Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Feliz Navidad

I was in elementary. We were learning new Christmas songs, and one of them had a Spanish name. I didn't know much Spanish at the time, but I did know that the Tagalog language got a lot from Spanish, and that the Philippine culture had a lot of Spanish influence. So it wasn't a huge surprise that this new Christmas carol had a Spanish title, and it made perfect sense for it to be called Feliz Navidad, which I learned meant Merry Christmas. I don't remember if we went into what all the words meant, but I was surprised to discover that the chorus was in English! I had no trouble understanding the chorus, but I was confused why they didn't bother translating the whole song into Spanish (or English). For a while I tried singing the Spanish words (anyway, the ones I understood) in English, but that just sounded awkward... "Mer-RY Chri-ist-mas!" If I remember right, when I asked the teacher why it was in two languages in the same song, the answer had something to do with the words not fitting in the tune.

I have since learned the words and their meaning:
¡Feliz Navidad! (Merry Christmas!)
¡Feliz Navidad! (Merry Christmas!)
¡Feliz Navidad! (Merry Christmas!)
¡Prospero año y felicidad! (Prosperous year and happiness!)
I wanna wish you a merry Christmas!
(¡Quiero desearte un feliz Navidad!)
I wanna wish you a merry Christmas!
(¡Quiero desearte un feliz Navidad!)
I wanna wish you a merry Christmas!
(¡Quiero desearte un feliz Navidad)
From the bottom of my heart!
(Desde lo más profundo de mi corazón!)

Nope, the translation doesn't fit in the tune. But that was how I learned how to say "Merry Christmas" in Spanish.

The song was written in 1970 by Puerto Rican singer José Feliciano. According to his website, "Jose Feliciano is recognized as the first Latin Artist to cross over into the English music market, opening the doors for other artists who now play an important role in the American music industry." He was born in Lares, Puerto Rico in 1945, blind. He accompanied his uncle on a tin cracker can at age 3. At age 5, he and his family immigrated to New York. At the age of 6, he taught himself to play the concertina, using some records. He performed at the Puerto Rican Theater in the Bronx at the age of 9. He then taught himself the guitar, again using records! The Rock'n'Roll movement in the '50s inspired him to get into singing. By the age of 23, he had been nominated for 5 Grammy Awards and won two. Then he decided to expand his skill set and learn acting. In the '80s (around the time I learned Feliz Navidad), he wrote "The Sound of Vienna," which has since become known as the Official Anthem of the City of Vienna, Austria. (Click the title of the song to see a YouTube video of it.) Even now, he continues to explore new genres of music and performance. I have nothing but respect for someone who can do all this in normal circumstances, but multiply that respect many times when said person is blind! Did I mention he enjoys playing baseball? You can read his biography here. It's well worth the read.

Considering his career involving a lot of crossover work, I think it's appropriate for his song Feliz Navidad to be bilingual. The song itself crosses over the barriers of language, and the catchy tune even makes the words easy to remember.

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