Founded in 1994, the Christian rock band Jars of Clay has sold millions of albums to both Christian and secular fans. After visiting Africa in 2002, lead singer-songwriter Dan Haseltine founded Blood:Water Mission to dig wells and raise money to combat poverty and aids. The band has just released its first full-length Christmas album, Christmas Songs, which offers a different take on the genre. CT's Mark Moring spoke with Haseltine.

For a Christmas album, your new record has an unusual variety of songs. How were they chosen?

A lot of it was centered on two things. One, we wanted our Christmas record to be a little more lighthearted than a traditional Jars of Clay record. But then we started talking about Christmas and what it means. We have all these things we say about Christmas—peace and goodwill toward men—that in our current cultural [moment], don't seem to hold much weight because we're in the midst of war and great conflict. So how do we say these things and mean it?

How do lighthearted and serious issues, like the ones you mention, go together?

We wanted to make a Christmas record that had room for both nostalgia and cultural critique. To simply focus on the warmth of friends and family, and the mystery of Santa Claus, and the health rebellion of eggnog, would be an incomplete telling of the Christmas story. But simply to focus on the reality of perpetual war and human violence would make for a dark and sobering listening experience. We knew a balance had to be created.

You have been involved in helping Africa for years through Blood:Water Mission. Does your involvement inform the album?

Just in terms of making sure we were making a thoughtful Christmas album. Do They Know It's Christmas? [Band Aid's No. 1-selling 1984 album to fight famine in Ethiopia] looms over everybody's head. That was such a terrible way of expressing what goes on in Africa in terms of objectifying it. That album took a broad brush and says this is what the Westerners think of people who certainly must not be as smart or aware of what goes on in the world.

Related Elsewhere:

Christmas Songs is available from and other retailers.

Christian Music Today reviewed the album in its Christmas Music Wrap-Up 2007. Look for an extended version of this interview on their site next week.

Jars of Clay's website has more on Christmas Songs, including a video of "Love Came Down At Christmas."

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