By the Left

The Top 10 Christmas tunes

Published: December 24, 2016

Eleven of ’em.

Where are all the Christmas tunes?

Sort of like, with the exception of Bill Livingstone’s “Lucy’s Frolics,” there are no tunes specifically named for cats, there is a dearth of tunes named for Christmas. Sure, we can cite obvious things like “Christmas Carousal,” the traditional two-parted reel, and carols put to the pipes, but, really, there’s not much else out there — never mind them 11 pipers piping in that there partridge song.

So let’s get a bit creative with a bit of good cheer and poetic license. (If you are particularly religious and reverent at this time of year, we mean no offense and sincerely hope that you don’t take any.) Over our long winter’s nap we looked into our kilt stockings to dream up our top 10 list of tunes that we can cannily connect with Christmas.




Donald Shaw Ramsay was sort of a Santa Claus of piping. Jocular and always giving through some great compositions. The four-parted jig, “Snowball,” which appears in his Edcath Collection Book 2 sort of tumbles along, like a snowball going downhill, or the year towards Christmas or, come to think of it, the tune might well have been about his fluffy white cat, Snowball. You hear many of DSR’s tunes a lot. “Snowball” . . . not so much.



“Jack Adrift”

Leave it to the great Donald MacLeod to get into our list of tunes connected with Christmas! His hornpipe of four parts appears in Book 5 of his collection. We understand that this so-called Jack is actually a Lewis code name for Santa, who was said to be snowbound one foggy Christmas Eve, so “Jack Adrift” came to be.



“Tam Bain’s Lum”

Fun times in the Gorbals!

Here he is again. That jolly old elf Donald Shaw Ramsay comes up with a hornpipe that places eighth on our list of tunes connected with Christmas! And what’s the holiday without talk of chimneys! A “lum” of course is a chimney and here comes Tam Bain slipping down the lum to deliver presents to all the good little children of the Gorbals!



“Mary’s Praise”

Let’s face it: there’d be no Christmas without Mary, what with all her immaculate conceiving and stuff! Your Christmas tune list wouldn’t be complete without this piobaireachd homage to Mary. And if you want to get the kids to sleep on Christmas Eve, just whip out the pipes and have a go at this gem! Watch them scurry off upstairs, bury themselves under the blankets and smother their ears with their pillows!



“Dolan’s Donkey”

You know what brought the aforementioned Mary along the way? You got it – a donkey! We believe that this, the traditional 2/4 march, is all about it. (Not sure who or what Dolan was.)



“The Gold Ring”

No question about it. Play this multi-parted traditional jig five times in succession and, voila!, you have the best part of that dreary Partridge family Christmas carol in living metallic colour!




Wahay! Little did you know that the curious 4/4 march by the venerable Charlie Glendinning is not about a 1970s trip to Woodstock, it’s about the star – you know, the one that guides the light to the right place with donkeys and frankincense and myrrh and the little baby Jesus (our favourite Jesus). “Moonstar” — #4 on our list of tunes connected with Christmas!



“Sprig of Ivey”

Just add holly and, ba-bam!, you got it! This agonizingly simple four-parted 2/4 march from the Willie Ross Collection goes on and on and will haunt you over all 12 days of Christmas like some chain-rattling ghost of horrible tunes past.



“The Children”

Happy Christmas, children!

Another gem 4/4 march, this time from the pen of the late, great Johnny Barnes. What’s Christmas without children? Especially bagpipe-loving children from Whitburn who’d otherwise be sent down the Polkemmet pit to get out the coal for the stockings of all the bad little children! Jocky Barnes, he knew that these heroic children needed to be commemorated with a Christmas piping classic.


And the #1 tune for Christmas:

“Cill Chriosd”


Okay, we didn’t want to get all religious on you, but we simply had to put this piob at the top of our list of pipe tunes connected with, well, you know, the birthday boy. Written purportedly to commemorate the roasting of people within the confines of a church on Skye, it’s known more commonly as “Glengarry’s March.” Tom Speirs’ “The Christimillar Pipers” notwithstanding, there simply aren’t any other tunes with the root of the word Christmas in them. Even if it’s in Gaelic, “Cill Chriosd” gets our nod as the #1 tune connected with Christmas!

Your Christmas tune-wishes might vary, so be sure to point out any that you think should make the top yuletide 10!

And now we’re off to play five Gold Rings to get The Children to search for their Moonstar as our snowballs tumble down the lum . . .

May your Christmas be of good cheer and good humour!


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