European Nursery Rhymes

When Europe open its mouth, it is to yawn !

François Mitterand.

Having troubles falling into the arms of Morpheus? Fighting hard against your own pillow? We have the medicine you need: a compilation of the best nursery rhymes across Europe! From soft and relaxing lullabies to enthusiastic and vivid children’s songs, the choice is yours! Get ready to listen to crying violins, bellowing bagpipes and gentle flutes. And that’s just the melodies – don’t forget the stories. Ranging from playful puppies, kindly frogs and baby dolls if you’re in a cutesy mood – or cannibalism, poverty and murder if you’re feeling more rebellious. In any case, trust us: the old continent knows how to tell a good story and set it perfectly to music. And as our honoured guest, you’ll find all that you need right on this page: a song to play, the lyrics to sing along, and the translations to understand what you’re saying. For once, we are happy to make you yawn! Sleep tight. 

Portugal

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Atirei o Pau ao Gato
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Some think that nursery rhymes are imbued with moral values, others that they are naive nonsense. Who cares? Children probably don’t get the lyrics anyway. So what to make of the famous Portuguese “Cantiga de roda,” which invites children to throw a stick at the cat? “I threw the stick at the cat-cat, But the cat-cat, Has not died-ed-ed!” Does it inspire you? It certainly did to this Portuguese band which did a rock version to he rhythm of “Another Brick in the Wall”…

Atirei o pau ao gato-to
Mas o gato-to
Não morreu-rreu-rreu
Dona Chica-ca
Assustou-se-se
Com o berro
Com o berro
Que o gato deu
MIAU!

À sentada à chaminé-né-né
Veio uma pulga-ga
Mordeu-lhe o pé-pé-pé
Ou ela chora
Ou ela grita
Ou vai-se embora
Pulga maldita!

I threw the stick at the cat
But the cat-cat
Has not died-ed-ed
Mrs. Chica-ca
Scared off-off-off
With the scream
With the scream
Of the cat
MEOW!

Sitting on the chimney-ey-ey
Came a flea-flea
Bit her foot-foot-foot
Or she cries
Or she screams
Or goes away
Damn flea!

Spain

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Pimpón es un Muñeco
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Hygiene is the number one concern in Spain! And you have to learn the basic principles right from childhood. Pimpón will guide you in this difficult task – even if he is only made out of cardboard. You have first to wash your little face with some water and some soap”. Then you “untangle your hair” preferably “with an ivory comb” And although you “don’t like it, you neither cry or go like this.” We have to admit, the song is a bit repetitive. But, well, so is taking care of your personal hygiene… 

Pimpón es un muñeco
Con manos de cartón
Se lava su carita
Con agua y jabón

Se desenreda el pelo
Con peine de marfil
Y aunque no le gusta
No llora, ni hace así
(frotar los ojos)

Pimpón dame la mano
Con fuerte apretón
Que quiero ser tu amigo
Pimpón, Pimpón, Pimpón

Y cuando las estrellas
Comienzan a salir
Pimpón se va a la cama
Pimpón se va a dormir.

Pimpon is a doll
With cardboard hands.
He washes his little face,
With some water and some soap.

He untangles his hair,
With an ivory comb,
And although he doesn’t like it,
He neither cries or goes like this.
(Rubbing his eyes.)

Pimpon give me your hand,
With a hearty grip.
I want to be your friend,
Pimpon, Pimpon, Pimpon.

And when the stars
Start to come out,
Pimpon goes to bed.
Pimpon goes to sleep.

France

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Il était un Petit Navire
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Cannibalism: hardly a topic you would expect to find in a nursery rhyme meant for children – but no surprises, given how gruesome your average European fairy tale can be. This famous French “comptine” involves a ship, a journey across the seas, pirates and a young cabin boy. At some point in the trip, the food runs short and they have to draw straws to decide who should be eaten. But it’s OK, because they do it by singing! You expect the worst… when finally the best happens. But still, what kind of moral does this song bring? 

Il était un petit navire
Qui n’avait ja-ja-jamais navigué

Ohé ohé ohé ohé matelot
Matelot navigue sur les flots
Ohé ohé ohé ohé matelot
Matelot navigue sur les flots

Il entreprit un long voyage
Sur la mer Mé-Mé-Méditerranée

Au bout de cinq à six semaines
Les vivres vin-vin-vinrent à manquer

On tira-z-à la courte paille
Pour savoir qui-qui-qui serait mangé

Le sort tomba sur le plus jeune
Bien qu’il ne fût pas très épais

On cherche alors à quelle sauce
Le pauvre enfant-fant-fant serait mangé

L’un voulait qu’on le mît à frire
L’autre voulait-lait-lait le fricasser

Pendant qu’ainsi on délibère
Il monta sur sur sur le grand hunier

Il fit au ciel une prière
Interrogeant-geant-geant l’immensité

O sainte Vierge, öma patronne
Empêchez-les les les de me manger

Au même instant un grand miracle
Pour l’enfant fut fut fut réalisé

Des p’tits poissons dans le navire
Sautèrent bien-bien-bientôt par milliers

On les prit, on les mit à frire
Et le p’tit mou-mou-mousse fut sauvé

There was a little ship
That had never sailed

Oh eh oh eh oh eh sailor,
Sailor sails over the sea
Oh eh oh eh oh eh sailor
Sailor sails over the sea 

It began a long travel
On the Mediterranean Sea

After five or six weeks
The food ran short

They drew straws
To see who would be eaten

It fell to the youngest
Though he wasn’t very fat

They tried to find the way
The poor child would be cooked

One wanted him fried
Another wanted him boiled

While they were discussing
He climbed up the main topsail

He prayed to heaven
Asking the vastness

O holy Virgin, o, my Lady
Forbid them to eat me

At once, a great miracle
Was performed for the child

Small fish soon jumped By the thousand
into the ship

They were gathered, they were fried
And the little ship’s boy was save

Iceland

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Sigga Litla Systir Mín
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In the north of Europe where nights are long, dark and sometimes depressing, nursery rhymes need to be energetic so children stay entertained. (And so their parents can be kept away from alcohol) My Little Sister Sigga is then a beautiful nursery rhyme sung by a woman and a man about a little girl Sigga, sitting in the street, milking her sheep, in a tiny little bucket. (What she will do with the milk is a completely different story). In any case, this is a very refreshing song, especially if you can’t say a word in Icelandic!

Sigga litla systir mín,
situr úti á götu.
Er að mjólka ána sín,
í ofurlitla fötu.

My little sister Sigga
Is sitting on the street.
She is milking her sheep
In a tiny little bucket.

Ireland

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Weile Weile Waile
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Should a nursery rhyme tackle sensitive issues? This is the question raised by our Irish nursery rhyme, also known as The River Saile. In this ballad there is no creature or monster, but just the sad story of an old woman living in the woods with a three-month-old baby. Francis James Child was the first person to collect and catalogue this nursery rhyme in 1896. The ballad was later popularised by Irish folk band The Dubliners. However catchy the rhythm, the topic may bring you some tears.

There was an old woman and she lived in the woods, weile weile waile.
There was an old woman and she lived in the woods, down by the river Saile.

She had a baby three months old, weile weile waile.
She had a baby three months old, down by the river Saile.

She had a penknife, long and sharp, weile weile waile.
She had a penknife, long and sharp, down by the river Saile.

She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart, weile weile waile.
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart, down by the river Saile.

There were three loud knocks come a’knocking on the door, weile weile waile.
There were three loud knocks come a’knocking on the door, down by the river Saile.

There were two policemen and a special-branchman, weile weile waile.
There were two policemen and a special-branchman, down by the river Saile.

They put a rope around her neck, weile weile waile.
They put a rope around her neck, down by the river Saile.

They pulled the rope and she got hung, weile weile waile.
They pulled the rope and she got hung, down by the river Saile.

And that was the end of the woman in the woods, weile weile waile.
And that was the end of the baby too, down by the river Saile.

United Kingdom

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Baa Baa Black Sheep
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Sometimes little stories contain bigger ones. Take the British nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep: it was the first song ever to be digitally saved and played on a computer in 1951. It is also a true European melody as it is actually a variant of the 1761 French melody Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman. The original form of the tune is also used for the Christmas carol Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the Alphabet song. Not so bad for a naive song about the black wool of a black sheep…

Baa, baa, black sheep, Have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, Three bags full. One for the master, One for the dame, And one for the little boy Who lives down the lane.

Norway

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Lille Petter Edderkopp
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Norway offers us a nursery rhyme in the most traditional way: “Little Peter Spider climbed upon my hat. Then it began to rain and down Peter fell flat.” The story has everything it needs: a little boy or girl, an animal, a plot, a cliffhanger and a happy end. Some would rejoice at the idea that the spider could die in this adventure, but not our animal-lover Norwegians who gave it a second chance. In the original, the whole thing sounds like a furious tongue twister

Lille Petter Edderkopp han klatret på min hatt.
Så begynte det å regne og Petter ned han datt.
Så kom solen og skinte på min hatt.
Da ble det liv i Petterkopp som klatret på min hatt

Little Peter Spider climbed upon my hat.
Then it began to rain and down Peter fell flat.
Then came the sun and shone upon my hat.
Then Peter Spider came to life, and climbed upon my hat.

Sweden

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Bä Bä Vita Lamm
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We know what you’re going to say! “Oh, it’s just Baa Baa Black Sheep in Swedish! And they even dared turning the black sheep into a white lamb!” Sorry to disappoint you, but… you’re wrong! The Swedish nursery rhyme “Baa Baa White Lamb” has nothing to do with the British lullaby – even if, we must admit, the topic is quite similar. Here we are talking about a lamb, its wool and a baby being born. The melody is also very different. Now, sit back comfortably in your sofa, enjoy a piece of Swedish cake and sing along with us…

Bä, bä, vita lamm,
har du någon ull?
Ja, ja, kära barn,
jag har säcken full!
Helgdagsrock åt far
och söndagskjol åt mor,
och två par strumpor
åt lille-, lillebror!

Baa, baa, white lamb,
Have you any wool?
Yes, yes, dear child,
A whole sack full!
A holiday coat for father,
A Sunday dress for mother,
And two pair of socks
For baby brother.

Finland

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Lennä, Lennä Leppäkerttu
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Insects are a common feature in nursery rhymes. For children, the ladybird is probably the queen of them all, for what she represents in terms of beliefs and superstitions. In any case, the Finnish “Fly, Fly Ladybird” is full of poetry: “Fly, fly ladybird, Into the foot of the big stone, There are your mommy and daddy, Boiling porridge for you.” If you consider that Finland and its never ending winter is the country located the furthest north in Europe, we let you imagine the tawdry life expectancy a ladybird must have there. Which makes this nursery rhyme even more special to sing… We hope you appreciate it at face value.

Lennä, lennä leppäkerttu
ison kiven juureen,
siellä on sun äitis, isäs,
keittää sulle puuroo.

Fly, fly ladybird
Into the foot of the big stone,
There are your mommy and daddy,
Boiling porridge for you.

Denmark

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Den Lille Ole med Paraplyen
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In Denmark, children think that a fairy comes when they lose a tooth and that the sandman always bring an umbrella with him! Unlike Portugal, France or Norway, the beautiful “Little Sandman with the Umbrella” serves the original purpose of a nursery rhyme: putting children to bed! The lyrics are truly enchanting: “He opens his umbrella and spreads about the bed the comfort of innocence. Then in dreams the little guy will tell wonderful fairy tales.“. If you are French-speaker, you may surprised to read that Danes call their umbrella almost the same thing: “paraplyen“…

Den lille Ole med paraplyen,
ham kender alle småfolk i byen,
hver lille pige, hver lille dreng,
han lægger sødt i sin lille seng.

Så vil han ud paraplyen brede
og uskylds hygge om lejet sprede,
da vil i drømme den lille fyr
fortælle dejlige eventyr.

Han vil fortælle om stjerner klare,
og om den dejlige engleskare,
og om den yndige lille fe,
som alle børn vil så gerne se.

Og har om dagen de artig’ været,
og kærlig fader og moder æret,
da kan så glade til sengs de gå,
og drømme smukt om Guds engle små.

Og når om morgenen solen skinner,
da vågner de med små røde kinder,
og takke Gud for, hvad de har drømt,
og kysse fader og moder ømt.

The little Sandman with the umbrella
He is known by all kids in town,
Every little girl, every little boy
He puts to bed sweetly.

Then he opens his umbrella
And spreads about the bed the comfort of innocence
Then in dreams the little guy will
Tell wonderful fairy tales.

He will tell about the stars clear
And about the wonderful angels,
And about the pretty little fairy
That all children will so want to see.

And if they have been well behaved all day
And lovingly honored father and mother,
Then so happily to bed they can go
And dream beautifully of God’s little angels.

And when in the morning the sun shines
Then they’ll awaken with little red cheeks
And thank God for what they have dreamt
And kiss father and mother tenderly.

Netherlands

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Slaap Kindje Slaap
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Who said you couldn’t fall asleep while listening to Dutch? In the Netherlands, they can! “Slaap kindje slaap, is probably the most famous Dutch “slaapliedje” which literally means a ‘sleep-song’ to get babies to drift off. The oldest version of the lullaby was collected around 1850 but it has been in Dutch folklore for longer. Older children sometimes sing a parody of the lullaby: “Sleep Baby Sleep, your father is a monkey, your mother is a baboon, your father follows after that, sleep Baby Sleep, your father is a monkey“. Yes, Dutch children can be a bit naughty.

Slaap kindje slaap,
daar buiten loopt een schaap.
Een schaap met witte voetjes,
die drinkt zijn melk zo zoetjes.
Slaap kindje slaap,
daar buiten loopt een schaap.

Sleep, baby sleep,
Outside there walks a sheep,
A sheep with white feet,
Who drinks his milk so sweet,
Sleep, baby sleep,
Outside there walks a sheep.

Belgium

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Hoedje van Papier
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For once, we selected a nursery rhyme in Dutch  – as you know the Flat country speaks three languages and we have to keep the right balance. “Hoedje van papier” (Little Paper Hat) was a folk song that’s now sung as a nursery rhyme. The song probably originated around 1830, and refers to the political circumstances of the time. King William I was rejected as a monarch by the Southern Netherlands (now Belgium) in 1830 and on October 4, 1830, the Provisional Government declared independence. The Netherlands sent an army to suppress the uprising. A large number of conscripts had to get a uniform quickly. Because there were not enough regular hats, the Belgians got one of parchment-like paper, a fact which passed into legend. 

Een, twee, drie, vier, hoedje van, hoedje van
Een, twee, drie, vier, hoedje van papier.
En heb je dan geen hoedje meer,
Maakt er een van wit papier
Een, twee, drie, vier hoedje van papier.

One, two, three, four, paper, paper,
One, two, three, four, paper hat,
And if you have no more hats,
Make one with gift wrap,
One, two, three, four, paper hat.

Germany

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Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
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Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer” is a song about a bug that walks along the top of a wall and keeps a lookout. Like a game of bingo, you have to take one letter out of the word in each verse – and pronounce it instead of spelling it out. In this case there are two German words that work like this in the song: “wanze” (bug or bedbug) and “tanzen” (dance).  If you are more into jazz or swing, a German artist, Kim Hoss, made a great cover. 

Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wanze.
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wanze.
Seht euch nur die Wanze an,
wie die Wanze tanzen kann!
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wanze.

Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wanz.
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wanz.
Seht euch nur die Wanz an,
wie die Wanz tanz kann!
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wanz.

Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wan.
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wan.
Seht euch nur die Wan an,
wie die Wan tan kann!
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wan.

Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wa.
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wa.
Seht euch nur die Wa an,
wie die Wa ta kann!
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine Wa.

Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine W.
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine W.
Seht euch nur die W an,
wie die W t kann!
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
sitzt ‘ne kleine W.

Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
Sitzt ‘ne kleine —-.
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
Sitzt ‘ne kleine —-.
Seht euch nur die —- an,
wie die —- —- kann!
Auf der Mauer, auf der Lauer
Sitzt ‘ne kleine —-.

On the wall, on the lookout,
Sits a small buggy.
On the wall, on the lookout,
Sits a small buggy.
Look at just the buggy,
How the buggy can boogie!
On the wall, on the lookout,
Sits a small buggy.

On the wall, on the lookout,
Sits a small bugg.
On the wall, on the lookout,
Sits a small bugg.
Look at just the bugg,
How the bugg can boog!
On the wall, on the lookout,
Sits a small bugg.

On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small bug.
On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small bug.
Look at just the bug,
How the bug can boo!
On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small bug.

On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small bu.
On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small bu.
Look at just the bu,
How the bu can bo!
On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small bu.

On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small b.
On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small b.
Look at just the b,
How the b can b!
On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small b.

On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small —-.
On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small —-.
Look at just the —-,
How the —- can —-!
On the wall, on the lookout
Sits a small —-.

Austria

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Ach, Du Lieber Augustin
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Legend has it that around 1679, during the time of the plague, piper Marx Augustin (1643-1685) got drunk one evening and fell asleep on his way home. The gravediggers picked him up, thinking him dead, and dumped him, bagpipes and all, into a grave with plague victims. When he awoke he couldn’t get out of the grave so he started to play his pipes and people rescued him. Luckily he remained healthy. To mark this “middle-ages mayhem” story, he composed “Oh, my dear Augustine” in 1679.

Ach, du lieber Augustin,
Augustin, Augustin,
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist hin!

Geld ist weg, Mensch ist weg,
Alles hin, Augustin!
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist hin!

(Chorus)

Rock ist weg, Stock ist weg,
Augustin liegt im Dreck.
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist hin!

(Chorus)

Und selbst das reiche Wien,
Hin ist’s wie Augustin;
Weint mit mir im gleichen Sinn,
Alles ist hin!

(Chorus)

Jeder Tag war ein Fest,
Und was jetzt? Pest, die Pest!
Nur ein großes Leichenfest,
Das ist der Rest.

(Chorus)

Augustin, Augustin,
Leg’ nur ins Grab dich hin!
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist hin!

Oh, my dear Augustine
Augustine, Augustine,
Oh, my dear Augustine,
Everything’s gone!

Money’s gone, man is gone,
Everything’s gone, Augustine!
Oh, my dear Augustine,
Everything’s gone!

(Chorus)

Coat is gone, floor is gone,
Augustine lies in the mud.
Oh, my dear Augustine,
Everything’s gone!

(Chorus)

Even rich Vienna,
Is broke, like Augustine
And cries with me the same way,
Everything’s gone!

(Chorus)

Every day was a feast,
And now what? Plague, the plague!
Now all the corpses feast.
This is all that remains.

(Chorus)

Augustine, Augustine,
Lay down in your grave!
Oh, my dear Augustine,
Everything’s gone!

(Chorus)

Switzerland

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De Frühlig isch au scho uf d'Berge cho
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Did you just burn your tongue with a hot spoon? Nope, this is actually “Schweizerdeutsch” – the Swiss German dialect of our Helvetian friends. It looks like German, but not totally… What is their nursery rhyme about? Spring, obviously: “Now spring has come even to the mountains and has melted the snow from the roof of the Alpine hut. The cuckoo is calling merrily, because May has come.” This old traditional song brings you straight to the Alpine spirit – you can almost smell the Swiss chocolate, hear the yodels and see the little chalet at the top of the mountain. 

De Frühlig isch au scho uf d’Berge cho,
Er het üs vom Hüttli de Schnee weg gno.
Der Gugger het gschraue, er isch so froh,
Der Mai, der Mai isch cho.

(Chorus)
Jo ho-li ho-o-li hol-la-li-ho
Jetz cha de üses Veh scho go,
Jo ho-le-li ho-o-li hol-la-li-ho
Jetz cha denn ‘s Veh scho go.

Und sit er so staht i siner Pracht,
Die Chrütli, die Blüemli si au erwacht,
Die Senneri singt: I bi so froh,
Der Mai, der Mai isch cho.

(Chorus)

Do rüeft si em lustige Sennebueb,
Er johlet und juchzet de Alpe zue.
Läb wohl du Tal, das i meide soll,
I scheide recht freudevoll.

(Chorus)

Now spring has come even to the mountains
And has melted the snow from the roof of the alpine hut.
The cuckoo is calling merrily,
Because May has come.

(Chorus)
Yo ho-lee ho-o-lee hol-la-lee-ho,
Soon up to the Alps our cows can go.
Yo ho-lee ho-o-lee hol-la-lee-ho,
Soon up to the Alps our cows can go.

And as spring stays here in its beauty,
Herbs and flowers awake also,
The cowgirl sings “I am so happy,
Because May has come”.

(Chorus)

She calls to the merry cowherd-boy,
He sings and yodels up to the mountains,
“Farewell you valley,
I part with joy from you!”

(Chorus)

Italy

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Batti Batti le Manine
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Italian children don’t all grow up knowing and loving the same nursery rhymes in the way that most children growing up in an English-speaking environment do. But that said, “Batti Batti le Manine” is a popular filastrocche that has many different versions in both standard Italian and some dialects… It reads: “Clap your hands, Daddy’s coming home soon, He’s bringing candy, (Baby) is going to eat it.” In some regions, the candy is replaced by pizza. What else: we are in Italy after all. On the last line, you’ll need to put the baby’s hands to his mouth and say umm…

Batta le manine
Ora viene papà
Si prendere confitine
(baby’s name) si mangerà!

Clap your hands
Daddy’s coming home soon
He’s bringing candy
(Baby) is going to eat it.

Malta

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Ongi Ongi Ongella
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We rarely have the opportunity to listen to a song in Maltese. But better late than never, we have the nursery rhyme “Ongi Ongi Ongella” for you! It is an old Maltese children’s folk song which used to be sung and danced to by children in their schools and on their streets. Traditionally, Maltese children had a number of original games and rhymes some of which evolved from the Middle Ages. You will feel the Middle Ages spirit in the lyrics which involve knights, ambassadors and the City gates…

Bumm Bumm il-biebBumm Bumm il-bieb, Ongi’-ongi’ongella..Bumm Bumm il-bieb, Ongija Kavallier…

 Min hemm, min hemm, minn hemm Ongi’-ongi’ongella..
Min hemm, min hemm, minn hemm Ongija Kavalier.
Hawn l-Ambassadore, Ongi’ ongi’ ongella…
Hawn l-Ambassadore, Ongija Kavallier.

X’irid l-Ambaxxaturi? Ongi’ ongi’ ongella…
X’irid l-Ambaxxaturi? Ongija Kavallier…
Irid tifla sabiha, Ongi’ ongi’ ongella…
Irid tifla sabiha, Ongija Kavallier…

X’ha ntuha ‘l din it-tifla? Ongi’-ongi’ongella
X’ha ntuha ‘l din it-tifla, Ongija Kavallier.
Intuha libsa gdida, Ongi’ ongi’ ongella
Intuha libsa gdida, Ongija Kavallier.

Huduha la triduha, ghax ahna m’ghandniex x’nambuha
Karrozza b’erba’ roti ma tghaddix minn Putirjal
ghtuni bicca xoqqa halli nsewwi l-fardal.

Knock knock the door
Knock knock the door, Ongee’-ongee’ongella…
Knock knock the door, Ongeea Cavalier…

Who’s there, who’s there, who’s there – Ongee’-ongee’ongella..
Who’s there, who’s there, who’s there – Ongeea Cavalier.
Here comes Mr. Ambassador, Ongee’-ongee’ongella…
Here comes Mr. Ambassador.  Ongeea Cavalier.

What need he the Ambassador?  – Ongee’-ongee’ongella…
What need he the Ambassador? –  Ongeea Cavalier
He needs a young nice lassy,   Ongee’-ongee’ongella…
He needs a young nice lassy,  – Ongeea Cavalier

What shall we give this lassy?  – Ongee’-ongee’ongella
What shall we give this lassy?  – Ongeea Cavalier.
We give her a new dress,   Ongee’-ongee’ongella
We give her a new dress.    Ongeea Cavalier.

Take her if you wants her, cause we don’t really need her.
A car with four wheels don’t fit through City gates
please give me a piece of fabric fix my apron,  mates

Czech Republic

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Měla Babka čtyři Jabka
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How fair is Czech society? If you listen to its nursery rhyme “Grandmother has four apples“, you’ll understand quickly that equality has long been a shared value. The song says: “Grandmother had four apples, Grandfather had only two, Give me one apple Grandmother, We will have the same”. The French may have invented the motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité“, it’s the Czechs who actually put it in practice. 

Měla babka čtyři jabka
a dědoušek jen dvě
dej mi babko jedno jabko
budeme mít stejně.

Grandmother had four apples
Grandfather had only two
Give me one apple, Grandmother,
We will have the same.

Slovakia

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Pec Nám Spadla
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How clumsy! Slovak children were baking bread in their oven, and it suddenly fell down. Who is to blame? Who should repair it? This is the existential question that this short Slovak nursery rhyme is desperately trying to solve. It is actually quite a challenge to sing along in the original language: the alphabet, the combination of accents and the rapidity of the rhythm makes it a perfect tongue twister to practice the Slovak language. Don’t try to cheat by singing in English!

Pec nám spadla
ktože nám ju opraví
starý peciar nie je doma
a mladý to nespraví.

Zavoláme na deduška
on má veľké kladivo
pribije tam jeden klinec
a už je to hotovo.

Our oven fell down.
Who will repair it?
The old oven-maker is not at home
And the young one cannot do it.

We will call our grandpa.
He has a big hammer.
He will stick a nail in,
And it will be finished.

Poland

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Aaa Kotki Dwa
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This Polish nursery rhyme ticks all boxes: there are kittens, stars and the moon. All the ingredients needed to get the kids to bed. “There were once two little kittens. Ah-ah-ah, two little kittens, They were both greyish-brown. Oh, sleep, my darling, If you’d like a star from, the sky I’ll give you one. All children, even the bad ones, Are already asleep, Only you are not“. This very popular Polish lullaby is said to date back over a century. ‘A-a-a’ is supposed to convey the perfect lengthy sound to hush children who are trying to fall asleep.

A-a-a, a-a-a,
byly sobie kotki dwa.
A-a-a, kotki dwa,
szarobure, szarobure obydwa.

Ach, śpij, kochanie,
jesli gwiazdke z nieba chcesz – dostaniesz.
Wszystkie dzieci, nawet źle,
pogrążone są we śnie,
a ty jedna tylko nie.

A-a-a, a-a-a,
byly sobie kotki dwa.
A-a-a, kotki dwa,
szarobure, szarobure obydwa.

Ach, śpij, bo wlaśnie
księżyc ziewa i za chwilę zaśnie.
A gdy rano przyjdzie świt
księzycowi będzie wstyd,
ze on zasnąl, a nie ty.

Ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah,
There were once two little kittens.
Ah-ah-ah, two little kittens,
They were both greyish-brown.

Oh, sleep, my darling,
If you’d like a star from the sky I’ll give you one.
All children, even the bad ones,
Are already asleep,
Only you are not.

Ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah,
There were once two little kittens.
Ah-ah-ah, two little kittens,
They were both greyish-brown.

Oh, sleep, because
The moon is yawning and he will soon fall asleep.
And when the morning comes
He will be really ashamed,
That he fell asleep and you did not.

Lithuania

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Čiūčia Liūlia Dukrytėla
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Lithuanian culture is full of counterintuitive traditions and superstitions. For instance, a bird relieving itself on you is said to bring good luck, while shaking hands through a threshold brings you bad luck. Lithuanians also believe in the power of voices and melodies… This very slow lullaby is a good example as it is believed that it calms babies and children instantly. Just give it a try! It is about the love a mother carries for her daughter: “Hush-a-bye, my little daughter, My beloved, Grow up quickly, My little daughter, Hush-a-bye, my little daughter, My beloved.” Aw, isn’t it lovely?

Čiūčia liūlia dukrytėla
Mano mylimoji
Kiek jau kartų per dienelį
Tavį pakilojau
Pakilojau panešiojau
Patalėlį klojau
Čiūčia liūlia dukrytėla
Mano mylimoji
Auk didutė būk greitutė
Mano dukrytėla
Čiūčia liūlia dukrytėla
Mano mylimoji.

Hush-a-bye, my little daughter,
My beloved,
How many times during the day
Have I already picked you up,
I’ve already picked you up and carried you,
Put you down in your cradle.
Hush-a-bye, my little daughter,
My beloved,
Grow up quickly
My little daughter,
Hush-a-bye, my little daughter,
My beloved.

Latvia

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Aijā, Ancit, Aijā
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The Latvian nursery rhyme is somewhat cryptic for non-speakers. It’s about a mother lulling little Ancit into sleep. It continues with: “They came on three horses to your naming feast. May Dievs give little Ancis six horses to ride.” Who are all these people? If it refers to a  legend that has got lost in the tides of history. But it remains very melodic, which you have to admit is the most important feature of any lullaby. What’s more, it is said to work not only on babies, but on grown-ups as well. Can’t sleep? Give it a try!

Aijā ancit aijā
Saldā miedziņa
Māsiņ tevi šūpos
Vieglām rociņām

Trejiem sirgiem brauca
Tavās krustabās
Dievs dod ancišami
Sešliem zirgiem braukt

Lullay, little Ancit, lullay
Into sweet slumber
Sister will lull you
With her gentle arms

They came on three horses
To your naming feast
May Dievs give little Ancis
Six horses to ride

Estonia

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Ehitame Maja
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Folk culture is still a potent force in Estonia. Other nations may have forgotten what a maypole is and be unable to sing traditional nursery rhymes. But Estonians wouldn’t exchange their rich musical heritage for anything else in the world. The rather naive children’s song “Ehitame Maja” is about a joyful team of children building a house in the forest. “Flowers are blooming, We have fun babbling along the stream“. It portrays the perfect peaceful society. You’ll be also happy to hear that “work is done rapidly, According to plan“.

Ehitame maja, ehitame maja,
kena väikse maja.
Kive kokku veame,
palke tooma peame
ja veel muud mis vaja.

Ehitame majakese metsa veerde,
õitsevale aasale,
lõbusasti vuliseva oja äärde,
mahlakase kõrvale.

Töö käib hoogsalt,
killa – kõlla, kopp – kopp – kopp,
hoolsalt, valvsalt,
plaani järgi tipp ja topp.

Seinad üles laome, kopsime ja taome,
kaugelt kostab kaja.
Katusegi peale
ilusasti seame,
nii meil valmis maja.

Ei me karda vihmasadu, tuulehoogu,
tantsu lööme soojas toas.
Saiakesed küpsevad meil uues ahjus,
pliidil keevad maiusroad.

Tulge külla, sõbrad,
teid me ootame.
Kõiki teid pea kohata
siin loodame.

We are building a house, building a house,
A nice little house.
We transport the stones,
We need to bring the logs
And still other things are needed.

We build a house in the green forest,
Flowers are blooming,
We have fun babbling along the stream,
A luscious digression.

Work is done rapidly,
Ding-dong, rat-a-tat-tat,
Diligent, vigilant,
According to plan, ship-shape.

Walls to hammer, rap and tap,
You hear an echo far away.
Roof’s on top
Well, it’ll set,
So we’ve finished the house.

We are not afraid of the rain, the wind
Gonna dance… warm room.
Pastries cook in our new oven,
Pot on stove’s boiling.

Come visit, friends,
We are waiting for you,
All you need for a visit is here,
Here’s hoping you’ll come!

Belarus

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Доўгі дзень
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On a long, warm day in Belarus, parents get to sing one of the most beautiful nursery rhymes on our list. Lucky them: “a long day” is an absolute treasure. The melody is soft as wool, the lyrics pure poetry: “A long day, warm day beyond the clouds. A blue shadow, a shadow crept away in the corner. Bunnies sleep everywhere in the forest. The soft voices of birds sleeping. And the storks in a nest with their long noses“. In spite of the creepy representation of Russians in Hollywood movies, we hope you can listen Belarusian without being afraid.

Доўгі дзень, Цёплы дзень Адплывае за аблокі.
Сіні цень, Сонны цень Адпаўзае ў кут далёкі.
Зьбеглі зайкі ўсе ў лясы. Змоўклі птушак галасы.
І буслы ў гняздо схавалі Свае доўгія насы.

Прыпеў: Баю-бай, баю-бай, Вачаняты закрывай. (2 разы)

Пакрысе На расе Патухаюць зоркі-сплюшкі.
Гульні ўсе, Казкі ўсе Пахаваны пад падушкі.
Сьпяць і мышкі і стрыжы.
Сьпяць машыны ў гаражы Ты таксама Каля мамы Ціха-ціхенька ляжы.

A long day, warm day beyond the clouds.
A blue shadow, a shadow crept away in the corner.
Bunnies sleep everywhere in the forest.
The soft voices of birds sleeping.
And the storks in a nest with their long noses.

Chorus: bye-bye, bye-bye, little eyes closed. (2 times)

The star subside slowly on the dew
All tales are buried under the pillow.
Sleep and mouse and birds.
The car sleeps in the garage and you also lie quietly on your mother’s breast.

Ukraine

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Киця Моя, Кицю
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In Ukraine, cats like to misbehave. But unlike Portuguese people, Ukrainians avoid throwing sticks at them: maybe for the best. That said, some cat training wouldn’t go amiss: “My pussycat, my pussycat, Don’t get on the shelf, Don’t drop the mugs. Don’t eat the cream.” Ukrainians are fond of songs – in winter, children go door to door to sing Christmas carols and collect sweets

Киця моя, кицю,
Не лізь на полицю,
Не скидай кружечків,
Не з’їдай верше чків.

My pussycat, my pussycat,
Don’t get on the shelf,
Don’t drop the mugs
Don’t eat the cream.

Romania - Moldova

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Podul de piatră
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It may sound something of a cliché, but the infrastructure in Romania and Moldova needs a serious upgrade! The Romanian nursery rhyme “stone bridge” is about a bridge that collapsed and needs to be rebuilt “We’ll build another one, Another one that will last and is even more beautiful! We’ll build another one, Another one that will last and is even more beautiful!” Children sing about it light-heartedly and enthusiastically. Though perhaps we should remind them that child labour is prohibited in Europe and that we have better games to offer. 

Podul de piatră s-a dărâmat
A venit apa şi l-a luat
Vom face altul pe riu, în jos
Altul mai trainic şi mai frumos!
Vom face altul pe riu, în jos
Altul mai trainic şi mai frumos!

The stone bridge broke down,
The water came and took it down!
We’ll build another one,
Another one that will last and is even more beautiful!
We’ll build another one,
Another one that will last and is even more beautiful!

Hungary

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Este van Már, Nyolc óra
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Get ready now for one of the punchiest nursery rhyme of Europe! We hope you didn’t feel asleep yet, because Hungarians are gonna rock you with the song “It’s evening now, eight o’clock“. The lyrics tell the story of a young boy working in a ribbon shop. “They measured the ribbon, Red-coloured ribbons, Sallárom, sallárom, Red-coloured ribbons“. Talking of ribbon, Hungarians have this weird habit of hitting girls with a stick decorated with ribbons for Easter. We don’t know if this song relates to this custom, but we hope not!

Este van már, nyolc óra,
Ég a világ a boltban,
Sallárom, sallárom,
Ég a világ a boltban.

Ott mérik a pántlikát,
Piros színű pántlikát,
Sallárom, sallárom,
Piros színű pántlikát.

Jakuts Pista méreti,
Az asztalra leteszi,
Sallárom, sallárom,
Az asztalra leteszi.

Bíró Róza felveszi,
A hajába biggyeszti,
Sallárom, sallárom,
A hajába biggyeszti.

Biggyeszd Róza, nem bánom,
Úgyis te lész a párom,
Sallárom, sallárom,
Úgy is te lész a párom.

It is evening now, eight o’clock,

It is evening now, eight o’clock,

Heaven in the world at the store,
Sallárom, sallárom,
Heaven in the world at the store.

They measured the ribbon,
Red-coloured ribbons,
Sallárom, sallárom,
Red-coloured ribbons.

Jakuts Pista size
Puts on the table,
Sallárom, sallárom,
Puts on the table.

Judge Rosa picks up,
The hair biggyeszti,
Sallárom, sallárom,
The hair biggyeszti.

Biggyeszd Rosa, I do not mind
Anyway, you’ll be my partner,
Sallárom, sallárom,
You can you be my partner.

Slovenia

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Tri Majhne Žabice
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Young Slovenes go to bed thinking about frogs. Not the way the French would think about them, rest assured. But it still involves dinner and frogs’ legs… They appreciate this cute nursery rhyme called “Three little frogs” who “sat on a stone, eating the most delicious bugs“. Their trio is broken when suddenly one of the frogs decides to jump into water. Now that there are only two frogs left, the tension becomes unbearable as to what will happen next…

Tri majhne žabice na kamnu so sedele,
z muhami se basale in dobro se imele,
ena v vodo je skočila in si krake namočila,
dve majhni žabici sta rekli ti, ti, ti.

Dve majhni žabici na kamnu sta sedeli,
z muhami se basali in dobro se imeli,
ena v vodo je skočila in si krake namočila,
ena majhna žabica je rekla ti, ti, ti.

Ena majhna žabica na kamnu je sedela,
z muhami se basala in dobro se imela,
pa v vodo je skočila in si krake namočila,
nobena majhna žabica ni rekla ti, ti, ti.

Three little frogs sat on a stone,
Eating the most delicious bugs,
One jumped into the water and soaked his legs,
Two little frogs said you, you, you.

Two little frogs sat on a stone,
Eating the most delicious bugs,
One jumped into the water and soaked his legs,
One little frog said, you, you, you.

One little frog was sitting on the stone,
Eating the most delicious bugs,
But he jumped into the water and soaked his legs,
No small frog said you, you, you.

Croatia

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Bila Mama Kukunka Bio Tata Taranta
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Have you ever seen the Croatian crocodile? No? Me neither. But it seems it’s a thing there. Their nursery rhyme can attest to that. “There was mom named Kukunka, there was dad named Taranta” is a lively children’s song where a crocodile jumps out of the Nile river and caught Kukunka’s little Ju-Ju. You have no idea what we are talking about, right? Then maybe the best for you is to listen to the song and follow the lyrics. Don’t worry, it all turns out OK in the end!

Bila mama Kukunka, Kukunka
bio tata Taranta, Taranta
imali su maloga Ju-Ju

Jednom su se setali, setali
kraj duboke rijeke Nil, rijeke Nil
gdje je bio velik’ krokodil

I skocio krokodil, krokodil
iz duboke rijeke Nil, rijeke Nil
uhvatio maloga Ju-Ju

Place mama Kukunka, Kukunka
place tata Taranta, Taranta
vrati nama nasega Ju-Ju

Progovara krokodil, krokodil
iz duboke rijeke Nil, rijeke Nil
dones’te mi vola pecenog

Trci mama Kukunka, Kukunka
trci tata Taranta, Taranta
donijeli su vola pecenog

Progovara krokodil, krokodil
iz duboke rijeke Nil, rijeke Nil
evo vama vasega Ju-ju

There was mom named Kukunka,
There was dad named Taranta
They had a little Ju-Ju

One time they were walking, walking
Next to the deep Nile river, Nile river
Where there was a huge crocodile

So the crocodile jumped, jumped
Out of the deep Nile river, Nile river
And caught little Ju-Ju

Mom Kukunka is crying, crying
Dad Taranta is crying, crying
“Give us our Ju-Ju back!”

The crocodile is speaking, speaking
From the deep Nile river, Nile river
“Bring me a roasted ox!”

Mom Kukunka is running, running
Dad Taranta is running, running
They brought a roasted ox

The crocodile is speaking, speaking
From the deep Nile river, Nile river
“There you go, you can have your Ju-Ju”

Serbia

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Eci-Peci-Pec
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We are being kind to you: here comes a popular Serbian children’s song that is so simple that you can learn your first words in Serbian! The song says: “Eci-peci-pec, you’re a little bunny. I’m a little quail, eci-peci-pec“. The words “eci-peci-pec” are actually untranslatable but is used as a rhyme for choosing who’s “it” or who goes first in a game: like the English “eeney, meeney, miney, moe”.

Eci-peci-pec,
ti si mali zec,
a ja mala prepelica,
eci-peci-pec.

Eci-peci-pec,
you’re a little bunny.
I’m a little quail,
eci-peci-pec.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Hajde Kato, Hajde Zlato
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Come with me to pull the celery from the soil“, “I will light three oil lamps and I will lead you to the celery field” or “The entire field is muddy and you, Kato, are my darling“. The Bosnian nursery rhyme alternates between romance and humour. It is one of the most beautiful nursery rhymes of this list both for its lyrics and melody. Kato is the name of a Bosnian girl – she  would be called Kate in English. She is lucky enough to have a passionate lover… who also loves celery. We have only the melody without lyrics – so you better sing along with the lyrics below!

Hajde Kato Hajde zlato
Hajde samnon celer brati

Ne mogu ti gospodine
Nema sjajne mjesečine

Upalicu tri fenjera
Vodicu te do celera

U celeru vel’ka susa
Ti si Kato moja dusa

U celeru vel’ko blato,
Ti si Kato moje zlato

Come Kato, come with me, my darling,

Come with me to pull the celery from the soil.

I cannot, my lord,

There is no moonlight to see.

I will light three oil lamps,

And I will lead you to the celery field.

The celery field is dry,

And you, my Kato, are my soul.

The entire field is muddy,

And you, Kato, are my darling.

Albania

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Kënga e Gjyshes
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There is a variety of Albanian songs dedicated to children of different ages, covering a wide range of topics. In many cases they involve animals and creatures. Examples are the Albanian nursery rhymes “Qingji i vogel” (“Little lamb”), “Moj bubrrec” (“Oh you roach”), “O sa mire, o sa keq” (“Too good, too bad”) or family and the beauties of the Albanian country such as in “Ja na erdhi Viti i ri” (“There comes the New year“) or “Kenga e gjyshes” (“Grandma’s song”), one of the most famous Albanian children’s songs.

Tregon gjyshja nga herë
Na ishte se na ishte
Na ish një herë një djalë
Si veten shokët kishte.

Dhe unë duke dëgjuar
Shikoj me sytë e mi,
Një trim duke luftuar
Për fatet e lirise.

Refreni:
I ëmbël zëri gjyshes
Kur ngjarjen më tregon
E lehtë dorë e saja
Mbi krye më ledhaton.
(4x)

Tregon gjyshja nga herë
Na ishte se na ishte
Na ish një herë një djalë
Si veten shokët kishte.

Dhe unë duke dëgjuar
Shikoj me sytë e mi,
Një trim duke luftuar
Për fatet e lirise.

Refreni

Grandma tells us of the time
There was once,
Before us, a boy
Who like myself had friends.

And listening,
I saw with my eyes,
A brave struggle
For the fate of freedom.

(Chorus)
The sweet voice of grandma,
When she tells me the story
Her gentle hand
Caresses my head.
(Repeat 4 Times)

Grandma tells us of the time
There was once,
Before us, a boy
Who like myself had friends.

And listening,
I saw with my eyes,
A brave struggle
For the fate of freedom.

(Chorus)

Bulgaria

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Хей, ръчички
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The Spaniards and the Bulgarians share a dedication to hygiene. “My two hands, here are they, Serving me in every way. One is washing the other, Then the two will wash the face.” How considerate! Bulgarians also have a popular game called “The Magician of Words” (‘Вълшебната думичка’). Before starting the game, players designate “the magician of words.” He or she should stand in the middle and everyone else have to sit in a circle around him/her. Then the magician begins to quickly give orders to the other participants such as bringing a glass of water, opening or closing the window, saying something nice to some of the others, etc. But here comes the magic: the command must be obeyed only if the wizard add the word “please.”

Хей, ръчички, хей ги две,
те ми служат най-добре.
Едната мие другата,
а пък двете – лицето.

Таз ръка е дясната,
а пък тази – лявата.
Цапа, цапа, ръчички,
тупа, тупа, мънички!

Да се хванем за ръце,
да направим колелце.
Тропа, тропа, колелце,
туй е нашето хорце!

Hey, my two hands, here are they,
Serving me in every way.
One is washing the other,
Then the two will wash the face.

This hand here is left, all right,
And the other hand is right.
Flap-a, flop-a, my two hands,
Pit-a-pat-a, little ones!

Let’s together, as we sing,
Hold our hands and make a ring.
Clatter, clatter, ring of hands,
This is what we call ring dance!

Macedonia

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Нани ми нани детенце
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If you made it up to this point in the list without falling asleep, it’s probably because you are a strong insomniac. We have some reading for you, in case it helps. But we also have something stronger: the magic potion of this relaxing Macedonian nursery rhyme. We can’t guarantee you that you fall into the land of Nod, but it will for sure bring you some peace of mind and unexpected yawns. The song is called “Give me a little girl” and is as repetitive as counting sheep jumping over a fence. 

Нани ми нани детенце, надвор пее петленце пее кукурика, тебе ми те вика рачиња да измиеш, лицето да истриеш па да бидеш чисто како вчера исто.
Give me a little girl, singing around and outside singing with a puppy, you are calling me to wash my hands to rub my face to be pure as yesterday

Greece

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Κούνια - μπέλα
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We knew that Greeks could be ill-tempered, but we didn’t expect them to reflect it in their nursery rhyme! The song “Swing (my) pretty” says on top of a paradoxically calm and relaxing melody: “Swing, (my) pretty, The girl fell off, hit her knee and her granny is shouting.” It may be a bit cliché but we can totally picture this scene happening at a Greek family dinner, with everyone screaming, arguing and shouting at each other. 

Κούνια – μπέλα
έπεσ’ η κοπέλα
χτύπησε το γόνα της
και φωνάζει η νόνα της.

Swing, (my) pretty
The girl fell off
Hit her knee
And her granny is shouting.

Turkey

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Dandini Dandini Dastana
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And Istanbul is our final destination in this European tour of nursery rhymes. We finish in grand style with “Dandini Dandini Dastana” a calm lullaby with a typical oriental melody. There are many versions of this lullaby, but often just the order of the verses differ. It says: “The coy baby sleeps and grows. The cattle entered the garden, Gardener, banish the cattle. Do not let them eat all the cabbages.“. If you are not falling asleep yet, we invite you to continue reading with some enchanting Fairy tales

Dandini dandini danalı bebek
Mini mini elleri kınalı bebek
Annesi babası çok sever
Uyur büyür nazlı bebek
Huuu huuu huuu hu

Dandini dandini dastana
Danalar girmiş bostana
Kov bostancı danayı
Yemesin lahanayı
Huuu huuu huuu hu

Dandini dandini danadan
Bir ay doğmuş anadan
Kaçınmamış yaradan
Mevlam korusun nazardan
Huuu huuu huuu hu

Dandini dandini danali baby
Baby with tiny little henna hands 
His parents love him 
The shy baby sleeps and grows.
Hee eee eee hee eee eee

Dandini dandini dastana
The cattle entered the garden
Gardener, banish the cattle
Do not let them eat all the cabbages.
Hee eee eee hee eee eee

Dandini dandini danadan
A moon was born from a mother’s womb
Spared from all harm
Protected from the evil eye.
Hee eee eee hee eee eee

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy European Christmas Carols, Fairy Tales, Simon Says and Little Johnny.

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