It’s one of the first signs that the holiday season is approaching—you start to hear Christmas carols on the radio, at the mall, and even at the gym.
But while the old classic carols are played over and over again for good reason (they’re classics after all!), it doesn’t mean you have to let your holiday playlist feel tired or stale.
Instead, branch out by adding some holiday music from around the world.
Discovering new songs from other holiday traditions is a fun way to learn more about another culture and other ways of celebrating.
To get you started, here are 12 holiday songs from around the world to add some new rhythms to your next holiday party.
12 Classic Holiday Songs From Around the World
1. Germany: O du Fröhliche
O du Fröhliche (“Oh, How Joyful”) is a traditional German carol about the birth of Jesus. This classic German Christmas song was written by Johannes Daniel Falk in the early 1800s to the tune of the Latin hymn O Sanctissima.
Falk tragically lost four of his seven children to typhoid fever, which prompted him to found a rescue house for abandoned children. After writing O du fröhliche, he dedicated the song to the abandoned orphans rescued by his orphanage.
2. Brazil: Então é Natal
Então É Natal is the Brazilian version of John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). The lyrics in Portuguese are very similar to the original in some parts but completely different in others. Although the lyrics were written by John Lennon, the melody comes from an old Irish folk song, whose oldest record is from 1784.
Então É Natal was recorded in 1995 by Simone, a well-known Brazilian singer, and it immediately became a hit. It’s now among the classic Brazilian Christmas songs and is sung by millions of people every year. The song is played so much during Christmas in Brazil that, in 2013, people started asking on social media for “A Christmas Without Simone”. But the attention only served to make the song even more popular.
3. France: Petit Papa Noel
An absolute classic of French Christmas, Petit Papa Noel (“Little Santa Claus”) is a 1946 song recorded by the French singer Tino Rossi for Richard Pottier´s film Destins. After being released, Petit Papa Noel sold more than 30 million copies around the world and became one of the most highly played French Christmas songs.
The song narrates the expectations of a little boy for the arrival of Santa Claus or Papa Noel. He asks the good old man to make sure he doesn’t forget his toys. The song has now been covered by dozens of artists, and you can bet that your French friends and family will know the lyrics.
4. Italy: Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle
Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle, or “You Come Down from the Stars”, is a classic Italian Christmas carol. The song was written in the 1700s, and, like every good Christmas song, it talks about the arrival of baby Jesus.
While it’s an old song, it remains very popular and many great contemporary Italian musicians, like Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, have recorded versions of it. It’s very common to hear Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle sung by children’s choirs in cities around Italy. No Christmas in Italy is complete without it.
5. Venezuela: Mi Burrito Sabanero
In a few Latin-American countries, such as Venezuela and Colombia, the most classic villancicos—Christmas carols—are not about the birth of Jesus or the life of Mary and Joseph. In fact, one of the most famous Venezuelan Christmas classics is actually about a little donkey named Burrito making his way to Bethlehem.
Mi Burrito Sabanero is traditionally sung by children and has a typically Latin rhythm, reminiscent of salsa music. It’s the perfect choice to liven up your Christmas party.
6. USA: Happy Kwanzaa Song
Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration that begins on December 26 and ends on January 1. It involves a reflection on the seven basic principles of Kwanzaa, which are centered on valuing community, children, and life. Kwanzaa is celebrated throughout the United States and Canada and aims to spread love and hope for the coming year.
Happy Kwanzaa Song is a classic Kwanzaa song. It seeks to teach the seven principles of the celebration in a playful way. It talks about Kwanzaa’s principles of respect, love, and appreciation for the community. It is a joyful song and usually played with African instruments.
7. Israel: Ner Li
Ner Li, (“I Have A Candle”), is a classic Hebrew song celebrating Hanukkah, also called Festival of Lights. Hanukkah is held every year to celebrate the victory of light over darkness and the struggle of the Jewish people against their oppressors.
The festival lasts for eight days and nights and takes place on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, or sometime between November and December in the Gregorian calendar. Ner Li is a simple song that’s very popular in Israel during Hanukkah.
8. India: Happy Diwali
Happy Diwali is a popular song celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. During the festival, lights and lamps symbolize the victory of good over evil within every human being. Diwali is celebrated on the first day of the lunar month Kartika, which occurs in the month of October or November. It is a time of devotion, vows of sacrifice, and introspection.
The song Happy Diwali became popular in the film Home Delivery: Aapko… Ghar Tak, a classic Bollywood comedy. It continues to be among the most popular songs played around Diwali.
9. China: Joyful Years
For many countries, the New Year is celebrated on January 1st, the first day of the year according to the Gregorian calendar. But in China, which follows the lunar calendar, the New Year does not occur until February 12.
Chinese New Year just wouldn’t be the same without music. Joyful Years is a song written in 1977 by Kwan Sing-yau, and is considered one of the great festive classics because of the captivating melody and the hopeful and optimistic lyrics that wish listeners a happy year ahead.
10. Japan: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Japan is not a Christian country and doesn’t celebrate Christmas in a religious way. Instead, Christmas is seen more as a time to spread happiness. Christmas Eve is actually considered a romantic day for couples to spend time together, similar to Valentine’s day in the USA and UK.
Somehow Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and its final act, the “Ode to Joy”, has become a classic of the holiday season in Japan. The song is so famous that it is simply known as daiku (“number nine”).
Throughout the country, choirs sing the symphony in German, and in some places, like Osaka, the choirs are made up of over 10,000 people.
11. Nigeria: Betelehemu
This is a classic Nigerian Christmas song about the birth of the baby Jesus, sung in Yoruba. In the 1960s, the Glee Club of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia turned Betelehemu into a classic, and it is now sung by various choirs around the world.
12. Austria: Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht
We’re ending our list with one of the biggest holiday classic songs of all time: Silent Night, a Christmas carol written in the 1800s in Austria.
Silent Night has been sung in dozens of languages in the last century. This song is so important for Christmas traditions globally that in 2011 it was declared a piece of intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
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