“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a well-known hymn that has been sung in religious spaces for decades. This powerful canticle makes an appearance not once, not twice, but three times throughout Sufjan Steven’s ambitious work of holiday tunes, Songs For Christmas. Although a full, traditional four-minute version is heard at the beginning of Volume I, the real magic from this specific church hymn for me has always been in the shorter variant found toward the end of Volume V. It’s with this song specifically that I have many fond memories of the holiday season. The track acts as a reprise of the traditional version and helps close out the fifth and final Volume of Sufjan’s masterpiece compilation of Christmas melodies.
The first time I had heard this specific version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was the winter of my freshman year in high school. Wanting to be filled with Christmas spirit, I opened up my Pandora app (hilariously my main source for music listening at the time) and looked for a holiday-themed radio. After listening in for a while, this version came on and I remember it striking me emotionally more than any other Christmas song had before. I remember getting teary eyed, harking at the haunting and poignant piano line with the somber vocals signing, “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel.”
Clocking in at a little over one minute in length, the song somehow packs an immense amount of somberness and melancholy. Ironically, over the years it would be associated with great times with friends and family during the December month. I recall a time after coming back home for winter break when I was sitting with my Mother with this song playing quietly in the background. I just filled with joy to spend my days with family again after being apart for some time. There was also another time I was getting coffee with a friend of mine and strangely enough, this song started playing at the shop just after I was talking about how great Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas music was. This got my friend to dive into not only his holiday tunes, but also his entire discography.
Every single year when the holiday season rolls around this song and the album Songs For Christmas are definitely some of the first things I listen to. While the song itself evokes sadness, for me it brings back happy memories that I’ll cherish forever.
Dylan Rodriguez is an Orange County resident who loves live music, pasta and Vietnamese Coffee. If you want to hear the ramblings of a madman who won’t shut up about music and whatever else is on his mind, follow his twitter: @OC_Mommy