You Can Find Us Dancing to These 15 Holiday Songs From Nochebuena to Nochevieja
Latino Christmas traditions are equal parts nostalgic of tiempos pasados, all about family, a rumba with tons of rum-spiked coquito or ponche, and decked-out in sequins, sparkle, and everyone’s holiday best. Whether you open your presents on December 24 at midnight or wait until El Día de los Reyes Magos, eat puerco or panes con pollo, wait for torrejas or turrones when it’s time for dessert, or even wear yellow underwear and run around your neighborhood with suitcases for good luck in the next year (really!), chances are all our countries’ Christmas traditions have one thing in common. While some of us dine on tamales and others reach for ensaladilla rusa at the festive table, there’s always amazing music playing in the background of all our fiestas navideñas.
When we think of Nochebuena or Nochevieja music, names like Juan Luis Guerra, Rubén Blades, and Celia Cruz come to mind, each bringing their own voice to ageworn songs we’ve each made our own over the years. It’s no secret Navidad is all about music, so we’ve rounded up the 15 quintessential Hispanic Christmas songs we’re adding to our holiday playlist this year.
1. “Mi Burrito Sabanero” by La Rondallita
The classic canción de Navidad we’ll always go back to time and time again, “Mi Burrito Sabanero” gets us in the spirit of ponche navideño, buñuelos, chocolate caliente, and all the empanadas de carne our hearts (and stomachs) can take. Originally from Venezuela, the initial version was recorded by iconic folk singer Simón Diaz, and has since been recorded by Juanes. Come for the cute children’s chorus vocals, stay for the tuki, tuki, tuki-ing all night long.
2. “Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano
Another song that you can’t not have on Nochebuena, José Feliciano’s “I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas” brings out all our nostalgia navideña and makes us sing “prospero año y felicidad” a little bit too loud into our tía’s ear, but that’s okay. Recorded back in 1970 by Feliciano and his legendary guitar, this song was one of the first to bring Spanish to American audiences, following a tradition begun by 1958’s “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens. Feliciano refers to this song’s popularity as a “monster” (albeit a beautiful one), and from the bottom of our hearts, we know we’re playing it estas Navidades.
3. “Esta Navidad” by Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, Yomo Toro
This 1973 song is pure gold, recorded by Puerto Rican salsero G.O.A.T.s Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón and guitarist and cuatro player Yomo Toro. Absolutely epic, this salsa song is permeated by percussion and brass, with a level of musicianship that will make just about anyone want to move. Centered on enjoying the holidays with the chorus “esta Navidad vamos a gozar,” this song is tinged with the taste of pastelitos de yuca for us. As per Colón himself, the trio set out to make “Esta Navidad” as a tribute to Puerto Rico’s música Jíbara so often heard in Christmas parties.
4. “Amor Narcótico” by ChiChi Peralta and Jandy Feliz
While “Amor Narcótico” doesn’t really talk about Christmas in the lyrics, this is definitely a canción de Navidad – it just is. Just like it didn’t really make sense to believe in Santa Claus when we saw our tías and primos bringing the presents we opened on Nochebuena, hearing the merengue beat drop with lyrics “tu amor es algo tímido, reñido, es algo típico, nada especial, eso dirían los demás,” means lechón, arroz con gandules, all things navideño to us. And yes, we definitely want to grab our S.O. to dance this song every time it plays.
5. “Navidad, Navidad” by Luis Miguel
If you saw “Luis Miguel: La Serie,” then chances are you’re just obsessed with the Mexican crooner as we are. El Sol de México recorded an epic Christmas album titled “Navidades Luis Miguel” back in 2006, reinventing American classics like “Silent Night” with his “Noche de Paz,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with his brass-filled, alegre “Santa Claus Llegó a la Ciudad.” “Navidad, Navidad” is the perfect song to play when your party is just getting going – prepare for tons of espiritú navideño washing over you out of nowhere, and someone talking about how much they love Luismi (and Diego Boneta).
6. “Pa’ Todos Los Pueblos” by Rubén Blades, Oscar D´León, Víctor Manuelle, José Feliciano and La India
We had to include this jaw-dropping Christmas song, live recorded by an all-star panel of Latino musicians like Panameño Rubén Blades, Venezolano Oscar D’León, and Boricuas Víctor Manuelle, José Feliciano, and La India. The singers all got together to make this special tributo navideño back in 2017 in Puerto Rico, with Blades explaining that the group are real-life friends who simply love to sing together. Authentic Christmas joy can be heard in every clave beat and accordion note, and in lyrics like, “quiero saludar a todos los pueblos, en las navidades y en el año nuevo” with special shout outs to different countries in Latinoamérica. This song will make your heart happy – and bring on all the Hispanic Christmas vibes. Notable mention? Just like ChiChi Peralta’s “Amor Narcótico” is somehow una canción navideña, so is Blades’ “Decisiones.” We don’t make the rules!
7. “24 de Diciembre” by Juan Gabriel
Just like our abuelita thinks no Christmas outfit is listo without her cute sequin purse, even if she doesn’t really have anything in it, no playlist navideño is complete without El Divo de Juárez. While the Mexican icon didn’t make too many Christmas songs while he was alive, he left us with one of the best. “24 de Diciembre” is a catchy earworm that gets us from the classical guitar strums and castañuelas at the beginning, all the way into lyrics like “cada día 24 digo, ay que suerte tuve de encontrarte amor” and “un 24 de diciembre mira, tu reviviste mi corazón.” This song is the one to play later into the night after too much ponche navideño with sweet rum, when you just want to sing.
8. “Navidad Sin Ti” by Los Bukis
Now that we’re headed into Christmas songs that get us right in the feels, we had to include Michoacan band Los Bukis’ “Navidad Sin Ti” – a song about heartbreak just in time for the holiday season. If you’re going through heartbreak at the moment, doctors recommend watching “The Holiday” on Netflix at least three times, keeping a chilled bottle of coquito in the fridge, fuzzy socks, and listening to “Navidad Sin Ti” every chance you can get (cathartic crying optional, but preferred). Lyrics like “llega Navidad y yo sin ti en esta soledad” will always get us, no matter our love life’s current status (and yes, we’ve sung it alone in our room).
9. “Los Peces en el Río” by Gipsy Kings
This song is a classic “villancico,” or a Hispanic Christmas carol sung countless times since the 15th century. Originally written in Spain by an unknown author, “Los Peces en El Río” describes immense joy at baby Jesus being born. Lyrics allude to the Virgin Mary brushing her hair, while Jesúcristo has just been born and his followers (symbolized by fish) celebrate the news. We love countless versions of this song, such as by Mexican band Pandora, but Gipsy Kings’ iteration of it will get any party going with its Spanish guitars, fast-paced rhythm and layered vocals.
10. “Me Gustan Las Navidades” by Gilberto Santa Rosa
While this song is a Boricua favorite, the salsa-imbued track fits right at home in any fiesta navideña, especially with Gilberto Santa Rosa’s classic, booming voice. You’ll make your Puerto Rican suegra very happy if you play this one for her, which features lyrics all about pastelitos, lechón asado, tons of “palitos” or drinks, and gozando las fiestas. Also referencing the Star of Bethlehem and Los Tres Reyes Magos, feel free to play this song throughout January 6th – or after that, too (we will!).
11. “La Navidad De Los Pobres” by Los Tigres del Norte
More than just an iconic ranchera song, “La Navidad de los Pobres” is a Christmas legend, with this version nabbing millions of plays all around the world. This track pairs especially well with navidad classics like romeritos, and yes, lots of tequila. This song starts off slow with lyrics about how God comes down to Earth on Christmas, with the accordion-tinged chorus explaining, “la navidad de los pobres es más linda que ninguna porque Dios nos acompaña bajo la luz de la luna.” This Nochebuena, you can catch us singing, “por eso yo, que soy pobre me siento afortunado,” with some ponche in hand – or some Pueblo Viejo.
12. “El Niagara en Bicicleta” by Juan Luis Guerra
Okay, so Juan Luis Guerra hasn’t exactly made a Christmas album yet (Juan Luis, if you’re reading this, here’s another million dollar idea!) – but in a way, he has. Songs like “El Niagara en Bicicleta,” “Ojalá Que Llueva Café” and “La Bilirrubina” are the unofficial official canciones de navidad of our childhood, merengue classics that take us pasito a pasito until Nochevieja. Guerra is the godfather of música Dominicana, releasing banger after banger since his start in the early 80s. The idiom “El Niagara en Bicicleta” refers to something really difficult, so we think it’s a perfectly-appropriate song to darle una patada a 2021 (and 2020) for good.
13. “Capricho Navideño” by Celia Cruz con La Sonora Matancera
It’s not Navidad without some classic music your abuelita loves, and who doesn’t vibe to Celia Cruz’s voice? La Guarachera de Cuba was known for her booming vocals, fierce stage presence, rainbow costumes embroidered with sparkles, and una sonrisa radiante that never went away (exhibit A: this performance of “Quimbara”). La salsera más auténtica sang with various orchestras and sonoras, but really rose to fame as La Sonora Matancera’s main singer. “Capricho Navideño” is time-stamped from the 1950s, and is great as relaxed nighttime Christmas music between festivities with a glass of wine (followed by a holiday movie or two).
14. “Si No Hay Cuatro No Es Navidad” by Jose Nogueras
We will always love this song, because four-stringed guitars, or cuatros, are truly what Navidad is made of. By Mayagüez-born Jose Nogueras, this song is a Nochebuena classic, filled with typical parranda rhythms, choir vocals, and you guessed it, the light sparkle of the cuatro. This song is a 10/10 to sing along to, with festive lyrics like “en esta parranda el sabor del cuatro es lo principal,” and allusions to mofongo, coquito, and habichuelas, this song is the one to dance with your abuelito to.
15. “El Año Viejo” by Tony Camargo
To complete our list, Colombian classic “El Año Viejo” is one that we can’t imagine Christmas without – originally written by Palomino-born Cresencio Salcedo, it went on to be recorded by classic Mexican singer Tony Camargo and his orchestra in 1965. The cumbia track is the definitive New Year’s anthem, with lyrics like “yo no olvido al año viejo porque me ha dejado cosas muy buenas,” listing donkeys and horses as some of them because, well, why not? This song makes us even more excited for 2022 if that’s even possible.
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