Choirs sing music, writes Oxford professor Andrew Gant in "The Carols of Christmas," while everyone else sings carols.

These holiday songs are part participation sport, part time machine and universally evoke deep, old emotions. After all, kids memorize the words before they can read. 

We took an informal, unscientific survey among Upstate residents, asking what they love to listen to this time of year and why. Most had a specific carol, and nearly all talked about days gone by. Here's what folks said — with some lyrics for merry measure.

White Christmas

Capt. Mike Walters of the Anderson Police Department spent Sunday night working security during a performance of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" at St. John's United Methodist Church. 

"I like 'Dreaming of a White Christmas,'" said Walters, who stood up from his seat at the back of the church and smiled as he spoke. "It was one of my mom's favorites as well. She always had music playing in the background from mid-November through Christmas."

This classic by song master Irving Berlin — made famous by crooner Bing Crosby in the 1954 screwball musical comedy of the same name — "White Christmas" is one of the newer carols on our list. Any Danny Kaye fans out there? 

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

And may all your Christmases be white (all your Christmases be white)
And may all your Christmases be white (all your Christmases be white)
And may all your Christmases be
(All your Christmases be white)
(All your Christmases be white)

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

Ray Spires hauled his oboe and his English horn to gigs all over the Upstate this season. On Sunday night, he played with the Amahl orchestra in front of a packed house in Anderson.

Spires kept it simple. "O Little Town of Bethlehem," he said because "somehow it reminds me of my childhood."

The Oxford professor, Gant, wrote in his 2004 book, "The Carols of Christmas," that 19th Century American bishop Phillips Brooks wrote the lyrics to this hymn. The tune is an English folk song, and it was composer Ralph Vaughan Williams who had the idea to combine the two. 

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Jingle Bells

Who knew the sleigh crashed in Jingle Bells?

Perhaps because this tune is so simple, or perhaps so ubiquitous, it made no one's list of favorite carols this year. Still, there's a great story behind it.

Gant writes that this holiday classic emerged in 1857 from the pen of occasional whaler, church organist, Boston native and eventual Confederate Army veteran James L. Pierpont while he was living in Savannah, Georgia. It grew to international fame in the 20th Century and is arguably one of the most famous American songs ever written.

Pro tip: Look for Miss Fanny Bright to make an appearance in the second verse. 

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
Through the fields we go
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bob-tail ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.

Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh,
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
And soon, Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side,
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And then we got upsot.

REFRAIN

A day or two ago,
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow,
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away.

REFRAIN

Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls tonight
and sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bobtailed bay
Two forty as his speed[b]
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you'll take the lead.

O Holy Night

Getting back to the reason for the season, Chip Hill said his favorite is "O Holy Night" by Adolphe Adam and Placide Cappeau.

"The words speak to me the most about the true meaning of Christmas — God coming in flesh to redeem the human race," said Hill, who is principal clarinetist with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra. "Of course, it needs to be a good tune also, and it definitely satisfies that requirement."

Originally written in French, this 19th Century carol made its way into English hymn books in 1855. 

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;

He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!

Honorable mentions

Many, many other carols came up in our conversations over the weekend. Here is a sampling, and a few links to those.

"Hallelujah" chorus: from Handel's Messiah, this may not be a carol but it's often a sing-along.

"Carol of the Bells": For something completely different, there is always the Trans Siberian Orchestra for Christams.

"Please Come Home for Christmas"by The Eagles: You'll recognize it when you hear it -- an especially good pick for folks spending the holiday alone.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen": Some say the Barenaked Ladies 2004 recording with Sarah McSarah McLachlan is the best version ever of this tune. We'll let you decide, but this bluesy Country Western treatment of the Medieval tune totally works.