Browse > Home / Archive: December 2015

| Subscribe via RSS

CHRI Staff Share Their Favourite Christmas Album

December 1st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Music
dan_150Dan Adams: Let It Snow, Baby…
Let It Reindeer by Relient K
It’s a fun Christmas album with a fun title. Who doesn’t like Relient K?! My second choice would be Bebo Norman’s “Christmas… From the Realms of Glory” (also from 2007)


care_150Care Baldwin: Joy by Avalon

Although the 2014 Michael W. Smith album is worth mentioning because of its beautiful orchestrations, arrangements, and collaborations, I am choosing Avalon’s “Joy: A Christmas Collection” from 2000 as my favourite CCM Christmas album. I have always loved the powerful vocal ranges and strong harmonies in Avalon but the song choices here combined with those harmonies makes this a very festive album. Featuring classics like “Jesus, Born on This Day”, “Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day”, “Light a candle” and my favourite “The Angel’s Medley”.


ashlyn_150Ashlyn Berkhout: WOW Christmas: Red 2002

My favourite and probably most memorable Christmas album is WOW Christmas: Red 2002. This album was my first introduction to Christian artists and contains a ton of Christmas classics! I’d have to say some of my favourites off the album are “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Third Day, “This Christmas” by Toby Mac, and “Christmas is all in the Heart” by Steven Curtis Chapman. Blessings to you and your families this Christmas season!


trudy_150Trudy Connelly: Mary, Did You know by Jeremy Camp

My favourite Christian Christmas song is “Mary, Did You know”. It touched my heart the first time I heard it which was, if I recall correctly, in The Nativity Story film. I find it very impactful every time I hear it sung. As a mother with two sons, I can only imagine what it was like for Mary to watch Jesus grow knowing, as I believe she did, what He was destined to do as our Saviour. To watch him suffer must surely have pierced her heart because any suffering of a child breaks a mother’s heart and in Mary’s case it would have been multiplied many times over.


ashley_150Ashley House: The Christmas Sessions by MercyMe

Released back in 2005 I first heard the album in 2007, the first Christmas I was a Christian. The songs are classics but reinvented in away only MercyMe can do. Although its 10 years old, is a must own album!


bill_150Bill Stevens: The Spirit of Christmas by Michael W. Smith & Friends

Maybe it’s my background in film and television but I love a lush orchestral arrangement and when it’s the London Symphony Orchestra (also appearing on many motion picture soundtracks) I get goosebumps.

Renowned orchestral maestro David Hamilton was a third co-producer, who arranged and oversaw the London Symphony Orchestra’s recordings on the project while Michael and CMA awards producer Robert Deaton were the other two.

The end result is both cinematic and nostalgic as even the newly penned tunes are arranged to evoke yesterday’s Christmas with today’s clarity and quality. I’d love to get tired of it but I only hear it once a year!


brock_150Brock Tozer: Home For Christmas by Amy Grant

Well, this is a tough question, but I would have to say that my favourite CCM Christmas album, of all time, is Amy Grant’s, “Home For Christmas” (1992). There’s something about Amy’s voice that *feels* like Christmas, to me (I suspect it’s the warmth). Most people know this album, for her hit “Breath Of Heaven”, but the truth is every song, on “Home For Christmas”, is stellar & smartly chosen. Her originals (such as “Breath Of Heaven”) are goose-bump-inducing, and the classics are re-interpreted in such a beautiful way. To this day, Amy’s renditions of songs like “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, & “Grown Up Christmas List”, are my favourites ever recorded.


dianne_150Dianne Van Der Putten: Joy by Avalon

My favorite Christian Christmas album would be Joy by Avalon with “Joy to the World” and others on this album. Makes me incredibly happy and has me jumping around. Another would be “How Many Kings” by Downhere. Love it!!


Reinventing Christmas: Tips to help moms stress a little less

December 1st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Family
Sleigh bells ring! Are you listening?Sorry, did you just ask me something?

In the lane, snow is glistening.

Oh – we still need lights for that shrub.

What a beautiful sight . . .

But I’ve got to bake tonight. Could you take the kids to Winter Wonderland on your own?* * *

Does that sound like you in the lead-up to Christmas? Busy. Distracted. Preoccupied. It’s understandable: what mom doesn’t want to give her family a really great Christmas? All the baking . . . the decorating . . . the shopping . . . that’s sacrificial momma love in action.

And it makes us just a little bit crazy every year.

Have you ever stopped to consider how much “Christmas” is really necessary?

Your hubby and kids might be happier with a little less Christmas and a little more of you – the normal, relaxed you who is able to savour a Silent Night with them more often.

Here are some simple shortcuts that can save you a lot of fuss and bother. Rethinking and simplifying your approach to Christmas might be the key to creating your family’s best Christmas yet!

Re-thinking family activities

Being intentional is often the first casualty of Christmas. So don’t be afraid of looking selfish – it’s not selfish to safeguard your time and energy so you can create the relaxed, Christ-centred Christmas you’ve always wanted for your family. Decide now to put reasonable limits on what you will and won’t do for Christmas.

  • Make sure you sit down and actually ask your family which traditions are important to them. You may discover you’re wearing yourself out each year on activities your family has outgrown. Does your whole family have to choose the tree together, or is decorating it together the real priority – or neither? Does your family really want you to bake nine different kinds of cookies, or will they be happy with a few favourites? Do they care that you make your cookies from scratch, or are they just as happy decorating store-bought cookies?
  • Can you create margin in your calendar by combining two traditions into one? For example, if you always get together with a certain family at Christmas, can you invite them along on your annual visit to Winter Wonderland? (You’ll also save the fuss of having to entertain in your home!)
  • Can you postpone a tradition until the less-hectic days after Christmas? Save that special shopping trip with your girlfriends for the after-Christmas sales and buy for next Christmas, or for birthdays. Could your time-consuming Christmas Day dessert become your “two-days-past-Christmas dessert”? (Sell that idea by hinting there’ll be more to go around!)
  • Can you start new traditions to replace complicated ones? When I replaced our usual Christmas Eve fare with a ridiculously simple Journey to Bethlehem meal (served as an eat-when-you-want buffet), my youngest son pronounced it one of my best Christmas ideas ever. Who’d have thought?
  • Consider making “non-events” a Christmas tradition. As you add all the essential dress rehearsals, work parties and et cetera to your calendar, deliberately pencil in dates for a number of “immediate-family-only events.” When the time comes, your “event” may simply be unwinding with a Christmas movie and an early night to bed, but you’ll be glad you reserved that rejuvenating “just us” evening.

Re-thinking gifts for your immediate family

Creating a serene, holy, Christ-centred Christmas is a real accomplishment in our materialistic culture. The prospect of a windfall of gifts distracts kids, and it distracts parents too. Why do we shop as if Christmas is the only time of the year we can give gifts to our kids? Perhaps cutting back a little will restore some sanctity and sanity to your season:

  • Many families use this rhyme as a guideline and give each of their children four gifts: Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.
  • Focus on the Family broadcast guest Karen Ehman, co-author of Everyday Confetti, recently shared her tradition of buying three gifts for each of her children: “Jesus got gold, frankincense and myrrh. So, now each year our kids get a gold gift, a frankincense gift and a myrrh gift. . . . Gold is something that was sought after and priceless and precious, so they get one thing they really, really want. Then frankincense was burnt and arose during prayer, so they get one gift that will bring them closer to Christ. Perhaps it’s a new Bible, maybe it’s tickets to their favourite Christian concert. And then on the third gift, the myrrh was a burial spice actually that covered a person from head to toe. So they get one thing to wear on their body.”1
  • Kathi Lipp, author of Get Yourself Organized for Christmas, also limits her children’s gifts to three. On a November Focus on the Family broadcast she commented: “I want to buy something significant for my kids, instead of something that they’re going to use once and throw away. . . . We put it into three categories. We [buy] something fun for them. We do some clothes for them and then, we do something that is going to enhance them – maybe it’s spiritually or educationally – and so, maybe we’ll pay for a course that they want to do.”2
  • Some families allow their children to write a gift wish list, but with the limitation that they can only write down three or four gift ideas. Having to think carefully about what they want most of all helps kids rein in some of the “Christmas gimmies.”
  • Consider plumping up kids’ Christmas stockings with practical items like toothbrushes, combs, hair ties and fun shoelaces. Who says the whole stocking needs to be filled with unique (a.k.a. hard-to-find) gifts?

If all that gift wrapping leaves you unravelled:

  • Surprise your kids with a special DVD to watch on Christmas Eve while you retreat to the bedroom to get an early start on wrapping gifts.
  • Entice Grandma or Aunty to come and wrap gifts at your house while you’re out and about with the kids. Tape a named gift tag to each gift so your Christmas helper knows who each gift is for.
  • Keep and re-use your gift tags each year. It will save you a little work, and the kids will consider the familiar tags another fun Christmas tradition.
  • Don’t feel you need to wrap large gifts. There’s still huge excitement for kids in finding the gift beside the tree on Christmas morning. (Until then, perhaps hide it in the garage under a sheet, or have a neighbour store it for you.)

Re-thinking gifts for your extended family

If your family tree is showing some impressive growth, you’re likely not the only one in your family who’d love to prune back the long list of gifts to find for nieces, nephews and cousins. Perhaps this is the year to relieve everyone’s gift-buying burden by suggesting one of these alternatives:

  • Agree to exchange a single gift per family, instead of buying individual gifts. Puzzles, movie passes, sports gear and board games make great gifts a whole family can enjoy. To ensure your gift will be a hit, search online for award-winning toys from associations like Parents’ Choice Awards, the Canadian Toy Testing Council (until 2014) and recognized board game critics.
  • Create a secret Santa gift exchange and buy one fabulous gift for one special person.
  • Exchange cookies instead of a gifts. To reduce time and effort even further, exchange just key ingredients, along with the recipe, and let each recipient bake their cookies whenever they need something fresh on hand.
  • Make it a mission-minded Christmas for your extended family and pool your group purchasing power to make a world of difference for someone in real need. Consider gifts to World Vision or Compassion International, or fill Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for next Christmas.Alternatively, you might choose to bless someone closer to home. Perhaps contribute to a missions trip for a family member, or if someone in your extended family has a severe permanent disability, contribute to a Registered Disability Savings Plan for them. It’s not only a practical act of love, it’s also money smart too, since contributions attract additional government funds.

Re-thinking decorating and entertaining

When it comes to decorating and entertaining, moms are easily tempted to overdo it. Be honest about who you’re really serving. Do your husband or kids care about the fancy, time-consuming ideas you saw on Pinterest? Not likely. Admit that you’re recreating them primarily to please yourself – a good reason to ensure you don’t shortchange your family as you go about it. Here are some shortcuts to help you deck the halls and fill the buffet table, and still retain some Christmas cheer:

  • Put up your favourite, must-have Christmas decorations first. Decide to add the rest of your decorations only if you have time and energy. Pack your favourites away together for quick access next year.
  • Remember that parties and family gatherings don’t have to be a sit-down meal. Try an after-dinner event and serve finger food, or host a dessert evening. Your friends and family may appreciate the chance to circulate a little more. If it lessens your burden, ask a guest to bring the centrepiece for the table or mantel instead of contributing to the food.
  • Got a student in the family who doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on gifts? They may be thrilled to “gift” you a few hours of babysitting, house cleaning or hanging decorations before your big event.
  • Decide now on a special dish you could bring to all the parties you’re invited to, then there’s no need to think of something different for each event. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of ingredients on hand.
  • By mid-December it’s easy to become so busy preparing for what lies ahead, meals your family needs today get forgotten! Cook and freeze extra casseroles and stews now, so you’ll have quick and easy meals on hand for your most hectic days of the season.

However you decide to celebrate Christmas, just remember that you don’t have to recreate your mother’s Christmas, your mother-in-law’s Christmas, or your best friend’s Christmas. Create the kind of Christmas that’s right for your family in this season of your life!


A Guide to 2015’s Christmas Music

December 1st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Music


Ready for some new Christmas music? Who cares if it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet; the red cups are out and so are the stockings! To freshen up your holiday season soundtrack, check out these brand-new releases for Christmas 2015!

MercyMe! It’s Christmas by MercyMe

Find it on iTunes here.

Award-winning, platinum-selling band MercyMe has proved over and over again that there’s not a lot they can’t do (and do well). Their second Christmas release (following up The Christmas Sessions) continues to prove that, bringing the perfect blend of reflection and holiday cheer. The confidence and energy that shone in most recent album Welcome to the New translates perfectly to the Christmas setting as well, making this a must-have for the holiday season.

ADORE: Christmas Songs of Worship by Chris Tomlin

Find it on iTunes here.

Chris Tomlin’s second Christmas project (following up 2012’s Glory in the Highest) was recorded live at the historic Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville– and he invited some friends along for the ride. Lauren Daigle, All Sons & Daughters and Crowder all lend their vocals to the worshipful Christmas offering.

Christmas is Here by Danny Gokey

Find it on iTunes here.

Stand-out vocalist Danny Gokey is offering his take on Christmas classics like “White Christmas” and “Mary, Did You Know?” this year. Danny’s rich, soulful voice and hope-breathing approach to his music, both heard through songs like “Hope In Front of Me” and “More Than You Think I Am,” make this a collection of Christmas songs not to be missed.

God With Us by Laura Story

Find it on iTunes here.

If you’re looking for something with a reverent, classic approach, Laura Story’s God With Us is perfect for you. With a traditional approach to songs such as “Silent Night” and “Angels We Have Heard On High,” alongside a few original offerings in Laura’s signature poignant style, this album is sure to provide a soundtrack for peaceful celebration.

Christmas Worship II by Paul Baloche

Find it on iTunes here.

Acclaimed worship songwriter Paul Baloche brings something unique to the table with his dedication to focusing the season’s melodies on worship. The result is his unique method of blending classic worship lyrics with classic Christmas tunes to help listeners encounter both in a new way. This second volume of Christmas Worship from Baloche continues to give listeners a unique way to recognize and worship God throughout Christmastime.

It’s Almost Christmas by Jon and Valerie Guerra

Find it on iTunes here.

This album from newcomer Jon Guerra and his wife was a welcome surprise release this November. The husband and wife duo, who introduced their dynamic vocal and violin pairing to listeners across the country on the Rock and Worship Roadshow early this year, crafted this eleven song collection by choosing both classic to cover and writing four original tunes. If you’ve enjoyed Jon’s beautiful single “Stained Glass,” then you’ll want to check out his take on seasonal music.

An Angel Band Christmas by Andrew Greer & Friends

Find it on iTunes here.

This DVD and CD duo, released by Lightworx and Lucid Artist, features performances, duets and conversation between Andrew Greer and fellow artists like Point of Grace, Cindy Morgan, Jaci Velasquez and Nic Gonzales. The offerings by industry veterans makes the CD a stand-out album to add to your collection, but the DVD adds a whole new dimension, featuring the filmed-for-TV segment plus almost 40 minutes of bonus footage.

Gift of Grace by Brad & Rebekah

Find it on iTunes here.

This husband and wife worship team are offering up their first Christmas release this year, aiming to assemble a Christmas collection saturated by the truth of God’s grace. Their treatment of classic seasonal carols alongside a few fresh, original songs draws full attention to the arrival of Jesus as a gift from a loving, gracious God.

Great Joy by Vernon Hill

Find it on iTunes here.

If you’re looking for some gospel-flavored holiday tunes, Great Joy by Vernon Hill is a must-have this year. The blend of originals and Christmas classics are all transformed by smooth soul influences. The collection is certain to infuse joy into your celebrations this December.

Before Our King by Michael Bahn

This worshipful release from Michael Bahn aims to give worshippers easily accessible tools to express their adoration of Jesus. The single “Rejoice” is a foretaste of the project’s heart, centered on joyful worship of Christ perfect for this season celebrating His birth. Michael is the worship pastor at River Valley Community Church in Oregon, which gives his songs a sound seasoned by on the ground experience in ministry.

Goin’ Back to Bethlehem by Brothers McClurg

Brothers McClurg have established their sound of classic Americana across generations with their powerful, rich voices and focus on worship and intimacy with God. The latest result is their Christmas project Goin’ Back to Bethlehem, which approaches both Christmas classics and some original offerings with a timeless musical approach that gives this the potential to be a staple around your home for many holidays to come.


CHRI’s Care Baldwin Music Video “All is Calm / Silent Night”

December 1st, 2015 | 3 Comments | Posted in Artist Spotlight

The History Behind 5 Great Christmas Carols

December 1st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

A few months ago, I wrote about some of the most-loved hymns in Church history and the back stories that made them the classics they remain today. I thought it’d be fun to do the same with a few Christmas carols this month.

9th century

1. O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The original writer of this haunting hymn remains unknown, but the most widely acknowledged guess is a simple monk or nun. In the early 19th century, an Anglican priest named John Mason Neale was reading an ancient book of poetry and hymns and dusted off this unknown Latin poem, which was complete with music accompaniment.

Neale knew 20 languages, including Latin, and was able to translate this song into English. He lived in the Madeira islands near Africa, where he had established an orphanage, a school for girls, and a ministry to reclaim prostitutes. Neale first played this hymn for the people he served, thought to be the lowest of society. The hymn has remained in popular rotation ever since.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel by The Civil Wars


2. Joy to the World

At this point in history, most songs sung in European church services were the Psalms in the Old Testament. Though Isaac Watts loved the Bible, he felt that these songs felt “unnatural” to sing in their modern-day English translations.

After one Sunday service, 15-year-old Isaac complained about “the atrocious worship.” One of the deacons challenged him with, “Give us something better, young man.” He went home and penned his first hymn, and the love of hymn-writing stuck with him the rest of his life.

In 1719, his book “Psalms of David Imitated” was published, not as a new paraphrase of David, but as an imitation of him in New Testament language. Watts’ perspective was the Psalms bursting forth in their complete fulfillment. Joy to the World is the “imitation” of the last half of Psalm 98.

Watts transformed the old Jewish psalm of praise for historic deliverance into a song of rejoicing for the salvation of God that began when the Jesus came “to make his blessing flow far as the curse is found.”

Music is from George Frederick Handel, and some scholars say it resembles his greatest work, Messiah.

Joy to the World by Sufjan Stevens


3. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Charles Wesley originally wrote this poem to be recited on Christmas Day, but it wasn’t the version we know today. The original was ten four-line verses, and instead of singing “Glory to the newborn King,” the line was, “Glory to the King of kings.”

That line was changed by George Whitfield, a student of Wesley’s, and he was also the one who eliminated the verses we no longer sing and who made the ones we do sing longer. (The line change to “newborn King” from “King of kings” was a controversial statement at the time; the former claims that the angels praised God the Father when Jesus was born, the latter claims Jesus himself was praised. This caused a riff between the men.)

Nonetheless, this hymn remains one of the most theologically rich carols we still sing, and music was later added by Felix Mendelssohn.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing by Amy Grant

Christmas caroler in a porcelain village


4. Silent Night

Josef Mohr was the pastor of the Church of St. Nicholas at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, Austria. After an evening Christmas program on the 23rd, Mohr took a longer way home that took him up over a hill overlooking the village.

Reveling in the silence of the wintry night, the Christmas play he had just seen made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before, and decided those words might make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas Eve service. The next day, he went to see the church organist, Franz Gruber, who had only a few hours to come up with a melody for a guitar.

On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr play their new composition. The carol spread across northern Europe, and in 1834, singers performed Silent Night for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who then ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas Eve.

Twenty years after “Silent Night” was written, the song was brought to the United States, in New York City’s Trinity Church. Silent Night is now sung in more than 300 different languages around the world.

Silent Night by Sarah McLachlan


5. O Holy Night

A parish priest in a small French town commissioned a local poet and wine commissionaire, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, to write a poem for the village’s Christmas Eve mass. Cappeau read through the birth of Christ in the gospel of Luke en route to Paris, and finished the poem O Holy Night by the time he reached the city.

Cappeau turned to his friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, to compose the music to the poem, and three weeks later, the song was sung in the village on Christmas Eve. Initially, Cantique de Noel (the song’s French name) was widely loved by the Church in France, but when leaders learned that Cappeau was a socialist and Adams a Jew, the song was uniformly denounced as unfit for church services. But the common French people loved it so much, they continued to sing it.

The song came to the U.S. via John Sullival Dwight, an abolitionist during the Civil War. Moved by the line in the third verse, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in His Name all oppression shall cease,” he published it in his magazine and quickly found favor in the north during the war.

Even though it was banned in France, the song was still popular among the people. On Christmas Eve in 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between France and Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, a unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked into the battlefield, and started singing, “Minuit, Chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou L’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous,” the song’s first line in French.

After singing all three verses, a German solider emerged and started singing, “Vom Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her. Ich bring’ euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring’ ich so viel, Davon ich sing’n und sagen will,” the beginning of a popular hymn by Martin Luther.

Fighting stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day. Soon after, the French Church re-embraced O Holy Night.

O Holy Night by Third Day

The history behind 5 great Christmas carols

Last year I created three different Christmas playlists on Spotify—instrumental, dinner party, and reflective. Add them to your repertoire if you need some good background music this month!

There are hundreds of other beloved Christmas hymns—which one is your favorite?