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The Best Classical Christmas Music for Kids

The Christmas season is the most wonderful time of the year. So goes the song.

And when it comes to finding engaging classical music to study with your children, there are definitely some wonderful and familiar pieces from the Christmas season which will help your children to fall in love with classical music.

Image of red background with out of focus lights and stars. In a white rectangle across the image are the words "The Best Classical Christmas Music for Kids."

The ideal place to start with classical music is with short listening pieces.

Here is the best short classical Christmas music for kids. Most of them are pieces from longer works, which are all worthy of listening to in their entirety when you and your child are ready for longer listening times. For now, get started with these short pieces.

Familiar Classical Christmas Music for Kids

When one thinks of classical Christmas music, these two great works are probably the first to come to mind and are the perfect place to start in studying classical Christmas music for kids. Each has many short sections for listening.

The Nutcracker Ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Image of a wooden Christmas nutcracker doll - with red sleeves on the arms, a military looking vest, blue legs, a gold tall hat, a painted face with a moustache, and white fuzzy hair. The nutcracker is standing amongst other Christmas ornaments.

Tchaikovsky did not like the plot of the ballet as he said, “I like the plot of The Nutcracker – not at all.”

The ballet was not well-liked by audiences initially, but ever since the 1950s when George Balanchine choreographed the music for the New York Ballet, The Nutcracker is the top pick for holiday music and theater. And scores of theater-goers don’t seem to mind the plot but, in fact, find it magical.

The Nutcracker ballet is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” The story is of Clara (sometimes also called Marie), who receives a nutcracker shaped like a man from her godfather Drosselmeyer at a party in their home on Christmas Eve. Her brother, Fritz, breaks the nutcracker.

Later that night, Clara returns to the main room to check on her nutcracker just as the clock strikes midnight. The room fills with mice as the tree grows to an enormous size and the nutcracker also increases to the size of a man. The nutcracker and tin soldiers fight off the mice, and then the nutcracker transforms into a prince.

The prince takes Clara on a journey to the Land of Sweets, where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, Mother Ginger and her children and witness the dances of a variety of national visitors, like the Arabian Dance and the Russian Dance. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier also dance and then send Clara back home.

You can watch the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy here. Notice the quiet tinkling piano sound – a unique instrument called the celeste.

If you want to study more, pick up Investigating The Nutcracker.

Messiah Oratorio by George Frideric Handel

Messiah is an oratorio – a work which tells a story through the music and words but without sets or costumes (like an opera) – for chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists. It consists of solos and choral pieces all based on Scriptures from the Bible about Jesus the Messiah. Messiah is like a combination of German Passion play, English church anthem, and Italian opera.

George Frideric Handel composed Messiah in only 24 days in 1741! The first performance was in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1742 as a charity performance and later, it was performed at Covent Garden in London. Though it was originally written for Easter, it began to be performed every year at Christmas time during the Victorian era in Britain, and the tradition continues.

Messiah is comprised of three parts. Part 1 tells of the prophecies of Christ’s coming, his birth and ministry. Part 2 is the account of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and the victory of the gospel, and Part 3 is a picture of eternal life and the final triumph over sin.

One of the most memorable and well-known choruses from Messiah is Hallelujah Chorus. There is a story that King George II stood up as he listened because he was enjoying himself so much. Because the king stood up, everyone else had to stand up too. Now every time this song is played, everyone stands up to listen out of respect to King George whether he is there or not!

For Unto Us a Child is Born is a popular section of the Christmas section of Messiah.

Each of the choruses or solos in Messiah is a short listening piece, but here are a few more of the most familiar ones.
Hallelujah Chorus
Comfort Ye, My People and Every Valley
The Glory of the Lord

If you want to study more, pick up Investigating Messiah Oratorio.

Image of computer screen with purple swatch of color and three images in a row - a manger, a cross, and a crown - with the words Investigating Messiah Oratorio. Behind the computer screen are worksheets fanned out, and to the left of the computer screen is a purple spiral cover with them image of the manger, cross and crown and the words Investigating Messiah Oratorio with an arrow pointing to it and the words Teacher Notes. To the right of the computer screen is a purple spiral cover with them image of the manger, cross and crown and the words Investigating Messiah Oratorio with an arrow pointing to it and the words Student Activity Pack.

Investigate Handel’s Messiah in a 25-day unit study of both music and art! Perfect for an Advent or Easter devotional too!

Less Familiar Classical Christmas Music for Kids

Angels’ Carol by John Rutter

Angels’ Carol by John Rutter, who has composed many other carols for Christmas, is a light rendition of the announcement of Jesus’ birth by the angels to the shepherds.

This can be found on The John Rutter Christmas Album along with many of John Rutter’s other carols.

Image of boys of a boys' choir in white robes and red stolls lined up facing each other across an aisle in the choir area of an English church with a choir director, also in a white robe and red stoll, facing them and conducting.

A Christmas Greeting by Edward Elgar

This was written in 1907 for Dr. G. R. Sinclair and the choir of Hereford Cathedral. Caroline Alice Elgar, the composer’s wife, wrote the poem, which is a tribute to friendship. Here is the first verse:

Bowered on sloping hill sides rise
In sunny glow,the purpling vine;
Beneath the greyer English skies,
In fair array, the redgold apples shine.
To those in sun,
To those in snow,
Love is but one;
Hearts beat and glow,
By oak or palm,
Friends, in storm or calm.

Christmas Waltz – originally called December (Christmas) from The Seasons by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

This waltz is from a work called The Seasons, which contains 12 shorter pieces – one for each month of the year. It is in 3/4 time and is similar to the waltzes found in The Nutcracker ballet. Tchaikovsky wrote the piece for piano, but there is a lovely orchestral version too.

When listening with young children, you may want to sway or rock to the music.

The Shepherd’s Farewell from L’Enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz

This is a beautiful chorus from the greater work L’Enfance du Christ, which is an oratorio composed in 1853 and 1854. Berlioz wrote both the words and the music. It tells the story of the holy family’s flight into Egypt. One of the most familiar parts of it is The Shepherd’s Farewell.

Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach

While not as familiar as Handel’s Messiah, probably because it is in German, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is another important classical work which magnifies the true Christmas story of Jesus’ birth. It is one of a set of three related oratorios written in 1734 and 1735 for the celebration of major Christian holiday– the other two are Easter Oratorio and Ascension Oratorio.

Christmas Oratorio has six parts. Part 1 tells of Jesus’ birth, Part 2 describes the announcement to the shepherds, Part 3 depicts the adoration of the shepherds, Part 4 is about the circumcision and naming of Jesus, Part 5 portrays the journey of the Magi, and Part 6 shows the adoration of the Magi.

Listen to this chorus from Christmas Oratorio.

Oratorio de Noël by Camille Saint-Saëns

Oratorio de Noël is a cantata for choir, soloists, organ, strings and harp. Saint-Saëns wrote it in only 10 days in 1858. The text is in Latin and is from the Bible. There are 10 movements.

Here is the last movement Tollite hostias (Bring forth your offerings).

A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten

This work is a cantata for choir, solo voices and harp. It contains 11 shorter pieces and uses Middle English and some Latin word for its text.

Listen to this This Little Babe, a short canon-like hymn, performed by a children’s choir.

There are, of course, many more wonderful works of classical Christmas music for kids. This will get you started, and if you want a YouTube playlist of these and other music, be sure to get the free download Classical Christmas Music Playlist for Kids.

Grab your free copy of the Classical Christmas Music Playlist for Kids and enjoy the sounds of the season today!

Other Jus’ Classical Christmas Resources:

Other Jus’ Classical Resources:

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