I have a mission. I’m determined to help Mexico’s English-speaking residents and guests learn to recognize and appreciate the traditional celebratory song, “Las Mañanitas.”
Do you know the melody? Can you recognize it when you hear it in a restaurant or at an event? Would you have known what song the congregation was singing, accompanied by the organ and two guitars at the end of the special mass in Ajijic’s Templo de San Andrés honoring El Señor Cura Father Alfredo on his 73rd birthday this week?
There’s a You Tube clip featuring one of Mexico’s premier groups, Mariachi Vargas de Tecatitlan performing the music of “Las Mañanitas” with a slideshow featuring a birthday girl.
I see it happen all the time…a friend alerts the restaurant staff of a birthday being celebrated at the table. The waiters approach the table bearing a candle-topped piece of cake and singing the lovely lyrics of “Las Mañanitas.” “How beautiful is the morning, we’ve come to greet you, We’ve gathered with joy and pleasure to congratulate you….”
The friends chatter on, oblivious of the traditional music and unaware that their friend is being honored with the country’s traditional birthday song which includes a verse, “On the day you were born; also were born all the flowers. The nightingales gathered to sing at your baptismal font.”
When the waiters or musicians switch into a chorus of “Happy birthday to you…” all of the guests suddenly take note and join in the song. What shame. They don’t even know that they’ve missed participating in a lovely Mexican tradition.
I’m about to celebrate my 65th birthday (it’s my 20th celebration in Mexico) and the last thing I want to hear this weekend is the boring repeated refrain, “Happy Birthday to you.”
Think about it a minute…wouldn’t you prefer a beautiful melody and lyrics that say, “I wish I could be to be the sunbeam shining through your window. I could be the first to wish you good morning while you are asleep,” or “Of all the stars in the sky, I need only pull down two; one with which to greet you and the other to wish you goodbye.”
There are a number of verses and variations for “Las Mañanitas.” The basic verses, sometimes referred to as Mañanitas Tapitias (Guadalajara Mañanitas) are often the only verses used for birthdays. There are other variations called Mañanitas Morenitas or Virgencitas. These are designed to be sung in a just after midnight serenade for the Virgin of Guadalupe on the night of December 11-12.
Some of the more romantic verses were written generations ago when young men turned to hiring musicians to back them as they proclaimed (through songs) their love for carefully chaperoned young ladies.
The just-after-midnight love serenades were also called gallos (roosters) a humorous reference to the crowing and going on of young men outside the homes of young women. Both the gallos and pre-dawn birthday, saint’s day or wedding day serenades usually began (and still begin) with “Las Mañanitas.” The song’s name, literally translated is “The Sweet Little Mornings.”
By the way, while “Las Mañanitas” signaled the beginning of a serenade, the second song is usually the famous “Cielito Lindo,” the country’s most famous declaration of love song.
Mexico Insights Spanish Tip:
Adding “ita” to the end of a word creates a warm, sweet, loving or small aspect to the base word. Examples: Cielo (heaven or sky) Cielito (little sky- sunrise or sunset sky) Casa (house) Casita (guest house, granny flat), Abuela (Grandmother) Abuelita (Grandma or Grammy), Juana (Joan) Juanita (Joanie), Gata (Cat) Gatita (Kitty).
Heart-throb and movie star Pedro Infante of Mexico’s 1940s Golden age of Cinema sang “Las Mañanitas” in several films. We found a clip of Pedro Infante in a You Tube serenade scene from one of those movies. This scene is a serenade with a twist. (See it here.)
You’ll also hear “Las Mañanitas” performed sporadically all during the night before Mexico’s May 10 Mother’s Day as roaming bands of musicians (and children) serenade moms. These scenes are repeated in the towns, neighborhoods, and villages all over Mexico, and in the other countries where Mexicans have settled.
Días de los santos
Another time when this traditional song is guaranteed to be featured is on the feast day of patron saints. Everyone and almost everything in Mexico and other Latin American countries has a patron. Towns host novenas (nine-day celebrations of prayer and festivities) for their patron saint – and when the band marches into the church belting out a tune, you can be sure it’ll be “Las Mañanitas.”
Santa Cecelia is the harp-playing patron saint of musicians. On her November 22 feast days, musicians gather in plazas, squares, pavilions and shrines to honor their saint with “Las Mañanitas.” A 2008 event in Los Angeles brought 100 or more mariachis together to honor Saint Cecelia with a mass performance of the traditional song. (Click here)
The Lyrics? Tomorrow!
Are you ready to learn the lyrics of “Las Mañanitas?” Come back tomorrow, we’ll have a few more pictures and video clips of “Las Mañanitas” and the lyrics, in both Spanish and translated into English.