Skip to page content

Without a doubt, the villancico was the musical form most likely to bridge the gap between the “serious” music heard in the imposing cathedrals of, say, Ávila, Burgos, Granada, or Madrid, and the “popular” ditties sung along the streets, in cafés, public squares, and schools. The simplicity of the villancico made it easy to learn, easy to repeat, and easy to like. Short stanzas alternate with a refrain which is occasionally nonsensical and the narrative is quickly told. Although the villancico probably derived from the earlier love-songs of the Medieval troubadours, by the 17th century the form was most often heard at Christmas. It is no wonder that Robert Shaw and Alice Parker were drawn to this simple song, Hacia Belén va un borrico (which probably originated as a children’s Christmas carol in Andalucia), because of its delightful tune and whimsical story. The text has appeared in several guises (sometimes the animal referred to is “una burra,” instead of “un borrico,” and one or two of the words seem to be so regional as to be untranslatable) but the charm of the fable of the ox who ate the pilgrim’s hat has endured for centuries. To a little child, the chocolate the donkey was carrying was certainly as important and worthy a gift as any amount of gold, frankincense, or myrrh.

Hacia Belén va un borrico,
Yo me remendaba, yo me remendé,
cargado de chocolate.
Lleva su chocolatera,
Yo me remendaba, yo me remendé,
Yo m’eché un remiendo, yo me lo quité,
su molinillo y su anatre.
Maria, Maria, ven acá corriendo,
que el chocolatillo se lo están comiendo.

En el Portal de Belén,
gitanillos han entrado;
y al Niño que está en la cuna
los pañales le han quitado.
Maria, Maria, ven acá corriendo,
que los pañalillos los están cogiendo.
Maria, Maria, ven acá volando,
que los pañalillos los están llevando.

Con un sombrero de paja,
al Portal llega un gallego;
mientras adoraba al Niño,
el buey se comió el sombrero.
Maria, Maria, ven acá corriendo,
que el sombrero el buey se lo está comiendo.
Maria, Maria, ven acá volando,
consuela al gallego que está aquí llorando.

A donkey is going to Bethlehem
(All day long I’ve been mending patches.)
loaded with chocolate.
It carries its chocolate pot,
(All day long I’ve been mending patches,
Sew one on, take another one off.)
its little wooden whisk, and its stove.
Mary, Mary come running here,
for somebody’s eating all the chocolate!

In the Bethlehem manger,
young thieves came in,
while the Child was in the cradle,
they took his swaddling clothes.
Mary, Mary come running here,
for they’re taking his swaddling clothes;
Mary, Mary come flying here,
for they’re taking his swaddling clothes!

Wearing a straw hat,
a Galician arrives at the manger.
While he was adoring the Child,
the ox ate the hat.
Mary, Mary come running here,
for the ox is eating the hat.
Mary, Mary come flying here,
comfort the Galician who is crying here.