Santas Jam Session

I love every sensory aspect of Christmas. I love the sights and the smells, but most of all I love the rich and textured sounds. In short, I love Christmas music.

More than any other holiday, my Christmas season is hemmed in and held together by music. Music is a common thread woven through all the little holiday rituals, traditions, and memories that I share with my family and friends. Beautiful music. Nostalgic music. Radio music. Nature's music. Muzak music. The music of Christmas is everywhere, and I love it all, but nothing quite so much as the season's sacred music.

Christmas ChoirThere aren't quite words to describe the warm and inviting glow of a church sanctuary illumined by candlelight on Christmas Eve night, and the peace that washes over me when friends and strangers gather and sing the sweet strains of these well worn hymns. These simple songs bridge the chasm of time and space, and help me to be present to the miracle of Christ's birth.

In an uncertain world, they stand for me as guideposts, pointing me always towards the certainty of hope. The exuberant and joyous African American Spiritual, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is no exception to this rule. This carol is at the top of my list, because it so beautifully captures the joy of this season.

Though its precise origins are unknown, many believe this spiritual was discovered shortly after the Civil War, and popularized in the early- to mid-twentieth century. It has been a song of hope rising from the valleys of southern plantations, and issuing forth from the deep heart of Appalachian Mountain trails. It has been a gospel song enjoyed round cozy family pianos, by church choirs, and sung from main stages of grand concert halls. Peter, Paul, and Mary once adapted its lyrics and utilized this song as a civil rights hymn. It has been covered by an eclectic group of musicians ranging from Mahalia Jackson to Dolly Parton. In short, this is a carol that has seen a rich history.


Needless to say, I was delighted when two veteran artists, Margaret Becker and Jennifer Knapp, included it in their 2012 collection, The Hymns of Christmas, and gave it the royal musical treatment. For their collaboration, Margaret and Jennifer took ten Christmas classics and infused them with heavenly harmonies and their signature guitar work.

Encountering their arrangements is a bit like running into a dear old friend wearing a brand new dress, every bit as gorgeous as you had remembered and then some. From the looks of their sampler video, Jennifer and Margaret were busy weaving friendship alongside their harmonies. For anyone who needs a delightful burst of Christmas cheer, do yourself a favor and give this album a listen. You can start with, "Go Tell it on the Mountain."

Photo of choir by Flickr/Duncan Harris, CC BY 2.0

Marcy BainMarcy Bain is an ordained Presbyterian minister from Dayton, Ohio. She's convinced that she does her best theology when she slows down, settles in with good friends and a glass of mulled wine, and lets the twin sounds of laughter and harmony permeate her household.

Want to recommend a song for our Tuesday evening melody? Submit your suggestion and a little bit about the tune. We’ll take a listen for possible publication on the On Being Blog.

Share Your Reflection



LOVE LOVE Jennifer Knapp and was THRILLED to spot this! I knew Jennifer when i went through my change in life, iINTO the Light, and she walked beside me in song and held my hand with her lyrics. THANK YOU for this post!!

You are most welcome. This version of the song with Jennifer Knapp & Margaret Becker is quite beautiful!

All we have in life is our desires and the will to pursue them. Being willing to sacrifice everything for what you really want can take to the highest peaks of glory and world fame or it can consume you and destroy your life. My dream has always been to see the world and I got to travel to each continent but as I got older, I couldn't pursue this lifestyle anymore. Instead, I allowed other people to live the dream for me by creating a travel agency that takes them to the French gites placed in a magnificent area of France. It is my gift to them and it is my new dream.

I would have sworn this was indigo girls! Great song! Merry Christmas!

Thanks for introducing me to Jennifer Knapp and reminding me of Margaret Becker. This Christmas I am dealing with the pain of a fractured marriage. Knapp and Becker's music has lifted my heart today and given me strength. Your show has been one of my very favorite things for years.

The power of the music and the message comes through clear in this rendition. Beautiful and uplifting!