Christmas carols: The good and the bad

Santa's Belt
'Tis the season for Christmas tunes.
Nikki Tundel | MPR News

Christmas music has been flooding from speakers since Thanksgiving. Some people even turned on the carols right after Halloween. It's hard to escape the seasonal tunes this time of year.

Philip Brunelle knows the words to all of them. A long-time Minnesota choral leader, Brunelle joined MPR News host Tom Crann with the singers of VocalEssence to share both the good and the bad of Christmas songs.

"I think it's important to hear songs that didn't make it, because it makes you appreciate the ones that did," Brunelle said.

The bad

From the "bad" list, a member of VocalEssence performed "Santa's Little Sleigh Bells," which features a word you don't often hear in Christmas songs.

The good

On the good list, Brunelle led the choir in "Jul, Jul, Stralande Jul," one of the most popular songs in Sweden this time of year.

It translates as "Christmas, Shining Christmas." Brunelle likened it to the carol "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."

Carol or hymn?

Many people use the word "carol" for any Christmas song, but in fact it refers to a specific type of tune.

"A Christmas carol was originally, back in the Middle Ages, a song that was sung in a circle and they danced around singing it," Brunelle said. "Something like 'The First Noel' could be a carol — you could dance to that. 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing,' not so much. ... It's a hymn."

For the full interview with Philip Brunelle, including more performances from VocalEssence, use the audio player above.