Italian Christmas Songs
Last year, at Christmas time, my roommate Cristian and I used to
hum Christmas tunes all the time: we heard them coming from
loudspeakers placed in every corner of our town.
We used to carol Feliz Navidad or White Christmas, wondering why
they did not broadcast Italian Christmas carols. Talking about this
topic, we could not choose the most typical Christmas song but, in
the end, we agreed about Tu scendi dalle stelle: Tu scendi dalle
stelle / o Re del Cielo / E vieni in una grotta / Al freddo al gelo
(You come from the stars / Oh, King of the Heaven / And you get to
a cave / Cold and freeze). Probably this is the most
popular Italian Christmas song but if you ask the most of the
people- above all the youngest ones: "in your opinion which is the
most important Italian Christmas song?", they would answer Jingle
Sure enough, although Italy was Christmas'carols cradle, years
ago the popular traditions have been replaced from
strangers'customes- above all from the USA- through movies' and tv
Anyway, Italy does have a rich oral tradition of choral
Christmas carols. Choral chants, featuring sharing, painful and
cathartic characteristics, sharp the spirit and consolidate the
religious and popular values.You can hear these melodies in the
churches or, if you are lucky, in the streets, thanks to the
popular bards and to the zampognari, who play reed - pipes: they
are the witnesses of the past.
The tunes were created in the XII century by sheperds from
Southern Italy and from the Center of the country.The most prolific
Regions were Campania, Sicilia and Sardegna; then the chants spread
Afterwards, in Northern Italy, in 1600's, many cradlesongs sung
to Jesus, particularly from Bergamo and from Venice, spread among
One of the most famous chant is Dormi, Dormi O'Bel Bambin (Sleep,
Sleep, Cute Child), a cradlesong from Corsica sung by Virgin Mary
Anyway, the most famed carol is Tu scendi dalle stelle (You Come
From the Stars), adapted from an ancient Neapolitan sheperd melody
called Per la Nascita di Gesù (For Jesus'Birth), better known as
Quanne nascette Ninno a Bettalemme (When Ninno Was Born in
Bethlehem). This carol (1754), written by the Bishop Alfonso Maria
de' Liguori, does have historical value since Italy's union was
also made thanks to popular events like this: in 1769, the chant
spread everywhere and everyone knew it.
Actually, in Naples Christmas topics never involved people
deeply; someone explains it by affirming that it depends on the
sunny culture of this Italian place. Still we can find many
traditional Christmas carols in Naples such as Natale (Christmas,
Perrilli-Nardella) or Lacrime Napulitane (Naepolitan Tears,
Bovio-Buongiovanni) that is a carol about an emigrant's sad
thoughts at Christmas eve.
Actually, the most important theme of these carols is poorness,
summerized by the nursery rhyme Mo vene Natale / E nun tengo denaro
/ Me fumo 'na pippa / E me vac' a cucca (Christmas is coming / And
I'm broke / I smoke a cigarette / And I go to sleep).
Another topic is melancholy; we can find it, for instance, in
the reed - pipe chant O'Zampugnaro 'nnamorato (The reed - pipe
player in love, Gill) that is about a reed - pipe player who leaves
his girlfriend because he fell in love with a rich and beautiful
If we go to Sicilia we can notice that the most popular carols
are È natu lu bambinellu (The Child is Born) and 'Na sta notti
disiata (Longed-for Night).
The main topics are poorness and Jesus'birth that brights and warms
up the cold and dark night.
In this Region we can listen to many novene: Christmas carols
played by storytellers and other street artists during the nine
days before Christmas: they talk about the Sacred Family's
misadventures until the Birth.
One of the most outstanding text is Il viaggio dulurusu (The
Painful Travel, Annuleri), sung by a blind man and his mate.Other
popular carols are Naschid'est (He Was Born) and Duos Isposos (The
Bride and the Groom) from Sardegna, San Giuseppe Vechiareo (The Old
Saint Joseph) and L'orassion la xe finìa (Veneto).
Foreign songs such as Jingle Bells, Stille Nacht or White
Christmas are very famous in Italy and they are part of the Italian
Christmas traditions. People know their original versions or their
texts' reworking and, subconsciusly, they think that those chants
are native Italian.
Eventually, in the last years, new melodies are spreading such
as A Natale Puoi (At Christmas Time You Can), song that became
famous thanks to a well-known Italian panettone (typical Italian
Unfortunately, part of the traditional sacred Italian Christmas
music was lost but somebody is making a lot of efforts in order to
recuperate the handed down carols and to promote them so we won't