Having lived in Canada for most of my adult life, I have grown accustomed to hearing the traditional Christmas songs, from Jingle Bells and Silent Night to White Christmas, Walking in a Winter Wonderland and many more.  I have also grown to love them and be filled with the Christmas spirit upon hearing them.  But nostalgia always kicks in when hearing the traditional Spanish Christmas music, which is a must-have in a household where both cultures are always mixing.  That’s why I thought of sharing with Alma Latina readers some of the songs we grew up with or that over the years have become Christmas essentials in our household.  I’m sure that every Latin American country has different songs they listen to during this season, but I would bet that some of these are heard all across Latin America.

The song Canción para la Navidad, (Christmas Song) by Spanish singer songwriter José Luis Perales, is an oldie and a sad one, but one that fills our hearts with hope and love every time we hear it.  “Sailor, where are you going?  Leave your fishing nets aside and pray, see the Star go by.  White hospital nights, leave the tears behind because Baby Jesus is about to arrive.  All of you who are listening to my message, leave hatred aside and come with me because Christmas is here,” it says.  It talks about the happiness we feel on Earth during this season and encourages everyone to join in the happiness and joy of the season.

Jose Luis Perales – Navidad

What English-speaking person hasn’t attempted to sing José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” at least once in their lifetime?  And what Spanish-speaking person didn’t learn their first English language words trying to sing this song?  The one song that’s become so universal, it’s equally popular in both the English and Spanish worlds.  I included here a beautiful version by Canadian Michael Bublé and Mexican songstress Thalía, but José Feliciano’s interpretation is timeless and already a pop culture legend.

Michael Bublé/Thalía – Feliz Navidad

José Feliciano – Feliz Navidad

Every year, since having the kids, hearing Gloria Estefan’s album Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors) has become a tradition when we’re putting up the Christmas tree at the end of November or beginning of December.  It may be torture to some of us (I do know every song and sing along every time, not always in tune), but the whole album is just full of fantastic Christmas music, some happy and tropical and some filled with more melancholy.  Más Allá, the song that she’s singing to Pope John Paul II in this video, talks about the power of generosity, compassion, humility and forgiveness to fill your heart with peace.

Gloria Estefan, singing Mas Allá for Pope John Paul II

The Spanish version of Silent Night, Noche de Paz, can be heard all through the neighbourhoods in every country in Latin America during the Christmas season.  This particular version is a flawless interpretation by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, but many versions of this song have been recorded all through the years by popular singers and choirs.

Andrea Bocelli – Noche de Paz

Ven a mi Casa esta Navidad (Come to my House this Christmas) is the one song that makes everyone cry.  It is particularly painful to hear when you’re an immigrant spending your first Christmas ever away from your country and it’s very difficult to hear when you’re alone and away from your family.  “If you’re far from your friends, your country and your home, and you feel overwhelmed, stop thinking and come to my house for Christmas.  If you’re thinking of your mother or a son who’s no longer with you, I want you to know that tonight he is with you.”  Nuff said.  Tears abound.

Luis Aguilé – Ven a Mi Casa Esta Navidad

Marco Antonio Solís’ song Navidad Sin Ti (Christmas Without You) is another sad one.  That seems to be a theme for Christmas for us Latin people, no?  This is the story about a man who after many years still sings to the woman he loved (and still does) and lost, and the melancholy he feels every Christmas remembering her.

Marco Antonio Solís & Los Bukis – Navidad Sin Ti

Not a Christmas song, but a homage to ending one more year, Néstor Zavarce’s Faltan 5 pa’ las 12 (It’s 5 minutes till 12:00) brings back so many memories, because adults in Latin America, no matter where they are or who they are with, will either come home to give Mom a hug or at least call her at 5 minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve.  “It’s 5 minutes to 12:00, the night is almost finished, I’m running home to give Mom a hug.  Please forgive me for leaving the party, but there’s something I can’t leave: a beautiful old lady who’s waiting for me on a night of everlasting Christmas.”

Nestor Zavarce – Faltan 5 pa’ las 12

These two songs, Mi Burrito Sabanero (My Grassland little Donkey) and El Niño y el Tambor (Little Drummer Boy) are sure to bring back some childhood memories for most Spanish-speaking adults; traditional Villancicos Navideños (Christmas carols) that many of us either sang in Christmas shows or heard constantly while growing up.  The last song, Carlos Mejía Godoy’s Navidad en Libertad (Christmas in Freedom) was also part of my own Nicaraguan childhood.  It was always very touching and it struck a chord because it talked about rich kids unwrapping their presents Christmas morning while there are thousands of kids (the majority of children, in fact) living in extreme poverty who don’t get to do that and who never see Christmas as a happy time, but as a reminder that the season can also be a happy time for the “Haves” and a very sad, miserable time for the “Have nots”.

Mi Burrito Sabanero – Villancico Navideño

Raphael, El Niño del Tambor

Carlos Mejia Godoy – Navidad en Libertad

But not everything is sadness during the Christmas Season.  After all, we are Latinos, and Latin people can still sing, dance and be merry in adversity and sadness.  There are many tropical songs that may not have the happiest of lyrics sometimes, but are sung with happiness and joy and we dance to it because it’s in our blood.  Cantares de Navidad is one of those songs, still talking about how different Christmas can be for those who have nothing and those who have it all, but regardless, feeling joy and peace during the Christmas season.  And it is the truth: where there’s music and dancing, material things don’t really matter much and Christmas becomes more about the spirit of sharing and being at peace with one another and not about the gifts you give or get.

Cantares de Navidad