Hispanic Christmas Music

"Singing Villancicos At The Pharmacy"

Villancicos and Dance Music in Hispanic Traditions

Here you can find a bit of history, origins, and role of musica Navidena in Hispanic Christmas. I’ll share with you the music you should own because it is the most remembered and well known… All from the perspective of a true Hispanic Christmas lover!

There is no “Navidad” or Christmas complete without “villancicos.” Hispanic Christmas music is characterized by “Villancicos” which are popular and lively songs that talk about the Catholic themes of Christmas.

We sing villancicos during religious Christmas celebrations, when doing the “Novena” or nine days of prayer, or simply during the holiday to keep the spirits high.

Many “parrandas,” the famous Puerto Rican caroling tradition, utilize villancicos in a less reverent manner but they are based on the original carols.

"Children Singing Villancicos"

“Children Singing Villancicos”
by Alhaurín

Some villancicos were translated from the Spanish version varying the exact meaning to make them rhyme and be coherent. An example is “silent Night,” the Spanish title “Noche De Paz” even though the literal translation from the English title is “quiet night.”

“Villancicos” are all about the spirit of the holiday. The main topics include “el niño Jesus” –baby Jesus-, the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph, the Three Kings, the shepherds etc. They talk about the religious meaning not the commercial aspect of the holiday like some carols in America do.

Where Do Villancicos Come From?

"Singing Villancicos At The Pharmacy"

“Singing Villancicos At The Pharmacy”
by fotosdeloria.

Not surprisingly they come from a poetic and musical form unique to Iberia -Spain. According to Jaime Gonzáles Quiñones in his publication “Villancicos y cantatas del siglo XVIII,” the main sources of villancicos were poems written in “vulgar Arabic” called “Arabic zéjel,” and an evolution of the “Arabic zéjel” known as the “cantiga de estribillo.”

Villancicos had very uncomplicated poetry that talked about rustic, religious, amorous, and pastoral themes. The term “villancicos” is the diminutive of vilano, which indicates a peasant of a small village in medieval Spain. Villancicos were expressions of vilano life -villagers’ life.

Villancicos flourished between the 15th and 18th centuries mainly within the Baroque period in Latin America and Spain. During the sixteenth century villancicos assumed a religious function.

Undoubtedly villancicos played a very important role in Mexico and Guatemala as they were used during the morning office of the feasts of the Catholic calendar. They were a main vehicle to help the new converts understand and enjoy the new religion through didactic texts.

The majority of Villancios were in Spanish or Portuguese, but interestingly enough there have been manuscripts found that contain villancicos in Mayan languages along with songs with Spanish texts.

Hispanic Christmas music, especially villancicos, expressed the cheerfulness of the holiday and in many cases they were comical to make churchgoers laugh and be merry.

Many countries have “festivales de villancicos” or Christmas carols festivals with great talent participating in them. Many times the sponsors are universities or even shopping malls that want to participate in the holiday spirit and attract traffic to the stores.

Some of the best known villancicos in Hispanic America and the “must have” are: Noche de Paz, Tutaina, Antón, Zagalillos, La Nanita Nana, Vamos Vamos Pastorcitos, El Burrito de Belén or Burrito Sabanero, and El Tamborilero. They are well known because they are traditional and many of us grew up hearing and singing them at Christmas time.

There are other types of music that Hispanics enjoy during the holidays and relate to the main rhythms we know like merengue, salsa, bachata, etc. Since dancing is such an important part of our culture we have to include them in our Hispanic Christmas celebrations.

It is customary for many singers of Latin American types of music to release their albums at Christmas time since the holiday is a big “parrandón” or fiesta overall.

During Christmas we, Hispanics, love to dance and celebrate based on our religious believes. Dance music and villancicos give us avenues to express how we feel about the holiday.

Villancicos play a very important role in Hispanic Christmas music by being the center piece of the musical tradition. They also maintain religious believes alive, help reunite “la familia” who normally sing them together, lift the spirits, and set the mood for a traditional Hispanic Christmas.

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