‘Cantemos com alegria’: Portuguese Christmas music, Portuguese music

‘Cantemos com alegria’: Portuguese Christmas music

For me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without the familiar Christmas songs that we all know and love being played throughout December – and there are certainly a lot of songs to choose from in English-speaking countries! Christmas music is also important in the run-up to Christmas in Portugal, but it is true to say that there isn’t a large repertoire of Portuguese Christmas pop songs and those that there are don’t tend to get widely played. English-language Christmas songs, on the other hand, are played endlessly and Michael Bublé’s Christmas album, which has become the soundtrack to Christmas in so many countries, can be heard everywhere you go. However, away from the commercial centres, Portuguese Christmas music can be heard during the Christmas period; ranging from traditional religious songs to Portuguese versions of English-language songs. A small number of Portuguese popular artists have also recorded original Christmas pop songs in Portuguese in an attempt to emulate Bublé et al.

Traditional Portuguese Christmas carols

Traditional carols (Canções de Natal), many of which date from the 18th and 19th centuries, are often sung by adult and children’s choirs during the Christmas period and, like English Christmas carols, tell the story of the birth of Christ. There is an unsubstantiated theory that King João IV of Portugal, who was an accomplished composer, wrote ‘Adeste Fideles’ (‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’), and it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Portuguese hymn’. But music historians have suggested that is is unlikely that he wrote it and the nickname probably comes from the fact that it was performed at the Portuguese embassy in London at the end of the 18th-century (one of the few places in England at that time where Catholic services could be held). The carols below are a small selection of the many you may hear if you go to a Christmas concert in Portugal during the Christmas period. There are several different versions of many of the carols, with slightly different (or even completely different) lyrics as, unlike the English ones which have been standardized in the series of books Carols for Choirs, there is no definitive version of the Portuguese carols.

‘Alegrem-se os Céus e a Terra’ (‘The Heavens and Earth Rejoice’) is a carol dating from the 18th century which is thought to have originated from the Beira Baixa region. The carol tells us to sing with joy that Jesus is born.

[[Chorus] The heavens and earth rejoice / Let us sing with joy / The Holy Infant is born / Son of the Virgin Mary / Enter shepherds, enter / Through this holy doorway / Come and adore the child / Lying on a bed of straw / [Chorus] / In Bethlehem at midnight / Midnight on Christmas Eve / Jesus was born in a manger / Wonderous without equal / [Chorus] / Oh, what a Child so wonderful / Oh, that He is so merciful / Oh, how He is so much like His mother the Virgin / [Chorus]]

[Chorus]
Alegrem-se os céus e a terra
Cantemos com alegria
Já nasceu o Deus Menino
Filho da Virgem Maria

Entrai pastorinhos, entrai
Por este portal sagrado
Vinde adorar o menino
Numas palhinhas deitado

[Chorus]

Em Belém à meia-noite
Meia-noite de Natal
Nasceu Jesus num presépio
Maravilha sem igual

[Chorus]

Ai que Menino tão Belo
Ai que tanto graça tem
Ai que tanto se parece
com a Virgem Sua mãe

[Chorus]

‘Linda Noite de Natal’ (‘Beautiful Christmas Night’) is a traditional Christmas carol originating from the Algarve region. It tells of the journey to Bethlehem and the arrival at the stable where Jesus was born.

[Beautiful Christmas night / Night of great joy / Joseph was walking / Along with Mary most holy / [Chorus] Beautiful night, beautiful night / Beautiful Christmas night / Beautiful night, beautiful night / Beautiful Christmas night / He was walking to Bethlehem / To get there by daylight / But when they arrived there / Everyone was asleep / [Chorus] / They knocked on many doors / But no one helped them / They were given somewhere to stay / Where the blessed ox were sleeping / [Chorus]]

Linda noite de Natal,
Noite de grande alegria.
Caminhava São José
Mais a sagrada Maria.

[Chorus]
Linda noite, linda noite,
Linda noite de Natal.
Linda noite, linda noite,
Linda noite de Natal.

Caminhavam p’ra Belém
Para lá chegar de dia,
Mas quando eles lá chegaram
Já toda a gente dormia.

[Chorus]

Bateram a muitas portas
Mas ninguém lhes acudia,
Foram dar a uma choupana
Onde o boi bento dormia.

[Chorus]

‘O Menino está Dormindo’ (‘The Baby is Sleeping’) is a traditional carol dating from the late-18th or early-19th century and originated in Évora in the Alentejo. The lyrics tell of the Baby Jesus sleeping while the angels sing in celebration of his birth.

[The Infant is sleeping / Naked on a bed of straw. [Repeat] / The angels are singing / ‘For love, a child so poor.’ [Repeat] / The Infant is sleeping / In the arms of the Virgin pure. [Repeat] / The angels are singing / ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ [Repeat] / The Infant is sleeping / In the arms of Joseph. [Repeat] / The angels are singing / ‘Gloria Tibi Domine! [Repeat] / The Infant is sleeping / A sleep of profound love. [Repeat] / The angels are singing / ‘Long live the Saviour of the world!’[Repeat]]

O Menino está dormindo
Nas palhinhas despidinho.         
[Repeat]
Os anjos Lhe estão cantando
‘Por amor, tão pobrezinho.’       
[Repeat]

O Menino está dormindo
Nos braços da Virgem pura.      
[Repeat]
Os anjos Lhe estão cantando
‘Hossana lá na altura!’
[Repeat]

O Menino está dormindo
Nos braços de São José.               
[Repeat]
Os anjos Lhe estão cantando
‘Gloria Tibi Domine!’       [Repeat]

O Menino está dormindo
Um sono de amor profundo.     
[Repeat]
Os anjos Lhe estão cantando
‘Viva o Salvador do mundo!’     
[Repeat]

‘Natal de Elvas’ (‘Elvas Christmas’) dating from the late-19th or early-20th century and originating from Elvas in the Alentejo. The song is about someone who goes to visit the Baby Jesus in the stable and asks why the child is crying.

[I shall go to the manger / And sit in a small corner / To see how the Holy Infant / Was born there so poor. / Oh, my Baby Jesus, / What is up with you, why are you crying? / My mother gave me a kiss, / I cry so that she gives me more. / Our lady is making stockings / With yarn made of light, / The ball of wool is the full moon, / The stockings are for Jesus. / The Infant cries and cries, He cries for good reason: / They made him a short bed / He has his little feet on the ground.]

Eu hei-de ir ao presépio
A assentar-me num cantinho
A ver com’o Deus Menino
Nasceu lá tão pobrezinho.


Ó meu Menino Jesus,
Que tendes, por que chorais?
Deu-me minha mãe um beijo,
Choro por que me dê mais.

Nossa Senhora faz meia
Com linha feita de luz;
O novelo é lua cheia,
As meias são pra Jesus.

O Menino chora, chora,
Chora por muita razão:
Fizeram-lhe a cama curta
Tem os pezinhos no chão.

‘Noite Feliz’ (‘Joyful Night’) is sung to the tune of ‘Silent Night’.

[Joyful night, joyful night / Oh Lord, God of love / A poor boy, born in Bethlehem / Here in the cave, our dear Jesus / Sleep in peace, oh Jesus / Sleep in peace, oh Jesus / Joyful night, joyful night / Oh, Jesus, God of light / How kind is your heart / That you wanted to be born our brother / And to save us all! / And to save us all! / Night of peace, night of love / Everything around is sleeping / Among the stars that are scattered in the sky / Indicating the Baby Jesus / Shines the star of peace / Shines the star of peace]

Noite feliz, noite feliz
Ó Senhor, Deus de amor
Pobrezinho, nasceu em Belém
Eis na lapa, Jesus nosso bem
Dorme em paz, ó Jesus
Dorme em paz, ó Jesus

Noite feliz, noite feliz
Ó Jesus, Deus de luz
Quão amável é teu coração
Que quiseste nascer nosso irmão
E a nós todos salvar!
E a nós todos salvar!

Noite de paz, noite de amor
Tudo dorme em redor
Entre os astros que espargem a luz
Indicando o Menino Jesus
Brilha a estrela da paz
Brilha a estrela da paz

Children’s Christmas songs in Portuguese

The most well-known children’s Christmas song in Portugal is ‘A Todos um Bom Natal’ (‘Merry Christmas to Everyone’). It is an earworm of a song, which gets stuck in the head a bit like ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’. It was written in 1980 by César Batalha, the musical director of the Santo Amaro de Oeiras Choir, and his wife, Lúcia Carvalho, and every year since then when people hear this song being played from early December they know the Christmas season in Portugal has started.

[[Chorus] A merry Christmas to everyone / A merry Christmas to everyone / Let it be a merry Christmas / For all of us / Let it be a merry Christmas / For all of us / On Christmas morning / We hear the bells ringing / And there is great joy / In the air. / [Chorus] / On this Christmas morning / In every country there are / Many millions of happy / Children / [Chorus] / They leap around the house / Barefoot or in slippers / To look for their presents / So lovely / [Chorus] / Afterwards they dance in a circle / The children join hands / At Christmas everyone feels like / Brothers / [Chorus] / If this were true / For all children / It would be good to hear the bells / Ring / [Chorus]]

[Chorus]
A todos um bom Natal
A todos um bom Natal
Que seja um bom Natal

Para todos nós
Que seja um bom Natal

Para todos nós

No Natal pela manhã
Ouvem-se os sinos tocar
E há uma grande alegria

No ar

[Chorus]

Nesta manhã de Natal
Há em todos os países
Muitos milhões de meninos

Felizes

[Chorus]

Vão aos saltos pela casa
Descalços ou em chinelas
Procurar as suas prendas

Tão belas

[Chorus]

Depois há danças de roda
As crianças dão as mãos
No Natal todos se sentem

Irmãos

[Chorus]

Se isto fosse verdade
Para todos os meninos
Era bom ouvir os sinos

Cantar

[Chorus]

Most other children’s Christmas songs are Portuguese translations or adaptations of well-known English-language Christmas songs, such as ‘A Rena Rodolfo’ (‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’), ‘Pinheirinho de Natal’ (‘O Christmas Tree’), ‘O Pequeno Tambor’ (‘Little Drummer Boy’) and ‘Toca o Sino Pequenino’ (‘Ring the Little Bell’) which is sung to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’, but rather than singing a translated version of the English lyrics, one version of the song (there are several versions) has been rewritten with a more religious theme where the ‘jingle bells’ on the ‘one-horse open sleigh’ are replaced with a bell being rung in Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

[It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas / Let’s go without delay / To worship the Infant / Who was born today. / It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas / Let’s go without delay / To worship the Infant / Who was born today. / Tonight is beautiful / Amidst it and the sky / We are going to the chapel / Happily to pray. / And in ringing the bell / The little bell / The Holy Infant has come / To save us / Ring the little bell / The bell of Bethlehem / The Holy Infant is born / of the Virgin Mary. / Ring the little bell / The bell of Bethlehem / The Holy Infant is born / of the Virgin Mary. / Tonight is beautiful / Amidst it and the sky / We are going to the chapel / Happily to pray. / And in ringing the bell / The little bell / The Holy Infant has come / To save us / It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas / Let’s go without delay / To worship the Infant / Who was born today. / It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas / Let’s go without delay / To worship the Infant / Who was born today.]

É Natal, é Natal
Vamos sem demora
Adorar o Menino
que nasceu agora.

É Natal, é Natal
Vamos sem demora
Adorar o Menino
que nasceu agora.

Esta noite é bela
Entre o céu e ela
Vamos à capela
Felizes rezar.

E ao tocar o sino
Sino pequenino
Vem o Deus Menino
Para nos salvar.

Toca o sino pequenino
Sino de Belém
Já nasceu o Deus Menino
Que a senhora tem.
Toca o sino pequenino
Sino de Belém
Já nasceu o Deus Menino
Que a senhora tem.

Esta noite é bela
Entre o céu e ela
Vamos à capela
Felizes rezar.

E ao tocar o sino
Sino pequenino
Vem o Deus Menino
Para nos salvar.

É Natal, é Natal
Vamos sem demora
Adorar o Menino
que nasceu agora.

É Natal, é Natal
Vamos sem demora
Adorar o Menino
que nasceu agora.

Portuguese Christmas pop songs

There aren’t many Portuguese Christmas pop songs, but a few Portuguese musicians have attempted to make their mark on the Christmas single market. In an article in the online student newspaper ComUM, Bruna Sousa lists 12 Christmas pop songs written and performed by Portuguese artists. I have summarised Bruna’s article in English, but please click on the link to see the full article and to view videos of each song.

‘É Natal’ (‘It’s Christmas’, 1968), sung by the fado singer Fernando Farinha, describes a Portuguese Christmas which combines the secular and the religious.
‘Natal dos Simples’ (‘Christmas of the Humble’, 1968) by José Afonso tells of how the impoverished people of Beira sang songs (Janeiras) to the wealthy in return for food.
‘Um pedido de Natal’ (‘A Christmas Wish’, 1996) by José Malhoa (along with other Portuguese singers such as Tony Carreira, Ágata, Luís Filipe Reis and Romana) is about people who have to be apart from each other at Christmas.
In ‘Presépio de Lata’ (‘Tin Nativity Scene’, 1998) the singer Rui Veloso offers a cynical view of the Christmas traditions, describing a tin Nativity scene with aluminium stars and cardboard angels and saying that Jesus was brought here out of a false faith.
‘Nesta Noite Branca’ (‘On This White Night’, 1999) by Anjos e Susana. This is one of the first Portuguese Christmas songs that is inspired by the commercial Christmas songs sung in English (it is reminiscent of ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham!) and is about being with a loved one rather than describing traditional Portuguese Christmases.
‘Carta Para o Pai Natal’ (‘Letter to Father Christmas’, 2005) by the rapper Boss AC, is a letter to Father Christmas asking for him to address all the injustices in the world.
‘Queixa ao Pai Natal’ (‘Complaint to Father Christmas’, 2009) by Os Azeitonas, refers to how children complain about Father Christmas when he does not give them the present they want, even though they don’t believe in him.
‘Quando Chega o Natal’ (‘When Christmas Comes’, 2011) by the group Deolinda is a cynical comment on the hypocrisy of the Christmas spirit and how everyone is expected to be nice to each other on that one day, despite ignoring them for the rest of the year.
‘O Teu Natal’ (‘Your Christmas’, 2013) by Miguel Ângelo is a love song set around Christmas.
In ‘Natal Mais Uma Vez’ (‘Christmas Once More’, 2014) Luísa Sobral sings about the impatience children feel on Christmas Eve for Christmas Day to come and when it is over they want it to be Christmas Day once more.
‘Natal na Minha Cidade’ (‘Christmas in My City’, 2016) by Os Boca do Povo, accompanied by a choir of children, is about the Christmas traditions of Braga, including toasting the season with a glass of muscatel and a banana.
‘Magia do Natal’ (‘Magic of Christmas’, 2018) is a Christmas song performed by a compilation of artists put together by the Klasszik label (including Calema, Anselmo Ralph, Anjos, Nelson Freitas and Bárbara Bandeira). The song tells us to share love with those who are alone.

Despite the variety of these Portuguese Christmas musical offerings, I think Michael Bublé’s ‘king of the Christmas song’ crown is safe and I am certain Portuguese restaurants, supermarkets and Christmas fairs will continue to play his Christmas album throughout December.

3 thoughts on “‘Cantemos com alegria’: Portuguese Christmas music”

  1. I was at a Christmas concert in Faro last night and some of these songs were performed. If I remember, and have time, I will come back and listen to more. Feliz Natal e Bom Ano Novo 🙂 🙂

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