Ah, Christmas, that magical time of year when the air is filled with the sweet sounds of carols and the scent of gingerbread lattes. As a devout lover of Christian music and a self-proclaimed connoisseur of Christmas hymns, I present to you the ultimate holiday playlist: “Best Christmas Hymns with a Modern Twist.” Grab your cocoa, cozy up by the fireplace, and let the harmonies of these contemporary renditions transport you to a winter wonderland.
First on the list is Carrie Underwood’s take on “Away In A Manger.” Now, I must admit, I never thought I’d hear “Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth” delivered with such country charm. Underwood manages to infuse this classic with just the right amount of twang, making it feel like a warm, Southern hug on a chilly night. It’s the kind of manger scene where the cows might just break out into a line dance.
MercyMe steps in with “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and let me tell you, it’s like a Christmas angel serenading you. The ethereal quality of MercyMe’s vocals paired with their modern arrangement creates a heavenly atmosphere that’ll have you gazing at the stars in awe. It’s the perfect song to play when you’re wrapping presents or simply pondering the mysteries of the universe.
Pentatonix tackles “The First Noel” with their signature a cappella magic. The harmonies are so tight; you’d think they’ve been caroling together since the dawn of time. Their rendition adds a contemporary twist while staying true to the song’s traditional roots. It’s like the ghost of Christmas past meets the future, and they decide to harmonize.
Shane & Shane take us to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with acoustic grace. Their stripped-down version is like a musical Nativity scene – simple, pure, and profoundly moving. Close your eyes, and you can almost imagine being there in that humble stable, surrounded by starlight and the soft strumming of a guitar.
Now, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” gets a powerful makeover courtesy of For KING & COUNTRY and NEEDTOBREATHE. The combination of their anthemic sound and the ancient longing expressed in the lyrics creates a spiritual experience that’s both timeless and contemporary. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to raise your hands in worship while sipping on eggnog.
This song also makes an appearance on our top new Christmas songs of 2023 list.
Phil Wickham injects infectious joy into “Joy To The World (Joyful, Joyful).” It’s impossible not to be uplifted by the exuberance of this rendition. Picture a flash mob breaking out into spontaneous celebration at your local mall – that’s the vibe Wickham brings to this Christmas classic.
Ben Fuller puts a fresh spin on “O Come All Ye Faithful,” infusing it with a folk-pop sensibility that feels like a musical journey through Bethlehem. It’s as if the shepherds decided to form a folk band and perform their ode to the newborn King under a starlit sky.
Meredith Andrews takes on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” turning it into a soul-stirring anthem. Her powerful vocals bring a modern intensity to the timeless message of the angels proclaiming the birth of Christ. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to shout “Glory to the newborn King!” at the top of your lungs.
Cathy Burton offers a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “In The Bleak Mid Winter (All I Can Do).” The ethereal quality of her voice paired with the melancholic melody creates a sense of reverence, reminding us of the simplicity and profound beauty of that silent night in Bethlehem.
Blanca injects some rhythmic energy into “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Joy).” The beat is infectious, and the message of joy reverberates through every note. It’s like the wise men decided to bring a percussion section along with their gifts to the stable.
Lauren Daigle’s “Silent Night” is a masterclass in vocal control and emotive delivery. Her soulful rendition of this timeless carol is a testament to the enduring power of simplicity. Daigle’s voice becomes a gentle lullaby, inviting us to rest in the peace of that holy night.
Celine Dion takes on the iconic “O Holy Night” and delivers a performance that is, well, divine. Her powerhouse vocals bring a grandeur to the song that befits the majesty of the Christmas story. It’s like the Queen of Christmas herself decided to grace us with her presence. (Don’t be made, Mariah Carey. We all know you’re the Queen of Christmas.)
Whitney Houston’s rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is nothing short of iconic. Her unparalleled vocal prowess takes this already enchanting song to celestial heights. It’s as if the angels themselves are whispering the message of hope and peace.
Now, as we journey to “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” Chris Tomlin and Christy Nockels join forces to create a worshipful atmosphere. Their voices blend seamlessly, creating a musical tapestry that draws us into the anticipation and joy of the Advent season.
Zach Williams brings a Southern rock flair to “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” The foot-stomping energy and Williams’ gravelly vocals make it feel like a jubilant celebration of the good news, spreading from the mountaintops to the valleys below.
Josh Groban puts his unique stamp on “Little Drummer Boy.” His voice, like a velvet-wrapped gift, adds a touch of class to this humble carol. It’s the kind of rendition that makes you appreciate the artistry behind the simple act of offering what you have to the King.
Point Of Grace graces us with their rendition of “Coventry Carol.” The harmonies are angelic, and the arrangement feels like a musical tapestry woven with threads of tradition and innovation. It’s the perfect song to listen to while sipping on hot cocoa and gazing at the twinkling lights on your Christmas tree.
Tenth Avenue North and Britt Nicole collaborate on “We Three Kings,” infusing it with a modern pop sensibility. The catchy melodies and dynamic vocals make this rendition a standout on the playlist. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to start a Christmas dance party in your living room.
Sufjan Stevens takes a contemplative approach to “Coventry Carol,” creating a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere. The minimalist arrangement and Stevens’ ethereal vocals transport us to the snowy landscapes of medieval England, where the carol originated.
Craig Duncan brings a touch of Celtic charm to “The Sussex Carol.” The fiddles and flutes dance merrily, creating a festive atmosphere that feels like a Christmas ceilidh in the English countryside. It’s the perfect song to play while baking cookies or trimming the tree.
David Crowder Band gives us a rollicking rendition of “Angels We Have Heard On High.” The upbeat tempo and infectious energy make it impossible to sit still. It’s like a musical invitation to join the heavenly chorus in praising the newborn King.
Pentatonix returns with their mesmerizing take on “Carol of the Bells.” The acapella arrangement is nothing short of breathtaking, capturing the anticipation and excitement of the Christmas season. It’s like a musical snowstorm, swirling around you and filling the air with festive magic.
Now, “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” takes on a fresh, gospel-infused twist with Ryan Ofei, Tianna, and Mav City Gospel Choir.
Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
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Joshua Swanson is the Editor-in-Chief of Worship Leader. He's also the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Authentic Media, Worship Leader's parent company, and the former CEO and Co-founder of the creative agency GTMA. His proudest achievement is his marriage to Rachael Joy and partnering with her in founding New Hope Children. As a performer and speaker, he’s appeared on TV networks like ABC, NBC, Lifetime, and Hallmark. His companies have worked with major brands like Sprint, Pokemon Go (he was also in a Pokemon movie), Pepsi, The Latin Grammys, the Billboard Awards, Corona and over 75 national developers. He’s narrated over a hundred audiobooks and was awarded Best YA Voice twice. His companies have been Inc. 5000 three different times.