Sleepers, Wake! An Advent Music Guide and Playlist

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After explaining how we fast from Christmas music during Advent (and then turn up the jams during the Twelve Days of Christmas until Epiphany!), I get a variety of reactions including “Are you insane?” Well, probably. And “so, what DO you listen to during Advent?”  To be honest I am just now discovering “Advent music” instead of just abstaining from Christmas music and I have completely fallen in love with the haunting and hopeful liturgical music of the season. I can’t wait to share it with you and I’ve even created an Advent playlist for your listening pleasure (at the bottom of the post)!

So, here’s my guide to Advent music so that you don’t have to play “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on repeat for several weeks until you’re ready to blast “Joy to the World!” on Christmas morning.

First of all, you might discover, like I did, that some of your favorite “Christmas” tunes aren’t actually Christmas tunes at all! “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” have always been my favorites and behold! They’re Advent songs, so you can jam out to them right here, right now!

Now, it’s time to discover some Advent hymns you might not be familiar with. Maybe I’m the last person on earth to hear “O Come, Divine Messiah” but it’s so beautiful and I am hooked! We’ve started singing it each night as we light our Advent candles. A great introduction to some traditional Advent songs is the Advent at Ephesus album. A reader first suggested it and then sweet Melanie of Trendy Traditions gifted me with the album and I haven’t stopped listening to it! In the car, at the house, all the time.

Another Advent favorite in our household is Handel’s Messiah. It’s not all Adventy, there’s some Christmasy parts and even Lenten and Easter sections but I love how it depicts the big picture of God’s redemption which is an important idea to reflect on during Advent.

One of my most beloved Advent tradition is going to the community “Messiah Sing” with my mom every year. A couple hundred folks show up and create the chorus and amazing soloists take on the difficult solos. My mom and I have our own scores and we rock the Alto section. I took Lucy last year in the Maya wrap because she was still nursing every hour or so and I think I nursed her all the way through the Hallelujah Chorus.  I even flew home from Texas to attend with my mom when she was going through chemo for breast cancer. It was the best way I could think of to show my encouragement and support. Even though she felt crummy from her treatment, going together that year is one of my favorite memories and I’m more grateful each year to have the honor of sharing this tradition with her and the grace of her presence in my life.  So the Messiah is a big part of Advent for me.

I also saw some great Advent music inspiration from Christy from Fountains of Home and Abbey of Survivng Our Blessings. Great Advent suggestions and Abbey even included an Advent Playlist.

Here’s my playlist of all my favorite Advent songs (and some songs that kinda sorta fit the theme even if they’re not technically religious.) Enjoy! (You’ll need Spotify to listen, but it’s free and awesome so you’ll thank me later.)

A few remarks on the Sleepers, Wake! Advent playlist:

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – Sufjan Stevens (This is my all-time favorite version of this song. I love Sufjan always and forever even though the Age of Adz tour made me want to cry and go back to listening to Seven Swans.)

“Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” – St. Olaf Choral Ensembles (One of my favorite hymns. I didn’t realize til recently it was an Advent song.)

“I Will Wait” – Mumford and Sons – (Waiting, Hope, Expectation….it’s a stretch but it works, right?)

“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” – Charlotte Church  (Again, one of my favorite hymns. I love Sufjan’s version, too.)

“O Come, Divine Messiah” – Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles (Currently my favorite Advent song. We are singing it when we light our Advent candles each night.)

“Til Kingdom Come” – Coldplay (OK, it’s a reach but “For you, I’d wait ’til kingdom come.Until my day, my day is done. And say you’ll come, and set me free…” It works, right?)

“Gabriel’s Message” – King’s College Choir (Classic Advent hymn.)

“Creator Alme Siderum” – Gregorian (Gorgeous.)

“The Man Comes Around” – Johnny Cash (Perfect for Advent. Perfect for anytime. I love you, Johnny Cash. If this doesn’t get you fired up for Advent, I don’t know how to help you.)

“Rorate Caeli” – Chant Meditation (Didn’t know this one until trying to find Advent songs. So lovely.)

“Alma Redemptoris Mater” – Sequentia (Same story. I want a class on beautiful Church music.)

“People Look East” – The Girls Choir of Bath Abbey (One of the beautiful Advent songs that we actually sing at my parish. Wish there were more but I’m grateful this one is so good.)

“Comfort Ye” from the Messiah – Handel (This gives me chills.)

“Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” – Choir of St Edmundsbury Cathedral (Another classic.)

“Sleepers, Wake” – Bach (Didn’t realize this was Adventy, but I’ve always loved it so I’m excited for another excuse to listen.)

“Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” – St. Olaf Choir Ensembles (Who’s ready for Christmas!)

What are your favorite Advent tunes?

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  1. says

    Love this. (Raises hand…) Fellow alto in possession of my own Messiah score, here! I haven’t been to a singalong in a while- around here, they do it at Easter instead- but the Kennedy Center in DC has one each holiday season that is free if you have time to stand in line for hours and hours for tickets. Someday, I’m going to do that one.

  2. says

    I want to do a sing a long next year at least. This year I’m singing in a “christmas cantata” at my church – a volunteer effort for a full blown concert (we have volunter members of local orquestras, bands, etc. coming in) only 4 rehearsals. I’m trying to remind my voice that I used to be able to reach those A’s and can do it again!

    Now to listen to this fantastic list!

  3. Alina says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the playlist! You have many of my favorites here, and some which I have never heard before.
    Do you think that something like “Bogoroditse Devo” (Mother of God, the Virgin) by Arvo Part is appropriate for Advent? The text is just the Annunciation, straight up, but it’s so exuberant! When we sang it in Lessons and Carols, our choir director told us that he likes to think of the first part of the song being sung by Gabriel, and then the choir of angels bursting forth, unable to contain their joy anymore. And then they hush down, realizing that they spoke out of turn, but they still can’t help themselves 🙂

    • Haley says

      Oh, I’ll have to listen to that! I love Arvo Part but I haven’t heard “Bogoroditse Devo.” It sounds completely appropriate! Thanks for suggesting that, I can’t wait to track it down.

  4. Lydia C says

    I searched for O Come O Come Emmanuel to find a version I like, and I found another Advent album on Spotify: Advent in Winchester “O Come Emmanuel”, by the Winchester Cathedral Choir – added to my own Advent playlist. Thanks for posting all the lovely songs!

  5. Monica says

    Check out The Brilliance (we listen to their albums on spotify)! They have both a lent & an advent album – very beautiful!

    Fellow Handels Messiah need here (I still have my choir score too) – I’m kind of partial to it during Easter too 🙂

    • Haley says

      Just heard The Brilliance album a couple of days ago! And I totally agree, the Messiah is perfect for Lent and Easter, too.

  6. Christine Thompson says

    Just out of curiosity, where do you feel songs like “Deck the Halls”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”, etc. fall into all this? They are basically secular Christmas songs, so are the “OK” to listen to during Advent or do you think they should be saved for Christmas since they are written about Christmas/Christmas time? Or maybe the ones that specifically reference Christmas should be kept until after and ones like “Winter Wonderland” are appropriate for the whole winter season? Just curious as to your thoughts on those.

    • Haley says

      Hmmm, I could go either way on those. I guess for me, fasting from all “Christmas” music during Advent, even if it’s not religious in nature is a sacrifice that makes getting to listen to it during Christmastide really exciting. So not listening to it during Advent heightens my anticipation of Christmas. But I don’t think everyone needs to do the same. I can see an argument for listening to “wintry” tunes that aren’t religious, for sure. I have a personal aversion to “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” so avoiding that one isn’t a sacrifice for me, haha.

  7. says

    “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” an ancient hymn,. Words: Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius [348-410]. Music: “Divinum mysterium” Sanctus trope, 11th C.

  8. Julie Cottrell says

    Thank you for this list of beautiful songs. Lesley at Wisteria and Sunshine pointed me here. Wishing you a blessed Advent.

  9. LPatter says

    one request for next year’s list: Creator of the Starts of Night! Love this and youtube is not finding me beautiful versions!

    Finally 2 weeks in I am downloading your list and deepening our Advent experience! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  10. says

    Thank you! Is this play list public? For some reason Spotify isn’t showing me the playlist when I search for. Could be user error too. 🙂
    I’m trying my darndest to keep Advent Advent and Christmas Christmas.

  11. Janae says

    I want to thank you so very much for this list (as well as all the additions from the comments). 🙂 I have been spending my lunch break adding it to my new spotify Advent playlist.
    This is my very first year celebrating Advent (though it’s a shaky start with me usually forgetting things or doing them at the last minute or not realizing until too late and creating mental notes for next year).
    This experience has helped me grow as a believer (though not Catholic but visiting a local Catholic church for the last couple months). There is a beautiful, though almost indescribable, feeling to Advent that is such a wonderful addition to my life and traditions.
    Thank you!
    I have been reading your blog/and facebook daily trying to find out any other things that I may be missing or forgetting. I would love suggestions if you have any for someone new to Advent (and the Catholic church).

  12. Sarah says

    Haley, Thank you so much for compiling this list! I’ve been searching for something like this for a long time! I’m a new blog follower, and I’m so encouraged and inspired by your writing. Thank you for sharing your story and your life with the interweb 🙂

  13. Emily R says

    I love these lists! Thank you so much! I’ve been trying to compile lists of of Advent music (not very steadily) for several years–and then having children derailed me, haha. But you’ve inspired me to take it up again and create a playlist of my own. I added “Where I Belong” by Switchfoot and “Equally Skilled” by Jon Foreman (yeah, we’re fans of theirs at our house 🙂 ) Both of these are about longing for justice, wholeness, completed redemption. Waiting for the second advent is certainly implied. Powerful biblical imagery. Love them!

  14. Yvonne says

    I’ve been so excited to listen to Advent music again this year, and now ’tis the season ! 🙂 I remembered your playlist from listening to it last year, and thought you might like to check out Sting’s On a Winter’s Night. He has some hauntingly beautiful versions of several advent carols. Happy listening!

  15. says

    I love Advent music!! Thanks for these ideas! Have you heard of You can download all songs for free in exchange for your zipcode so artists know where to perform (you can leave a tip if you want). A super fun way to discover new artists, too. I am loving “The Calendar Years” Advent songs, and if you like Mumford and sons, you’ll also Garrett Viggers and The Thin Places band Christmas/Advent, too! I’m putting in a link:


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