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Christmas in Mexico–Villancicos

singing to baby jesus.jpg

Villancicos are religious songs now primarily sung and performed during the Christmas season in Mexico. Quite a number of the villancicos played nowadays are just Spanish translated versions of English Christmas carols. However, there are some quite unique songs. Many of these songs came from Spain and were brought to Mexico during the conquest.

One of the songs that I was delighted to hear this past Christmas was  Los peces en el río en el río–literally The Fish in the River. The students at the school I work at did a delightful performance this past Christmas Event. Actually, they performed the song twice since there was no communication between the program coordinator and the music teacher prior to the evening’s performance. That does seem to happen a lot where I work. Anyway, in the song, the Virgin Mary calmly goes about her pre-birth preparations while fish jump in jubilation in the nearby river in anticipation of the event. She brushes out her hair, she washes the diapers and washes herself.

The English translations are my own, so it probably won’t match anything you might search out on Wiki. The translated versions I came across didn’t really make any sense.

Los peces en el río

La Virgen se está peinando
entre cortina y cortina.
Los cabellos son de oro
y el peine de plata fina.

The Virgin is combing her hair
you can see her between the curtains.
Her hair is golden
and the comb the finest silver.

ESTRIBILLO:
Pero mira cómo beben
los peces en el río.
Pero mira cómo beben
por ver a Dios nacido.
Beben y beben
y vuelven a beber.
Los peces en el río
por ver a Dios nacer.

CHORUS:
But look how they drink
the fish in the river.
But look how they drink
to see God born.
They drink, and they drink
and come back to drink some more,
the fish in the river,
to see God born.

La Virgen lava pañales
y los tiende en el romero,
los pajarillos cantando,
y el romero floreciendo.

ESTRIBILLO

The Virgin washes diapers
and hangs them on rosemary branches.
The little birds are singing
and the rosemary is blossoming.

CHORUS

La Virgen se está lavando
con un poco de jabón.
Se le han picado las manos,
manos de mi corazón.

ESTRIBILLO

The Virgin is washing herself
with a little bit of soap.
Her hands are irritated (or sore)
the hands of my love.

CHORUS

Another song that isn’t in your typical English Christmas carol list is Campana sobre Campana (The Bells of Bethlehem). Again, this song was repeated twice during the Christmas event at my school, but hey, who’s counting?

In this song, it talks about the bells of Bethlehem rung by angles when the Christ child was born. Of course, there is no more historical evidence for the heavenly bell ringing than the drinking fish of the previous song, but when has that ever stopped anyone?

Campana sobre Campana

Campana sobre campana
y sobre campana una
asómate a la ventana
verás a un niño en la cuna.


One bell after another
and after another–one (1 o’clock)
Come to the window
to see a child in the crib

(Coro)

Belén
Campanas de Belén
que los ángeles tocan
que nuevas me traéis.


Chorus:

Bethlehem
Bells of Bethlehem
that the angles ring
What news have you brought me?


Recogido tu rebaño
a donde vas pastorcillo?
Voy a llevar la portal
requesón, manteca y vino

(coro)

Among your flock (or with your flock)
where are you going little shepherd?
I’m taking the path (or way)
bringing cheese, lard, and wine.

Chorus

Campana sobre campana
y sobre campana dos
asómate a la ventana
porque esta naciendo Dios

(Coro)

One bell after another
and after bell –two. (2 o-clock)
Come to the window
because God is being born.

Chorus

Caminando a media noche
¿donde caminas pastor?
le llevo al niño que nace
como a Dios mi corazón

(coro)

Walking at midnight,
where are you walking to shepherd?
I bring my love to the child that
was born as God

Chorus

Campana sobre campana
y sobre campana tres
en una cruz a esta hora
del niño va a padecer

(Coro)

One bell after another
and after bell –three. (3 o-clock)
On a cross, at this hour
the child will suffer.

Chorus

I’m happy to report that the art of composing villancicos has not died out. I have been fortunate enough to work with maestro Sergio and have heard his original compositions performed. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

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Christmas in México–Elementary Event

carolers

After the morning’s kindergarten event, I went and hid in my classroom awhile to rest. The elementary event was scheduled for 6 pm the same day. It made for an extremely LONG day.

Initially, I thought I would be singing with fourth, fifth and sixth graders, so I picked the song “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” I imagined a mini-skit. A group of carolers arrives at a house, and a couple comes out to enjoy the singing, afterward rewards the singers with a little food and drink. Seems simple enough, right?

I expect you have read enough of my posts to realize by now that things don’t often go as I imagine. The principal informed me on December 1 that I would be responsible for teaching the carol to third grade as the rest of the students already had parts in the Christmas play. That only proved my suspicion again that he doesn’t like me. Third grade is a particularly challenging group. I have been struggling to teach them since the beginning of the school year. They are all very intelligent but so concerned about other students in the class that they spend most of the class either insulting other students or getting up to hit the insulter, making discipline very challenging.

Of course, the first rehearsal went poorly. I sent for the principal. He’s a big guy and makes quite an imposing sight. When he entered, the class quieted down enough for me to explain what we were going to do. I had to redesign the skit. Now instead of a couple in the house, I would have the girls be the householders. There are only 3 of them. The rest of the class are boys. So the boys would be the carolers.

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Now we needed a house. I asked my art friend Claudia to make me a house. She outdid herself on this project. I ended up with a nearly club house-sized gingerbread house. I told the kids that they were in charge of protecting the house from the other students as kind of reverse psychology. It didn’t work. The first time I showed the third graders their house, various adornments were damaged. I had Claudia come again and fix it. I didn’t take it out of hiding until the dress rehearsal, then I hid it again, just in case. I wanted it to at least survive the event. It did cost me a pretty penny after all.

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I also had the kids cover a cup with aluminum foil for the “cup of good cheer” and make a music book with the words inside–just in case they couldn’t remember the song when they were actually in front of a crowd.

We spent 2 weeks rehearsing daily. Oh, the agony of it! I had the boys form two lines, short and tall, and put the most troublesome at the head of the line. Every single day, I had to remind them what they were supposed to do. Line up, enter the scene, spread out, say Merry Christmas, look at me and my finger counting to begin and sing. Then pause after the request for figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer for the girls to bring their refreshments. Look at me again, watch for my finger counting, sing the last verse and exit stage right. It felt like I was trying to teach a herd of cattle ballet.

I only agreed to continue if the principal was present in each and every rehearsal. He didn’t have any choice to accept. That helped some.

Two days before the event we had the full rehearsal. It was just plain awful. We waited around 40 minutes before it was even our turn. By that time, the kids were running around much like chickens with their heads cut off. I finally got them more or less arranged, and then the clown in the back started to sing as fast as he possibly could, throwing off the rhythm of the rest of the singers. I threw in the towel with that. I just walked off, told the coordinator that 3rd grade was not able to participate at this time, and hauled my gingerbread house off the scene.

The next morning, I gave it another go. They did everything exactly right! I was so hyped! Now, to just get through that afternoon’s performance!

I arrived early. Actually, I didn’t ever leave. No one came to pick up little P after school, so I stayed with her until I was able to get ahold of someone at 4:30, three hours after school let out. As the kids began arriving for the event, I positioned myself right next to my gingerbread house. I was determined to see that nobody knocked it over and trampled on it prior to the event. I glared at every little brother or sister who dared approach. The school kids gave me a wide berth as well.

The event started late, as expected. The play part went just fine–no major mishaps. Suddenly it was my turn, and I wasn’t ready! I hurried over to the kids and marched them around the audience. We had a pile up at the gingerbread house. The boys wanted their own music books. I kept telling them that it didn’t matter whose book it was, the music was the same, but it did delay things a bit.

All three girls were present. However, more than half the boys were missing. Well, it couldn’t be helped. We’d perform as we were. They did fine–singing acapella rather than with music–everybody was happy–especially me now that it was over. I marched them back to their places and sat down to enjoy the next few songs performed by the music teacher.

Santa Claus made an appearance again–this time with Mrs. Claus. She read a longish letter that asked for health for all the teachers and the director for Christmas. The kids received a bag of candies. Fights broke out in the receiving line and Santa had to step in to settle the kids down. Then it was officially finished.

The director invited everyone to enjoy corundas and ponche, only the corundas hadn’t arrived yet. I went and made myself useful serving ponche while keeping an eye on the gingerbread house. Three-fourths of the attendees left after their cup of ponche, off to their own posadas. The corundas did finally arrive and those of us that remained enjoyed them immensely.

I headed home at about 7 pm. My frigid moto ride was considerably longer due to road closures and posada parades. I nearly wrecked when I met a procession headed by a giant illuminated star on a stick at the corner. As I got further out of town, there were fewer hazards to contend with. I got home and went straight to bed.

See why teachers aren’t big fans of school events?

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Christmas in México–Kindergarten event

christmas play

Have I mentioned that I’m not a big fan of school events? Well, I suppose I am when I’m a parent watching comfortably in my seat while my child performs. In that case, I think school events are the bomb. But as a teacher, it’s not quite the same experience.

For the Christmas event at the school that I work at, I was given two assignments, one from the kindergarten and one from the elementary. I figured Christmas carols would be the easiest to teach. So I set about practicing on December 1 for the December 18 event. Three weeks should be good, right?

I teach three groups of kindergarten, or rather it’s more like preschool. I chose Jose Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad as our group song. Here’s how it went.

Pre-K and first grade are the littlest and are 2 or 3 years old. They love everything. They are always excited to see me–often hollering “Teacher” from across the school as I arrive. They get down and boogie with their maracas. They laugh when I get down and boogie with them. Everything was going great.

Then during the second week of rehearsal, R arrived. He is just barely 2 and still in diapers. He is also a crier. Not just a sniffler, mind you, but the open mouth screamer type of crier. He didn’t want to be in my class at all. He cried the entire class, every single day. But it wasn’t me, just the class because when it was time for me to go to my next class, he wanted to come with me and would begin a new set of howls. He seemed to really like music, though. The only time he wasn’t crying was when we were dancing. So I decided that since it’s the time to be jolly, I’d put Christmas carols on while we did our classwork. It worked like a charm! They say music soothes the wild beast and R was perfectly content as long as there was music playing. If there were a pause between songs, he’d run right up to the cd player and push buttons so that the music would start again. When we went into the basketball court to rehearse, he ran back to the room and carried the cd player out to me single handedly. All righty then!

Then there is the next group. Second-grade students are 3-5 years old. There are only 4 students in that class, so I teach them together with the 12 first graders. One student, A refused to enter my class. He claimed that the class was too noisy. Well, when R was hollering, I suppose it was. It didn’t help that his mother is one of the kindergarten teachers. He ran to her and hid behind her skirts. I’m not about to carry a kicking and screaming kid into my class, so I left him alone. His loss, not mine.

Then there is M. He has some sort of language issue. He’s been diagnosed with Asperbergers and Autism and delayed development and a host of other neurological problems. He definitely needs special attention and I’m still learning how to work with him, but I seem to have fewer problems than his regular kindergarten teacher. The joy on his face when he is singing is worth all the effort. He loved his maracas. One day, after we had begun rehearsals, I passed M on the way to another class. He was sitting alone on the step and looking quite dejected. Through mime, he managed to get me to understand that it was about his maracas. Then I asked where his maracas were and he pointed to the office. I asked what the problem was and he put his face in his hands. I went and asked the teacher what was going on. She told me that she had taken his maracas and hidden them in the principal’s office because he wouldn’t let go of them. So I knelt down and told him that the maracas were for English and that tomorrow when I came, he would have his maracas again. There hasn’t been a problem since.

The third-grade group is made up of  5 and 6 years old. They are so self-contained that even if I’m literally doing a song and dance routine in the front of the room, they aren’t paying me the least bit of attention. There is one exception. T is a super singer and dancer. He needs only hear the song and see the routine once, and he’s got it down pat. It was his singing and dancing that got me through the third grade lackluster rehearsals.

Two days before the event, I wanted to have a full rehearsal with all the groups. So after the elementary lunch was over, I lined up all 25 students in the basketball court and had them sit down to put on the music. However, the principal of the elementary school had all the elementary students in the basketball court lined up for a “rehearsal” as well. He knows very well that I am not able to practice with the kindergarten except for that particular hour. He knows because he set up my schedule. Here I had all the kids ready to go, maracas in hand, and we wouldn’t be able to practice. I marched the kids back to their rooms and stormed into the kindergarten principal’s office to demand to know the reason why I couldn’t practice when I had cleared this time slot with her. Apparently there is no communication between the elementary and the kindergarten, and as a result,  the shared space has become a battle zone with each school fighting for control

So the second day, I cleared the practice area again. I had everyone out and lined up, maracas in hand. I gave the principal my memory stick and guess what? The speaker would not read it. Great! Just great! So I went on a mad dash to find a cd player so that we could connect it up and get going. There wasn’t a single cd player to be found, not in any of the nearby classrooms, not the principal’s office (and he always has at least 2), nothing. So I ran over to the farthest room of the elementary school where my classroom is to bring my cd player. I gave it to the principal, but there was still the hunt for the connecting cable and the setup. Meanwhile, the kids who I had left sitting orderly on the floor had joined up a free-for-all demolition derby race. There were broken maracas, crying babies, and angry five-year-olds. Rehearsal didn’t go very well.

I gave my memory stick to the principal to make a copy, because her memory stick worked just fine, and scheduled a rehearsal in the afternoon at 1 pm when I had finished my elementary classes and before the kindergarten went home. I arrived to find that the kids were still gluing the eyes and nose on their Rudolph project. I lent a hand to get it done. Sticky hands and all, we went out to practice. It went marginally better. The routine is pretty basic. The kids sing, and during the Feliz Navidad part, we shake the maracas. When the English part comes on, we put the maracas on the floor and do the twist, ending with open arms “from my heart.” Then we pick up the maracas and repeat.

That rehearsal wasn’t so great. R didn’t seem to get the choreography and shook his maracas through the entire song. The second graders didn’t pay attention and shook when it was time for the twist. The third graders bopped each other on the head with the maracas. Sigh.

The event was scheduled for Friday morning at 9 am. I arrived a little after 8 figuring I could help with the setup. The principal arrived at 8:40 and seemed surprised that none of the teachers had arrived. They trickled in one by one just before 9, which is when the event was scheduled to begin. But, this is Mexico, and everything starts late. We started at 9:30 even though one of the three wise men hadn’t yet arrived. The kids enacted a little pastorela, the reenactment of the birth of Jesus. The missing wise man arrived just in time for his lines. After which they sang two villancicos (Christmas) songs. Then it was my turn.

I had collected the maracas in a box beforehand, and the teachers handed them out while I lined up the kids. I thought it went pretty well. Here’s a clip for you to enjoy–

So afterward, we served the parents corundas (triangle shaped tamales cooked in corn leaves) and ponche (hot fruit beverage). Santa made an appearance. Each child received a gift from Santa. The gifts had been brought ahead of time by the parents and hidden away. The pinata was broken. And as the kids left, they were given an aguinaldo in a foamy slipper from Los Reyes Magos. And that was that!

Stay tuned for the dramatic Elementary School Event–coming soon!

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Christmas in México—La Piñata

A traditional Christmas piñata is a seven pointed star.

A traditional Christmas piñata is a seven pointed star.

The piñata is an integral part of the Christmas season in México.  The traditional piñata is in the form of a 7-pointed star made from a clay pot, although it is more common now to find paper maché piñatas. (Fiesta Star Pinata)Depending on your source, the star represents the Star of Bethlehem or the devil with each point representing one of the 7 deadly sins.  The piñata is broken with a stick, usually a broom or mop handle, that represents the strength from God through faith that allows the participant to romper (break) the hold of the 7 deadly sins and destroy the devil.  The fruit and candy that fall from the demolished piñata represent the love and blessing of God.  Just goes to show you that anything can be religified.

A piñata is broken each night of the 9-day posadas (See Celebrating Christmas–Las Posadas).   After the singing of Pedir Posadas, prayers and refreshment, the chant of “¡No quiero oro, ni quiero plata, yo lo que quiero es quebrar la piñata!” is taken up.  (I don’t want gold, I don’t want silver.  All that I want is to break the piñata!)

So how do you break the piñata?

pinata

Children line up from youngest to oldest.  The piñata is hoisted on a pulley which is manned by someone whose intent is to not allow it to be broken until all children have had a go at it.  The first child is given the stick and may or may not be blindfolded.   Usually, the younger children are not, but the older ones are both blindfolded and spun around several times. (Fiesta Star Pinata)

Singing watchers form a rough circle and each child has until the end of the song to swing like mad and try to hit it to the tune of “¡Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el ritmo, porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino; ya le diste uno ya le diste dos, ya le diste tres y tu tiempo se acabó!”

At the word acabó (finished) the swinger is supposed to hand the stick to the next child in line and not make a flurried series of last minute swings, but it seldom happens as smoothly as one would like.  No matter how many piñata breakings children have attended and no matter how many times the parents caution restraint, there is always a mad rush at the first shower of candy and inevitably someone ends up bonked on the head and crying.  Since there is never enough candy to go around, each child is given an aguinaldo (treat bag) to ease any hurt feelings or cracked skulls.

scramble

At the last piñata bashing we attended, not only were there head bonks, but there was an all-out fist fight and bloody nose between two teenagers over candy.   We took our aguinaldos (treat bags) and high-tailed it out of there.
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