A SELECTION OF THE BEST SPANISH CHRISTMAS MUSIC
Merry Christmas! Don’t you love to celebrate it singing carols? Last year I shared with you the Catalan Christmas songs I grew up with, and many of you liked it. So I thought that there wouldn’t be a better subject for today’s post than talking about traditional Spanish Christmas songs, too. And as I’m writing it, I realize how different Catalan and Spanish traditions are. The Christmas carols sung in Spain are rhythmic, fun and almost a bit noisy. Children love to sing them while playing kids instruments such as noisemakers, hand drums, tambourines… and scratching anisette bottles with metal spoons. Very festive and family-oriented.
In the other hand, the words are somehow childish and mostly speak about nativity scenes or shepherds and countryside life scenes. They also tend to include a bit surrealistic verses that don’t make much sense. But this naivete is part of their charm. Are you curious to hear some of the most popular? Keep reading and Merry Christmas!
These are our favorite Christmas songs in Spain:
This is maybe the Spanish carol I’ve sung the most in my childhood, and one of my favorite too. The song speaks about the bells of Bethlehem that are tolling one after the other, and their sound calls to look trough the window to see the baby Jesus on the manger. It’s the angels making them sound to bring people news about His birth, so a little shepherd decides to bring the Baby some cottage cheese, lard and wine. This villancico (word for carol in Spanish) is documented since the early 1900’s and it probably originated in the South, Andalusia. I love the way the tune tries to mimic the sound of the bells giving a special accent to the word “Belén”.
La Marimorena (and other similar songs)
It is said that in the 1700’s a group of trouble-makers broke into a mass at a convent in Madrid, and one of them was a lady by the nick-name Mari Morena (Mary, the Brunette) singing and playing noisy instruments. I must admit that I’ve only ever known and sang the first part of the song and the chorus – about Mary the Brunette walking around on Christmas Eve, and the sun, the moon and the stars in a Nativity scene. But doing the research for today’s post I’ve been surprised to discover that it’s way longer than that, with verses speaking about as diverse things as the Virgin Mary making white bread, a shepherd eating soup, the Wise Men following the shooting star, or 400 people needing chairs to seat! Another song that mentions the Virgin Mary making bread and has a similarly boisterous melody is Arre Borriquito, with a chorus that gees up a little donkey to take the singer to Bethlehem because it’s getting late, and the next days are holidays. And a different donkey (a female one now) and another Mary eat chocolate while the mice eat Joseph’s pants in Hacia Belén va una Burra Rin-Rin.
Did you know the fish in the river drink? That’s at least the mean theme of this other very popular Christmas song, whose origin is unknown but its melody and structure clearly point at some kind of Moorish influence. The words, though are funnily weird, as the chorus encourages you to look at the fish drinking in the river because Jesus is born. The rest of the song offers a sweet look at a Virgin Mary combing her golden hair with a silver comb, then washing the clothes and putting them to dry over a rosemary bush that starts blooming.
And since we are discussing weird song words, this one is even more surprising. Maybe not the main story, about the Wise Men arriving to Bethlehem carrying lots of toys for the baby Jesus, and the Virgin Mary and the baby walking a long road and the baby getting thirsty. But then the chorus (which by the way is the only part of the song I ever knew and sang until I wrote this post) goes “Ole, ole, Holanda ya se ve“: “Yey, you can already see Holland” – or in other versions “Holanda ya se fue” – “Holland is gone”. Strange, isn’t it? Specialists suggest different interpretations, the most accepted being that Olanda was the name of the Star of Bethlehem (so it makes sense that it starts to be seen), or that “Holanda” is a poor translation of “Holy Land” – so they are happy they are finally arriving to their destination, or even that one of the wise men, Vaaltasar, could have been dutch. BTW, there’s a second song starting with “Ya vienen los Reyes”, that speaks about green vine and lemon tree leaves, the Mother Mary, the gifts of the wise men (that include a rich diaper – uh?) and an old lady offering a tip. Spanish Christmas carols never stop surprising me…
It seems like it’s pretty popular in Panamá, but I’ve heard it in Spain quite a lot too. In this case the words have a deeper religious meaning than in the previous ones. In them, someone asks the baby Jesus about his origins, and he answers that he comes from the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit. Then comes a happy chorus that invites to sing traditional songs to celebrate that Jesus is born on Christmas Eve… followed by a darker verse reminding us that time goes by and one day we’ll all be gone too and never come back. But the melody sounds so happy that you don’t even notice the lesson you’re being taught.
AND BONUS! Are there any Spanish versions of famous international carols?
Spanish versions of international songs
Did you know that the famous Silent Night is originally from Austria and that it has been translated to over 140 languages? In Spanish is called Noche de Paz and in Catalan we sing it as Santa Nit. White Christmas by the American author Irving Berlin has been translated to over 300 languages, and in its Spanish version it’s called Blanca Navidad. And to finish today’s post I want to mention a bilingual Christmas song: Feliz Navidad, by José Feliciano from Puerto Rico, and his mix of Spanish and English. Feliz Navidad, Prospero Año y Felicidad – I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart!
So what about you? Head to the comments below and tells us: What is your favorite Spanish Christmas music?