Friday, December 14, 2007

My Trilingual Christmases

Geneablogger footnoteMaven has started a Christmas caroling meme.

I've mentioned before that part of my childhood was spent in Germany. I went to a German school for part of that time and we had a German nanny. I was immersed in the culture and language at an early age. And Christmas in Germany became one of my favorite times and some of my best memories. This my favorite German carol because of its history:

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht

Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab' im lockigen Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

2. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.
Jesus in deiner Geburt!

3. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht,
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höhn,
Uns der Gnaden Fülle läßt sehn,
Jesum in Menschengestalt!

4. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Wo sich heut alle Macht
Väterlicher Liebe ergoß,
Und als Bruder huldvoll umschloß
Jesus die Völker der Welt!

5. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Lange schon uns bedacht,
Als der Herr vom Grimme befreit
In der Väter urgrauer Zeit
Aller Welt Schonung verhieß!

6. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Alleluja,
Tönt es laut bei Ferne und Nah:
"Jesus der Retter ist da!"

This one is a close second for my favorite German song of the season, because it was the first one I learned in Germany:

O Tannenbaum

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie grün sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie grün sind deine Blätter!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
Wie oft hat schon zur Winterszeit
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren:
Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Mut und Kraft zu jeder Zeit!
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren!

After three years in Germany, the tides of history swept us to New Mexico. A new set of cultural experiences we found there. At the time, Spanish was a required course in the Albuquerque Public Schools. Once again, as a youngster, I was immersed in a foreign language. And once again, Christmas traditions were my favorite.

In New Mexico, the people honored a Mexican tradition called Las Posadas. This is a nine day event celebrated from December 16 to December 24 ("Buena Noche"). Every night, there is a live dramatization of Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem. A couple portraying Mary and Joseph go from house to house for shelter and are turned away, until finally they are admitted. There are songs that go with this dramatization--some of which I remember to this day. The songs are sung by los peregrinos, begging for shelter, and are answered by los hosteleros. At the place where they are finally admitted, there is a great party. One feature of the party usually is la pinata for the children. A pinata is a papier-mache effigy on a string, dangled above the ground. It is filled with candies, fruits, nuts and other goodies. A child who is blindfolded (con los ojos cubiertos) holds a stick (en los manos un baston) and swings at the pinata to break it (ya se romper la pinata). An adult usually controls the location of the pinata by the string. The other children sing cantos para romper la pinata (songs for breaking the pinata).

Los peregrinos:
En el nombre del cielo os pido posada pues no puede andar mi esposa amada.
In the name of Heaven I beg you for lodging, for she cannot walk, my beloved wife.
Los hosteleros:
Aquí no es mesón, sigan adelante. Yo no debo abrir, no sea algún tunante.
This is not an inn so keep going. I cannot open; you may be a rogue.

Los peregrinos:
No seas inhumano, tennos caridad, que el Dios de los cielos te lo premiará.
Don't be inhuman; Have mercy on us.The God of the heavens will reward you for it.
Los hosteleros:
Ya se pueden iry no molestar porque si me enfadoos voy a apalear.
You can go on now and don't bother us, because if I become annoyed I'll give you a thrashing.

Los peregrinos:
Venimos rendidosdesde Nazarét, yo soy carpintero de nombre José.
We are worn out coming from Nazareth. I am a carpenter, Joseph by name.
Los hosteleros:
No me importa el nombre, déjenme dormir, pues que yo les digo que no hemos de abrir.
I don't care about your name: Let me sleep, because I already told you we shall not open up.

Los peregrinos:
Posada te pide, amado casero, por sólo una noche la Reina del Cielo.
I'm asking you for lodging dear man of the house Just for one night for the Queen of Heaven.
Los hosteleros:
Pues si es una reina quien lo solicita, ¿cómo es que de noche anda tan solita?
Well, if it's a queen who solicits it, why is it at night that she travels so alone?

Los peregrinos:
Mi esposa es María, es Reina del Cielo y madre va a serdel Divino Verbo.
My wife is Mary. She's the Queen of Heaven and she's going to be the mother of the Divine Word.
Los hosteleros:
¿Eres tú José? ¿Tu esposa es María? Entren, peregrinos, no los conocía.
Are you Joseph? Your wife is Mary? Enter, pilgrims; I did not recognize you.

Los peregrinos:
Dios pague, señores, vuestra caridad, y que os colme el cielo de felicidad.
May God pay, gentle folks, your charity, and thus heaven heap happiness upon you.

¡Dichosa la casa que alberga este día a la Viren hermosa María!
Blessed is the house that shelters this day the pure Virgin, the beautiful Mary.

Entren, Santos Peregrinos, reciban este rincón, que aunque es pobre la morada, os la doy de corazón.
Enter, holy pilgrims, receive this corner, for though this dwelling is poor, I offer it with all my heart.

Oh, peregrina madre, oh, bellísima María. Yo te ofrezco el alma mía para que tengáis posada.
Oh, graced pilgrim, oh, most beautiful Mary. I offer you my soul so you may have lodging.

Humildes peregrinos Jesús, María y José, el alma doy por ellos,mi corazón también.
Humble pilgrims, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give my soul for them and my heart as well.

Cantemos con alegría todos al considerarque Jesús, José y Maríanos vinieron a honrar.
Let us sing with joy, all bearing in mind that Jesus, Joseph and Mary honor us by having come.

And then on the way to the great party, the throng might sing:

Marchemos cantando
Let us march singing
marchemos cantando
Let us march singing
con gozo y fervor
With joy and fervor
para ir saludando
To go greet
las glorias de Dios!
the Glories of God!

One version of the pinata song is this:

Andale, nino,
No pierdas el tino,
Mide la distancia
Que hay en el camino

Dale, dale, dale,
No pierdas el tino,
porque si lo pierdes
pierdes el camino

No quiero oro
No quiero plata
yo lo que quiero
es romper la piñata

Echen confites
y canelones
pa’ los muchachos
que son muy tragones.

La piñata tiene caca,
tiene caca,
tiene caca,
cacahuates de a montón

Hit, boy!
Don’t lose your aim,
Measure the distance
That’s on the way.

Hit, hit, hit,
Don’t lose your aim,
Because if you lose it,
You lose the way.

I don’t want gold
I don’t want silver
What I want is
To break the piñata

Throw candies
And mints
For the kids
Who are very greedy

The piñata has pee,
Peanuts by the ton!

After eight years in New Mexico, we moved to Monterey, California. That first Christmas in Monterey, I missed the Spanish and Mexican pageantry of New Mexico. Despite the lack of "traditional" Christmas symbolism like snow, there was caroling in Monterey. This is my favorite carol<auf Englisch><en ingles>: (ironically, based on a French poem)

O Holy Night
Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born;
Oh night divine, Oh night, Oh night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Behold your King.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.


footnoteMaven said...


Wow, can you Blog Carol!

My Mom taught me O Tannenbaum in German, brings back lovely memories.

Thank you for joining us and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours.


Lori Thornton said...

O Holy Night is one of my favorites as well.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for 'story' on Silent Night.

It was a hot July noontime in my hometown, Binghamton, NY sometime in the early 1970's.

Father Dorst, of Christ Episcopal church was playing O Tannenbaum on the bell in the steeple.

I went straight to the church to see if he was ok.

Laughing, he said I was the only he knew that was paying attention.

Happy holidays and thanks for jogging the memory!

"Guided by the Ancestors"

Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

I enjoyed the trip through your childhood Christmases, Craig. I, too, have a love for the German version of Silent Night because of where I lived as a child and am enamored by the Posada and other Hispanic Christmas traditions.

Thanks for sharing your story and these special Christmas carols.

A blessed Christmas season to you!


Lee said...

Where was this post last year when my then 7 year old son had to write a report (1ST GRADE now mind you) on Las Posadas? He did well despite our initial ignorance, but this entry would have been a welcomed addition to the knowledge bank! :-)