The Celtic lands are home to some of the most beautiful Christmas music in the world. These CDs span a wide breadth of styles of music, from traditional carols to modern Celtic-influenced compositions, and also span the Celtic lands, from Ireland to Scotland to Brittany and even to Cape Breton. Looking to add some Celtic flavor to your Christmas celebrations? Look no further!
This fiddle-driven Irish Christmas CD from Eileen Ivers (the musical star of Broadway's Riverdance) is a fun - and quite traditional - take on Celtic Christmas music. The songs range from well-known traditional Christmas carols to traditional Irish tunes, with a few fun surprises (including "Christmas Time is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas). The highlight of the album is "Don Oiche Ud i mBeithill" (Listen/Download) sung by Susan McKeown and featuring some haunting fiddle work by Ivers.
Loreena McKennitt is the consummate Celtic musician. Using ancient influences to create thoroughly modern sounds, and blurring the lines between any given individual genre of music to create something pan-Celtic and original, her music has a way of being exotic and familiar at the same time. Her Christmas album is no exception. Despite the fact that most of the songs are reasonably well-known traditional carols, McKennitt does something new and exciting with each one of them. The highlight of the album is the wondrously multicultural "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."
Less new-agey and more Celtic-poppy than most of Enya's CDs, And Winter Came is really more winter-themed than specifically Christmas-themed, but it still works very nicely as a holiday music selection. Pick this album up if for no other reason than Enya's flat-out stunning version of the Advent hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel" (Listen/Download).
This album, from all-female traditional Irish music group Cherish the Ladies, is the perfect album to accompany eggnog and a crackling peat fire... it's elegant and warm, and even a bit cozy, and Heidi Talbot's vocals are nothing short of lovely. For a highlight, check out the set of "O Holy Night/Cill Chais" (Listen/Download).
A soothing blend of pop, classical, and Celtic music, this CD from international sensations Celtic Woman is fairly straightforward and pretty, and thus, generally a crowd-pleaser. It includes most of the expected Christmas carols, as well as few lesser-known choices, including a particularly lively and fun "Carol of the Bells" (Listen/Download).
Known for not only their rock-solid traditional sounds, but also for doing more collaborations than any other trad Irish band in the world, the Chieftains are a consistently fantastic band, and this Christmas CD is no exception. Featuring oodles of special guests, including Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, and Nanci Griffith, you'll know you're in for a treat the minute you hear the upbeat strains of opening number, the title track "The Bells of Dublin" (Listen/Download).
Anuna is an Irish choir which generally specializes in early Celtic music and Celtic-based classical vocal music. On this CD, they explore those early traditions, and record such gems as "The Wexford Carol" (Listen/Download) and "Riu Riu," but they also perform a few non-Celtic traditionals, such as "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger." Christmas Songs is a masterfully produced recording, so much so that if you closed your eyes and listened, you could easily believe that you were sitting in an old stone church in Ireland listening to the choir perform for midnight mass.
Bonnie Rideout (Scottish fiddle), Maggie Sansone (hammered dulcimer), Al Petteway (guitar and cittern), and Eric Rigler (Highland bagpipes, Scottish smallpipes, Uilleann pipes), all Americans of various Celtic backgrounds, teamed up to create this spirited Scottish-themed Christmas album. Eric Rigler is likely the most famous bagpiper in the world, regardless of the fact that most people don't know his name - he was the featured piper on the soundtracks of Braveheart and Titanic, and you've heard his work in a myriad of other movies, TV shows, commercials, and musical recordings. Though it is Rideout's spunky fiddling that ties this whole CD together, it's Rigler's haunting bagpipes that really provide a unique ambience.
Moya Brennan (sometimes spelled "Maire Brennan") is actually Enya's sister, and once was her bandmate in their family band, Clannad. Where Enya added a New Age sensibility to traditional Irish music, though, Moya stuck with a more classic sound, bolstered by just a touch of pop. This collection of carols has a great Irish feel, but most of the songs are fairly standard English Christmas carols, except for a few traditional Irish carols and a notable Irish-language translation of "Silent Night," titled "Oiche Chuin" (Listen/Download).
Noels Celtiques: Celtic Christmas Music from Brittany is a graceful and inspirational collection of traditional Breton Christmas carols (or "noels") performed by a choir which is comprised of a number of smaller church choirs from the region. It's fun to remember that Northern France was once a Celtic region as well, and to listen for the common threads that tie the old melodies together. One of my favorite things about this album is that, because all of the songs are traditional to the region and not well-known elsewhere, none of the songs seem "overplayed," but they do have an old-fashioned sound.
Celtic traditions are alive and well in many pockets of the New World, and Cape Breton Island is a notable example of that fact. Because of hundreds of years of isolation, the people here have kept old Scottish traditions alive, including language, foodways, and music. Ashley MacIsaac is one of the most successful Cape Breton fiddlers, known for both his remarkable skill and his eccentric behavior, and this Christmas album is reflective of both. Fun twists, like a medley called "Christmas Jigs and Reels: Midnight Clearance Sale" (Listen/Download) give this CD broad appeal.