Praying with Music During the Advent and Christmas Seasons

One of my favorite ways to pray, no matter the day or season, is with music (it makes me happy that St. Augustine agrees, as he is often quoted as saying “to sing is to pray twice.”). I am moved by the hymns we sing as Mass; I find myself drawn to collections of chant when I cannot sleep; and I regularly listen to new and old favorites – from contemporary worship music to the folksy numbers of the St. Louis Jesuits – on my commute to and from work. It would not be unusual for you to catch me singing along!

I typically spend a few minutes at the start of each liturgical season creating a playlist (or as the prayer app Hallow calls it: a “praylist”) for the days, weeks or months ahead in order to situate myself auditorily as well as spatially in the time in which we find ourselves. I thought I’d share the music on my playlists below, in case you’re interested in listening along, as well as some of the ways that I use the playlists to draw me closer to God. 

Advent Playlist

People Look East

O Come O Come Emmanuel

My Soul in Stillness Waits 

Creator of the Stars of Night

Holy is Your Name 

Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence 

Advent Hymn

For the four weeks leading up to the Feast of the Nativity, I look for music with lyrics that focus on the themes of anticipation, hope and preparation. One of my all time favorite Advent songs is People Look East, a song that gets at the ways in which different aspects of creation make themselves ready for the coming of the King: “Stars, keep the watch;” “Furrows, be glad;” People, look east…trim the hearth and set the table.” With overt instructions like these, I feel invigorated to make ready my home and my heart for the coming of Jesus. 

Beyond explicit lyrics, I look for music that fills me with a sense of reverent longing. Still, Still, Still and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence bring me there. This is the kind of music that gives me goosebumps and tears in my eyes without me being able to name exactly how or why; to me, that’s the Holy Spirit moving through melody.

Finally, I turn towards music that connects me to Mother Mary, a person whom I think truly embodied the patient, trusting, and open yearning for the Christ Child that I think we should all be striving towards in the season of Advent. Songs like Holy is Your Name and Breath of Heaven help me to put myself in Mary’s shoes and to feel the emotions that I imagine captured her in the weeks between her “Yes” to God and her welcoming God Incarnate into her arms.

Christmas Playlist 

Joy to the World

O Holy Night

The First Noel

Angels We Have Heard on High

The Friendly Beasts

O Come All Ye Faithful

Away in a Manger

Hark the Herald Angels Sing 

Once in Royal David’s City

Do You Hear What I Hear?

If reverent longing is the tone that I search for in Advent music, then joyful wonder is where I aim on my Christmas playlist. I want the songs I hear to bring me back to the manger, to help me imagine that I am among the shepherds, to situate me in first century Bethlehem. Songs like The Friendly Beasts, Away in a Manger and Hard the Herald Angels Sing all transport me through their imagery. Songs like Joy to the World and O Holy Night capture the emotions of gladness and astonishment that are the essence of Christmas. 

How I Use My Playlists

I listen to my Advent and Christmas playlists throughout their respective liturgical seasons (Sunday, December 3 through Sunday, December 24th, for Advent; and Monday, December 25th through Monday, January 8th for Christmas) pretty consistently. Admittedly, sometimes I’m in the mood for pop Christmas music (love me some Wham! and Andy Williams; please don’t judge my taste!) and so I tune into one of my local radio stations every now and then when I am driving around town. But for the most part, I do try to listen to Advent music in Advent and save the Christmas music for Christmas. Here are some of the times and ways I listen:

  • I take a long walk on cold mornings if I can manage to wake up long enough before my kids. I listen and pray as I marvel at the sunrise.
  • I light a candle and watch the flickering flame as I listen and ponder the coming of light of the World. 
  • I play the music as I hang out with my young children; my four-year-old and three-year-old daughters love to learn the words to songs and to sing along. 
  • I write in my journal while I listen to the playlist. I pay attention to the music and reflect on what words or phrases are moving me as well as the emotions that the music is stirring up within me. 


As we make our ways through the meaningful seasons ahead, may our ears as well as our hearts and minds be filled with hopeful longing and peace.


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