Christmas celebrations in Spain include singing special melodies called Villancicos.Learn more about the Spanish Crhistmas Lyrics.
Christmas celebrations in Spain include singing special melodies called Villancicos. Children do most of the singing, as they are the authentic protagonists of this cheerful time of year. Spaniards enjoy family get-togethers, and families get together on Christmas to eat turron (nougat candy) and mantecados (a type of sweet bun commonly enjoyed during the holiday season) and to have a great time singing villancicos in front of the nativity scene and more recently in front of the growing presence of the Christmas tree.
The origins of villancicos can be traced back to the middle ages. These songs were originally poetic in form, with a chorus that was nonreligious in nature and usually sung with voices harmonized in polyphony. They were very popular between the 15th and the 17th century. Over time, they began to take on a religious tone and soon they would be sung in religious temples and come to be associated with Christmas festivities, a tradition that continues today. Villancicos are religious-themed melodies, based around Christmas celebrations, and they are very popular in Latin America, Portugal and Spain.
The name probably comes from the word villa (city), the place from which the songs emerged. Their importance grew throughout Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque period, although given Spain’s deeply religious character, they obtained a leading role in our country.
The music of today’s villancicos is just one of the Christmas season’s many traditional folkloric elements. In addition to the “normal” instruments used to perform the songs, some special ones also take part in the Spanish Christmas melodies: the zambomba, the tambourine, the carraca (a type of rattle) and the anisette bottle. The zambomba is an instrument that is made up of an inverted, truncated cone (usually ceramic), open on each end with a leather patch covering the larger end, out of which protrudes a stick. Wetting the hand and rubbing it against the stick produces the low buzzing sound that gives the instrument its name. The anisette bottle is an example of the creative power at work in music. Anisette liqueurs in Spain traditionally appear in a transparent glass bottle with a diamond shape embossed on its exterior. Villancico performers rub the surface of the empty bottle with a pewter spoon to produce a high pitched “crystalline” sound that accompanies singers.
In contrast to the Christmas songs popular in the British and Germanic traditions, with rich orchestral and majestic symphonic melodies, we find traditional Spanish villancicos a bit more rhythmic and frankly “noisy”. Latin America has also received villancicos and incorporated in them regional instruments and rhythms such as the charango, the sicus, the quena, etc.
One curious phenomenon is the flamencoing of villancicos in Andalusia, especially in areas where Christmas songs are a part of the popular cultural heritage. Everyone is familiar with the songs (here everyone is to be understood literally), and those that don’t sing along will at least hum while going for walks on the streets where the music is heard in the background, produced by Christmas-time P.A. systems.
Some foreign Christmas carols that have become popular in Spain –with of course Spanish lyrics- are “Noche de Paz” (Stille Nacht, heilge Nacht is the original title, Silent Night in English), “Blanca Navidad” (White Christmas) and the Latin classic “Adeste Fideles”. It is important to remember that the Spanish Christmas carols that originated outside of Spain do not offer a literal translation of the original, but have been adapted to sound good in Spanish.
The following is a list of notable villancicos that are essential to any Christmas get together in Spain: