(Barra MacNeil's Christmas II)

Celtic Christmas CDs

The Barra MacNeils -- The Christmas Album II

Updated December 20, 2007

I'm not a big fan of Christmas music, but I know some folks are. This page describes a few of the better Celtic Christmas CDs. If you are looking for holiday gift suggestions that can be played the other 11 months of the year, check out my suggested Gift CDs page.

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Barra's 2006 Xmas CD cover


The Barra MacNeils  --The Christmas Album II  (Cape Breton 2006)

This is quite a traditional Christmas CD both in its content and style. The arrangements by the Barras are beautiful, the musicianship is impeccable, and the harmonies lovely.  Highlights for me is Stan Rogers' "At Last I'm Ready for Christmas" and Lucy's gorgeous singing on "Ave Maria".  The CD is traditional enough to please the older folks and lively enough to not drive the younger set to distraction or worse. Recorded at Kyle and Anita MacNeil’s home on the Mira and Soundpark Studio, Cape Breton, NS.

  1. I Saw Three Ships
  2. At Last I'm Ready for Christmas
  3. On the Very First Christmas
  4. Angels We Have Heard On High
  5. Good King Wenceslas
  6. The Gathering Set
  7. Christmas Together
  8. Childhood Christmas
  9. Ave Maria  
  10. Dancing Angels
  11. Merrily on High
  12. Joy To The World
  13. Oran nan Cailleachan (Song of the Old Ladies)
  14. Christmas Ceilidh
  15. Samhach an Oidheh' (Silent Night)


Waterson:Carthy -- Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man (Topic 2006).  If you are not familiar with Waterson:Carthy this may be a good place to start. For introduction, they are arguably the finest folk singers in England -- Martin Carthy, his wife Norma Waterson, their daughter Eliza Carthy, and Tim vam Eyken. Each is a sensational singer in their own right, and together there is a magic borne of decades singing together. This is by far the most unusual CD on this list. It is a collection of carols and songs for all seasons of the year, although most are related to Christmas and New Years. The only carol that I had heard before is "While Shepherds Watched", but Waterson:Carthy do it in such a strong, a capella version, it was a new experience altogether.  Some of these carols and songs are quite dark and come from Gnostic or gypsy traditions. I have had a very hard time getting this out of my CD player ("I'll just listen to it one more time..."  (Very highly recommended if you are looking for something a little different).

  1. New Year Carol
  2. Sugar Wassail
  3. St George
  4. May Song
  5. Christ Made a Trance
  6. The Falling Tear
  7. Cherry Tree Carol
  8. Reaphook and Sickle
  9. Jack Frost
  10. While Shepherds Watched
  11. On Christmas Day It Happened So
  12. Time to Remember the Poor
  13. Jacobstowe Wassail
  14. Awake, Awake
  15. Diadem
  16. Jolly Old Hawk
  17. Gloryland

The Barra MacNeils -- Cape Breton Christmas (DVD) (Cape Breton 2003) Live Christmas Concert, as seen on television, plus a visit to Cape Breton, interviews with the Barras at home at Christmas and a Barra MacNeils music video.  

(Barras' Christmas Album)

The Barra MacNeils -- The Christmas Album (Cape Breton 1999) This is the pick of the bunch. The album has a truly wonderful, intimate feel. It is easy to imagine that you are in the houses of the Barras celebrating in a happy, informal way. I think it is the best thing the Barras have done. (Highly recommended)

  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Children's Winter
  • Carol of the Bells
  • Ann am Baile Ri'oghail Dhaibhidh
  • Singing in the Streets Christmas Comes But Once a Year
  • Christmas in Killarney
  • Snowplow Set
  • O Holy Night
  • Galician Carol
  • O Come Divine Messiah
  • Taladh Chriosda Party in Washabuckt
  • Auld Lang Syne

Telyneg with Robin Huw Bowen - Christmas in Wales / Nadolig yng Nghymru  (Welsh 2001) The Welsh have been combining harp music and spoken word for hundreds of years. Folk tales and poetry combined with music are reminiscent of an evening's entertainment in the days before television. Robin Huw Bowen, joined by the actress Eiry Palfrey and singer/guitarist Heather Jones offer a taste of Welsh culture and music. The centerpiece of this CD is Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. Other poems and stories show the listeners what the holidays were like 50 years ago in Wales. In between the stories and poems there are tunes from Robin Huw Bowen, master of the Welsh national instrument, the triple harp.

1. Christmas Bells / Clychau'r Nadolig
2. A Happy Christmas / Nadolig Llawen
3. At Christmas Time / Tra Bo Dau
4. Never Again
5. The Magi Jig / Jig y Doethion
6. Prayer for a New Mother
7. The Christmas Rose
8. Idris Davies Selection
9. Suai'r Gwynt
10. Hornpipes / Pipddawnsiau
11. The Nativity Play
12. Diniweidrwydd
13. Bodlondeb
14. A Child's Christmas in Wales - Part 1
15. A Child's Christmas in Wales - Part 2
16. A Child's Christmas in Wales - Part 3
17. A Child's Christmas in Wales - Part 4
(Christmas at Ennis Road) The Ennis Sisters -- Christmas at Ennis Road (Newfoundland 1998, self-published) From Newfoundland, these three young sisters bring us a lovely album of less-well--known and original Christmas songs featuring the wonderful harmony singing which has made the Ennis Sisters one of the most popular acts in Canada. (Highly recommended)
  • Ennis Road
  • Silent Night
  • Christmas Must Be Tonight
  • Christmas Day
  • Midnight Clear
  • Friendly Beasts
  • Angel Gabriel
  • I'll Be There Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Angel
  • Joyous New Year

(Bells of Dublin) The Chieftains -- The Bells of Dublin (RCA Victor Irish 1991). A fairly traditional CD from The Chieftains, though it does include the likes of Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, Nanci Griffith, and Rickie Lee Jones. The more conservative sector is represented by The Renaissance Singers and The Voice Squad. A mix of Irish tunes and songs, Breton songs, and classic Christmas carols. Very nicely produced and just the right combination of enthusiastic fun and respect for religious music of the season. (Highly recommended)
(Cape Breton Christmas) Ashley MacIsaac & Friends -- A Cape Breton Christmas  (Cape Breton 1993, self-published, re-released in 2001). This is a fine, varied CD that features not only much of Ashley's excellent traditional fiddling, but the excellent guitar and piano work of Scott Macmillan, a superb version of the French carol "Il Est Né" sung by Aurelie Cormier, a Gaelic version of  "Silent Night" and the reading from Luke. In addition to some Cape Breton classics, there are Cape Breton version of the Night Before Christmas, Go Tell it on the Mountain, Away in the Manger, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Auld Lang Syne. (Highly recommended)
(Do You Hear) Do You Hear...Christmas with Heather, Cookie and Raylene Rankin (Cape Breton) The three sisters famous for their work with "The Rankin Family" pick out some Christmas songs. As big a fan or The Rankin Family as I am, this CD is a bit strange, particularly in the arrangements of the songs. Worth getting, but set your expectations lower than with other Rankin's CDs.
  • Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
  • The Christmas Star (written by Heather Rankin)
  • I Wonder As I Wander
  • Jesus Christ
  • The Apple Tree
  • Do You Hear What I Hear
  • Taladh Chriosda (The Christ-Child's Lullaby)
  • A'Challuinn (The New Year)
  • Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
  • Quelle Est Cette Odeur? (What Is This Scent So Pure And Lovely?)
  • Ave Maria
  • Welcome Yule
  • The Coventry Carol
  • Children Go Where I Send You
  • Angels We Have Heard On High
  • Oh Night Of Joy And Gladness

(East Coast Christmas) An East Coast Christmas  (Maritime Canada 1999) This compilation of musicians from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick. The album consists of 15 songs and 1 set of fiddle tunes. The songs are folky ballads generally with a religious theme or nostalgic Christmassy spirit. There is some nice stuff here, but it doesn't hang together very well, and is nowhere near as good an album as the Barra MacNeil's
  • Evans & Doherty - "Christmas Memories"
  • Great Big Sea - "Seven Joys of Mary"
  • John Gracie - "Cape Breton Christmas Morn"
  • Laura Smith - "The Christmas Goose"
  • Dave MacIsaac - "The Christmas Tree March / Christmas Carousing
  • Rita & Mary Rankin - "In Night's Deep Silence"
  • Celtic Connection - "Children's Winter"
  • Breton - "Another Chistmas Song"
  • Terry Kelly - "Old Tyme Christmas Song"
  • Bruce Guthro - "The Boy From the Woods"
  • McGinty - "Mary's Boy Child"
  • Modabo - "Christmas Is The Time"
  • Maxine MacLeod - "Our Christmas Ways"
  • Rose Vaughan - "Home Is Where The Heart Is"
  • Richard Wood - "O Christmas Tree / Sheehan's Reel / Christmas Gathering / Marie O'Keefe"
  • Jimmy Flynn - "Santa's Hooked on Country Music"

(A Thistle & Shamrock Christmas Ceilidh)

a thistle & shamrock christmas ceilidh (2000, Green Linnet) This is a nice compilation album, but it doesn't seem to have anything at all to do with Christmans. Instead it is just another repackaging of tracks from existing Green Linnet albums. Not an album to get if you want to feel seasonal. :-(
(Celtic Christmas) Celtic Christmas (Silver Anniversary Edition, BMG/Windham Hill 2001). This is clearly a Windham Hill CD--music to relax to. This is not toe-tapping music. However, if you want something very subdued instrumentals, there are some excellent, mainly Irish, musicians on this CD, inclding Maire Breatnach, Maighread and Triona Ní Dhombhnaill, Steve Cooney, Mairtin O'Connor, Paddy Glacknin, Liam O'Flynn, Karan Casey. Despite this talent, this album is way too subdued for my taste, to the point it becomes indistinguishable from other Windham Hill releases, but y'all might like.

Please send me your comments or suggestions: jim@sfcelticmusic.com