CLOSE
Getty
Getty

11 Holiday Carols from Around the World

Getty
Getty

Ready or not, the holidays are here, and from now until New Year's your ears will be filled with the glorious "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Silent Night," and "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" tunes. To see how the rest of the world pa-rum-pum-pum-pums, tune into one of these global holiday carols for a toe-tapping, enjoyable change of pace.

1. "PASKO NA NAMAN" // PHILIPPINES

This popular Filipino Christmas sing-a-long, translated as "It’s Christmas once again," shares the same sentiment we all have this time of year: How the heck are we already back here?

"It’s Christmas again
How fast time flies
Christmases past
Seem just like yesterday"

2. "PŮJDEM SPOLU DO BETLÉMA" // CZECH REPUBLIC

The Czech Republic’s holiday anthem—"Půjdem spolu do Betléma"—will have all the children up and dancing right from the beginning. The lyrics start out with a call to visit Bethlehem, before the narrator entirely shifts gears, ordering members of the band to get movin' with their instruments.

"And you Johnny, let your pipe sound,
Dudli, tudli, dudli, da!

Start, oh, Jimmy, on your bagpipe,
Dudaj, dudaj, dudaj, da!

And you Nicol on the violin,
Hudli, tydli, hudli, da!

And you Lawrence, let your bass play,
Rumrum, rumrum, rumrum, da!"

3. "EN ETSI VALTAA LOISTOA" // FINLAND

As one of Finland’s most popular holiday songs, "En Etsi Valtaa Loistoa"—translated, "Give me no splendor, gold, or pomp"—reminds listeners that Christmas goes well beyond material desires. The song was composed by the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1904, and remains much more of a church-type hymn than lighthearted carol.

4. "AISIM MERGOS, AISIM BERNAI KALĖDA" // LITHUANIA

This Lithuanian carol will put the party back in your holidays. Translated as "Let’s go girls, let’s go guys," this song is all about living the good life. It tells the age-old tale of strong workers, chasing dogs, drinking booze, and … drinking more booze. We'll toast to that.

"Those of you who are quick to shew away the dogs
Those of you who are strong to carry the sacks
Those of you who are brave to ask for bread
The lassies are drinking sweet mead
The women are drinking beer
The men are drinking spirits."

5. "BETHLEHEM'S STJÄRNA" // SWEDEN

Translated as "The Star of Bethlehem," this popular Swedish carol is about—you guessed it—that oh-so-famous holiday star. The peaceful song paints a beautiful picture of Christmas night in Bethlehem, with nods to nature and the night sky along the way.

"Night (reigns) over the Land of Juda, and (likewise) over Zion.
At the western horizon, Orion is dying down.
The tired shepherd who sleeps; the peacefully slumbering child:
wake up to a wondrous chorus of voices,
(and) behold a gloriously bright star in the East."

6. "LES ANGES DANS NOS CAMPAGNES" // FRANCE

We’ve all heard—and likely sung—"Angels We Have Heard On High," but did you know this holiday playlist staple actually originated in France? There’s something mesmerizing (or shall we say glooorious) about this carol sung in French.

7. "AMEZALIWA" // EAST AFRICA

This beautiful African hymn, sung in Kiswahili, celebrates the birth of Jesus with an uplifting, traditional rhythm. While it originated in East Africa, choirs across the world perform this song around the holidays—tribal drum, kangas, and all.

8. "В лесу родилась ёлочка" // RUSSIA

"The Forest Raised a Christmas Tree" is an agnostic, popular Russian carol that explains how the forest helps its fir tree prepare for Christmas. The lyrics, focused entirely on this tree and its surrounding wilderness, will strike a particular chord with nature lovers who spend the majority of their holidays outdoors.

"The forest raised a Christmas tree,
''Twas silent and serene
In winter and in summer
It was slender and so green

Some sleigh bells rang throughout the woods,
The snow was crisp and clean,
A horsey brought a forester
To hew that tree so green."

9. "O TANNENBAUM" // GERMANY

"O Tannenbaum," which we now associate with "O Christmas Tree," actually got its start in 1824 as a German folk song about the fir tree. As the Christmas tree tradition grew, "O Tannenbaum" became associated with the holiday season, and morphed from a lively tune into the Christmas carol Germans (and the rest of us) know and love today.

10. "MI BURRITO SABANERO" // VENEZUELA

Sure, "Feliz Navidad" may have the popular vote when it comes to Spanish-language Christmas carols, but "Mi Burrito Sabanero" gives the classic song a run for its money. While it’s not a Christmas song about a burrito (although we’d be down for that, too), "Mi Burrito Sabanero" wins for cute factor because it’s almost entirely about a donkey. Yes, a donkey—and this little donkey and its owner are on their way to Bethlehem. Can we join?

"With my little donkey I go singing,
my little donkey goes trotting
With my little donkey I go singing,
my little donkey goes trotting
If they see me, if they see me
I'm on my way to Bethlehem."

11. "STICKY BEAK THE KIWI" // NEW ZEALAND

OK, if a donkey didn’t have enough cute factor for you, we’ll do you one better. "Sticky Beak the Kiwi" is a 1960s holiday carol highlighting how—when Santa arrives in New Zealand—this "bird from down under" will take charge of the sleigh. Oh and there’s mention of a platypus. And a kangaroo. And a wallaby. Yeah, Sticky Beak definitely takes the cake for cutest Christmas carol at the children's holiday concert.

"Lots of toys for girls and boys load the Christmas sleigh
He will take the starlight trail along the Milky Way.
Hear the laughing children as they shout aloud with glee:
'Sticky Beak, Sticky Beak, be sure to call on me.'

Now every little kiwi, and every kangaroo, too,
The wallaby, the weka, and the platypus and emu,
Have made themselves a Christmas tree with stars and shining bright,
So Sticky Beak will see the way to guide the sleigh tonight."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
iStock
iStock

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
iStock
iStock

Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
iStock

As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

woman ready to clean a home
iStock

While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
iStock

Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
iStock

While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

Young Asian couple smiling
iStock

In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

a person accepting a red envelope
iStock

An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
iStock

Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
iStock

So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

Bowl of cherries
iStock

Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios