Many of us Latinos have danced to “El Burrito Sabanero” every Nochebuena since childhood. A.K.A., it’s engraved into our DNA by now. Arguably the best Latino Christmas song of all time, many of us know the lyrics by heart— or muscle memory.

As soon as December rolls around, our hearts start pumping to the beat of “tuki, tuki, tuki, tuki,” and all we want to sing about is a Christmas donkey heading to Bethlehem. Come Navidad, it’s no secret “El Burrito Sabanero” is the perfect complement to creamy coquito… and tamales, of course. The track is what the season is all about— but how did it become the legendary song it is today?

The history behind “El Burrito Sabanero”

Whether you sing along to the Luis Miguel Christmas album or go for the rhythms of El Gran Combo instead, “El Burrito Sabanero” is still most probably part of your Nochebuena repertoire. How did it become such a widespread Latin American hit? It all started when Venezuela composer Hugo Blanco penned the song in 1972.

As explained by Venezuela En Ritmo, Blanco chose Venezuelan folk singer Simon Diaz to record the track first. It was titled “El Burro De Belen.” Blanco told the outlet, “We recorded the song, but it went unnoticed.”

Still, by 1976, Blanco had not forgotten about the upbeat track— and decided to give it another go. TikTok account @alnortedelsurvenezuela describes how the composer enlisted a children’s choir to record it next.

Blanco enlisted 14 singers from the Coro Infantil Venezuela and named the new choir La Rondallita. They actually recorded a whole album titled “El Burrito de Belen,” whose 1975 title track became an instant hit.

If you analyze the lyrics, you’ll find a heartwarming story about someone heading on donkey to Jesus Christ’s birth. And that voice singing, “I’m on my way to Bethlehem with my little donkey” and “I’m singing with my cuatro [instrument], my donkey keeps walking”? Those solo parts were actually recorded by super-talented 8-year-old singer Ricardo Cuenci.

Another side to the song’s story

The iconic track became world-famous in 1975, and hasn’t stopped making our Navidad-loving selves happy ever since. A traditional villancico navideño if there ever was one, it’s still synonymous with eating lechón, leaving hay out in a shoebox for Los Tres Reyes Magos (IYKYK), and probably still being told to sit at the kids’ table at holiday parties for some reason (at least tía passes by with chisme every now and then!).

Interestingly enough, main singer Ricardo Cuenci sat down with BBC to talk about his experience recording the Christmas anthem. Sadly, it wasn’t all as magical as we would have loved to believe.

Cuenci explained that when he was “4 or 5,” his dad was in a llanera music group. He soon became a member of the Coro Infantil Venezuela, and later La Rondallita. “We recorded it like ‘el Burrito Tabanero’ because I didn’t know how to pronounce the s.”

Although Cuenci wasn’t part of the group’s first tour in Puerto Rico, he still remembers traveling and singing in zoos, hotels, and parks. However, he says he never received royalties for the song. He also alleges that no other member of La Rondallita was paid royalties either.

While he studied music, he has had several jobs over the years, like working on a farm. No matter what, Cuenci says he feels “fulfilled by every child in the world that listens to the song and is filled with happiness.”