European Christmas Carols
Let’s meet Santa Claus in Finland, drink Glühwein in German Christmas markets, bake traditional cookies in Denmark, eat one of the seven Christmas meals in France or sing the world famous Silent night carol in Austria. Washington Irving is right, Europe is all about those treasures of age accumulated over centuries. And Christmas Carols may bear the lion’s share in this regard. The following list provides you the best Christmas songs in every European country and most of the time the link to the lyrics in both original and English version. Have a look at the Ukrainian, Hungarian, Norwegian and Czech songs, they will lead you directly to Christmas fairy.
The Portuguese Christmas carol is a traditional song with catholic references and is sung by children during Christmas Eve. It sings: “the boy’s asleep, In the arms of St. Joseph, His angels are singing: Gloria tibi Domine”.
♪♪♪♪ Los peces en el río
This traditional Spanish-language Christmas carol is one of the most popular in Spain and Latin America and includes some Arabic influences. It draws a contrast between the fishes in the river, who are excited about the birth of the baby Jesus, and the Virgin Mary, who goes about doing the chores of daily life. Its lyrics are subject to a lot of theories, but the most likely is that the fish referred to the “sinner”, that is to say the followers of God. In the song, the sinners (believers) “drink and drink” so as to “celebrate” the birth of Jesus.
♪♪♪♪♪ Petit Papa Noël
Petit Papa Noël is a 1946 song recorded by French singer Tino Rossi. It is currently the best-selling single of all time in France, with over 5,711,000 units sold. The refrain of this wonderful song is following: “Little Santa Claus, When you come down from the sky, With thousands of toys, Don’t forget my little stocking. But before you leave You should dress well. Outside you will be so cold. And it’s kind of my fault.”
“Snæfinnur Snjókarl, (or Frosty the snowman), was a jolly happy soul, with a corncob pipe and a button nose and two eyes made out of coal”. Christmas songs and dances are very popular among Icelandic children. Children and adults traditionally dance around a Christmas tree and sing carols at Christmas Eve. The highlight of the dance is when one of the Yule Lads (which are figures from Icelandic folklore nowadays depicted as Santa Claus) joins the celebration and sings with the kids before giving them a goody bag.
♪♪♪♪ The Wexford Carol
The Wexford Carol originated in Enniscorthy, County Wexford (hence the name). It dates back to the 12th century and tells the story of the nativity of Jesus. It is one of the oldest known Christmas carols. For centuries this song would only be sung by men but since the 1990 it has be recorded by many female artists such as Loreena McKennit and Celtic Woman.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas is a popular secular sixteenth-century English carol from the West Country of England.The origin of this Christmas carol lies in the English tradition where wealthy people of the community gave Christmas treats to the carolers on Christmas Eve such as ‘figgy puddings’. It is one of the few English traditional carols that makes mention of the New Year celebration. It is often the last song carolers sing to people.
♪♪♪♪♪ Jeg er så glad
The popular and simple Jeg Er Saa glad was composed in 1859 by Peder Knudsen with lyrics by Marie Wexelsen. Norwegians like to sing those kinds of Christmas songs while running around the Christmas tree. The song states: “I am so glad each Christmas Eve, The night of Jesus’ birth! Then like the sun the Star shone forth And angels sang on earth”.
♪♪♪ Santa Lucia
In Sweden, Saint Lucia’s Day is the Church feast day dedicated to Saint Lucy and is observed on the 13th of December. At this occasion, a girl is elected to portray Lucia, she wears a white gown and a crown of candles, and walks at the head of a procession of women, each holding a candle. The women sing a Lucia song while entering the room, to the melody of the traditional Neapolitan song Santa Lucia.
In Santa Claus’ country, there are many songs related to Christmas. This one was composed in 1978 by Katri Helena and with lyrics from Junnu Vainio. Joulumaa, translated as Land of Christmas, has become a real classic over the years and has been covered by several artists. It states in the text that “Christmasland is more than a fjeld and snow ; Christmasland is human imagination’s kingdom of peace”
♪♪♪ Dejlig er jorden
Dejlig er jorden is one of the most famous Christmas hymns in Denmark, Norway and Faroe Island and other Nordic countries. The text was written by the Dane composer B.S. Ingemann in 1850. It is based on an old Silesian folksong: Schönster Herr Jesus.
The shepherds were waiting that night is a Dutch Christmas song originally composed for the Dutch Catholic Church. It has become popular over the last century. This song is about a group of shepherds, who laying in the fields, saw the heavenly light, heard an angel speak and looked for Jesus. The song was recorded in 1852 by Joseph Alberdingk Thijm but was probably of older origins from the 17th or 18th century.
Il est né le divin enfant (in English He is born, the divine Child) is a traditional French Christmas carol, which was published for the first time in 1862 by R. Grosjean, organist of the Cathedral of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. The carol sings: “He is born the divine child, Play oboe, resonate musette ; He is born the divine child, Let’s all sing his accession”.
♪♪♪♪♪ O Tannenbaum
O Tannenbaum may be the most renowned Christmas Carol in the world and has been translated in many languages. The modern lyrics are due to Leipzig organist, teacher and composer Ernst Anschütz, written in 1824. A Tannenbaum is a fir tree. The lyrics do not actually refer to Christmas, or describe a decorated Christmas tree. Instead, they refer to the fir’s evergreen qualities as a symbol of constancy and faithfulness. It became associated with the Christmas tree by the early 20th century and sung as a Christmas carol.
Es ist für uns eine Zeit angekommen which means Unto us a time has come is a traditional Swiss Christmas carol from the Canton of Lucerne. A secular variant of the lyrics during the Nazi time has been prepared by Nazi poet Paul Hermann (1904–1970), which is still reprinted in some German songbooks. A text variant by Maria Wolters, dating from 1957, consists of 11 verses and re-establishes the religious content of the song.
Tu scendi dalle stelle, meaning You come down from the stars, is the best known Christmas carol originating in Italy. The melody and original lyrics for the hymn were written by Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, a prominent Neapolitan priest. Children learn to sing it in grade school, at Christmas, the stores pipe it through their music systems and just about every Italian can hum the tune and even knows the words.
Silent Night is a popular Austrian Christmas carol and was declared an intangible cultural heritage by the UNESCO in March 2011. It is believed that Franz Gruber was able to produce on the night of December 24th 1818 in just a few short hours, the first version of this world renowned Christmas hymn.
♪♪♪♪♪ Půjdem spolu do Betléma
Let’s go to Bethlehem! This czech Christmas Carol is one of the most renowned song that children sing during Christmas time. The lyrics are about a group of musicians who goes to Bethlehem to play different musical instruments to the new baby born Jesus.
Byznatine and Orthodox Christians follow the Julian calendar and hence celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6th and Christmas Day on the 7th of January. Blessing, the Christmas song in Slovak, is about the beauty of love and the best wishes to people of the world.
♪♪♪ Bog sie Rodzi
God is Born is considered as the National Christmas hymn of Poland. The text of this carol was written by Franciszek Karpinski in the 18th century but its composer is unknown. The melody is traditionally known to be a coronation polonaise for the Polish Kings, and known as early as the reign of Stefan Batory in the 16th century.
On Christmas morning in Lithuania children wake up early in the morning to receive gifts from Kaledu Senelis or Father Christmas. They have to dance or sing a song to receive gifts from Father Christmas. People visit the homes of relatives and friends and convey their greetings and well-wishes. Atbėga alnis devyniaragis is actually one of the most famous traditional Lithuanian Christmas carols.
Christmas Bells is a beautiful Christmas song composed in 2000 by Niks Matvejevs. The introduction starts with a grand organ, resonating bells, and an angelic boys choir all moving in harmony; followed by a duet between Marija Naumova and an unknown tenor.
Here comes a beautiful Estonian Christmas song. Jõuluingel means Christmas Angel. “On Christmas Eve, an angel visits each room ; Flittering there in the candle’s cascading glow ; You can scarcely see her with your eye ; But still you sense she wishes you well”. Beautiful, isn’t it ?
The Orthodox Church in Belarus still adheres to the old, Julian calendar. This is why all holidays are celebrated with the 13-day delay. Kaliadavanne is one of the most characteristic Christmas traditions in Belarus. Groups of dressed-up people wander from house to house, singing Kaliady songs. The master of the house visited during Kaliadavanne is supposed to give the group either sausage, snacks or sweets.
The wonderful Christmas Carol Shchedryk was arranged by composer and teacher Mykola Leontovych in 1916, and tells the story of a swallow flying into a household to sing of wealth that will come with the following spring. The song is based on a traditional folk chant whose language was thought to have magical properties. Shchedryk was later adapted as an English Christmas carol under the name Carol of the Bells.
Something unique for Christmas in Moldova is the tradition of carols or colinde. The idea is that children, and some adults walk door to door to congratulate their neighbors, friends, or relatives with the coming of Christmas. The practice of singing carols, or colinde, historically corresponded with the practice of dressing up as animals or masquerading as demons or other figures. These colinde were often themed around hunts, animals that spoke, and the cult of the dead.
O, ce veste minunată is a very popular Christmas carol, sung primarily in Romanian-speaking communities and countries. The text states “O what great news! Is shown to us in Bethlehem! Today has been born, the One without a beginning, As the Prophets foretold!”
On Holy Night, Hungarians listen to Christmas carols such as Silent Night or this Kis karácsony, nagy karácsonywhich meansLittle Christmas Big Christmas. It approximately says: “Little Christmas, Big Christmas, Have you baked the cake? When it turned on, here with me, Let me eat it warm”.
The Christmas song Bela Snežinka has become a popular Christmas carol in Slovenia over the last few years. It means White snowflake.
With more than 500 songs, the number of Croatian Christmas carols is surprisingly large even in world’s proportions. There are Christmas verses that can have a dozen of different melodies, varying considerably from region to region. Veselje ti navješćujem (I’m announcing you joy) is a traditional Christmas carol and is known in more than 50 different melodic versions in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
♪♪♪ Narodi nam se kralj nebeski
This beautiful Christmas carol is said to be from Croatia, but is also popular in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It signifies Unto Us Was Born the Heavenly King and was composed in the 13th century.
♪♪♪♪ Bozicna pesma
The Serbian Orthodox Christmas Carol is also a treasure in this list. Bozicna pesma means the angels sing. It sings “The night so grand and placid, a star shining over the cave, the mother sleeping in the cave, where the angel of Jesus has been, The angels are singing”.
♪♪♪ Вечниот Бог
Вечниот Бог is a traditional Byzantine Christmas Carol. It sings approximately “Eternal God who came down to Virgin Mary, Holy, holy, holy, holy God; King of Adam and God came to us”
♪♪♪ Krishti i vogël sot na leu
This Christmas carol is a traditional song in Albania and means something like Small Christ anointed us today.
♪♪♪♪ Дядо Мраз
This energetic Christmas song from Bulgaria is one of the most famous carols in the country. It is entitled Santa Claus and sings “Tinktink, tink, tink, tink, tink, Who’s there? Who’s there? Who will come to this hour Here comes Santa Claus!”
♪♪♪ Ta kalanda
Ta kalanta is a traditional Greek Christmas carol which children sing door to door on Christmas eve. The master of the house usually give them some money or sweets such as kourabiedes. The song is also played and sung at 12 midnight on Christmas Day.
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