, but my favorite has to be the classic Ralph Stanley version from 1977’s Clinch Mountain Gospel.
White Christmas – Larry Sparks
Sparks sings the heck out of this holiday classic. There’s a tear in his voice and soul in his guitar, and I could listen to it all day. The only two instruments on the track are bass and Sparks’ guitar, which makes his bluesy solo all the more noteworthy.
I’m Going Home, It’s Christmas Time – Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys
Going home is a favorite theme in bluegrass music, and what better time to do it than at Christmas? Ernie Thacker sings lead on this track from the now out-of-print Christmas Time with Ralph Stanley, and though the lyrics are fairly simple, they’re heartfelt and sincere: “Dad has trimmed the Christmas tree, and the pathway home, it welcomes me.”
Christmas Time at Home – Rhonda Vincent
Rhonda has included this on both of her Christmas albums, and it’s a dandy. It has more of a contemporary, acoustic country flavor than most of the other songs on this list, a hopeful feel, and a catchy list-style chorus that is guaranteed to be stuck in your head throughout the holiday season.
The Friendly Beasts – Johnson Mountain Boys
The Johnson Mountain Boys give the Christmas story a different spin in this traditional carol. The various animals gathered at Jesus’s birth share how they contributed on that famous night – the donkey carried his mother, the cow provided a manger, the sheep’s wool made a blanket, etc. It’s a sweet song, and a good one for kids.