On Friday, December 23, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts will have their annual Fiesta Navidad featuring Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano. It'll be a spectacular evening as always, with the legendary mariachi playing everything from Mexican Christmas standards to versions of American Christmas classics.
Christmas songs are not as prevalent in Mexican culture as they are in el gabacho—there is no station, for instance ala KOST-FM, that turns into a saccharine mess. And it's rarer to find the Mexican artist who has recorded a Navidad album (or even song) than one who didn't. But the Mexican Christmas genre still has its gems—and I'm not talking about remakes ala "Blanca Navidad" ("White Christmas") or non-Mexican songs like "El Burrito de Belen" (That's Venezuelan), "Feliz Navidad" (boricua) and "Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus?" (also Puerto Rican). The traditional tunes (called villancicos) are almost always religious-based—you know, the reason for the season. Those that aren't are almost inevitably sad—you know, because Mexicans. Here's 10 for you to (mostly) weep the holidays away—enjoy!
"Amarga Navidad" — José Alfredo Jiménez
The most famous ranchera Christmas song of them all, written by Mexico's greatest singer-songwriter, the translation says it all: "Bitter Christmas." And it only gets more heartbreaking from there. The protagonist tells his beloved that "may your cruel goodbye be my Christmas" because he doesn't want her for the New Year—SAVAGE. Covered by everyone from Vicente Fernández to Jenni Rivera, Los Cadetes de Linares and more!
"Pancho Claus" — Lalo Guerrero
The Godfather of Chicano music recorded a Christmas album with his version of the Chipmunks, Las Ardillitas ("The Chipmunks" in Spanish—REALLY trying hard there to be original, Lalo!). But he was at his satirical sharpest with this late-'60s track, dropping in tamales, machismo, mambo, the Beatles, Spanglish, #borrachoproblems, mariachi, and the generational divide that was present even back then between pochos and paisas.
"La Rama" — Various Artists
"Las Posadas" is the most famous song associated with las posadas, the reenactment of Joseph and Mary looking for shelter in Bethlehem (wonder how that would work out in Trump's America…oh, and #fucktrump). But far more gorgeous is this son jarocho standard from Veracruz. Over the arpeggios of a requinto and a harp, singers describe the veracruzano tradition that is La Rama, a celebration that's the region's version of Las Posadas. Per PRI's The World correspondent Betto Arcos: "Kids sing the tune accompanied by a shaker [the titular rama], made with soda bottle caps flattened out." Every town in Veracruz has their own version of the song, but everyone shares the same refrain: "Naranjas y limas, limas y limones/más linda es la virgen que todas las flores" ("Oranges and limes, limes and lemons/More beautiful is the Virgin than all the flowers"), which is the greatest shoutout to Mother Maria since Koran 66:11-12
"Navidad de los Pobres" — Los Tigres del Norte
The conjunto norteño masters start this 1994 track slow, then their legendary bass lines gets the party started. As usual, The Tigers of the North praise the eternally-giving working class. "Even though my house is small/I made the doors big," they sing, "So that whomever can enter/When Christmas comes." Not nearly played enough in radio or Pandora, gentle cabrones.
"Regalo de Reyes" — Javier Solís
Mexico's greatest-ever crooner could've hummed out loud a shopping list and made it immortal. For "Regalo de Reyes" ("Present of Kings"), Solís sang perhaps the only mainstream canción about the Feast of the Epiphany—or, as it's known across Latin America, El Día de los Reyes Magos (Day of the Three Kings). A lonely Solís gets the feels for his long-departed love, going from December to the New Year in four lines, and passing through a lifetime in one. His eternal desire: That heaven may grant him one wish—kissing his lady on Epiphany. Who'd ever think January 6 was such a sexy day?
"Navidad Sin Ti" — Los Bukis
We've already established that Los Bukis lead singer Marco Antonio Solís (not related to Javier) is Jesus, and this song is further proof. It's even more grupera than usual for the septet: double-tracked vocals by El Buki, wind machines, sharp drums, a spoken-word passage, and heartache. In this case, "The little lights of my Christmas tree/Seem as if they speak of you/And in between piñatas and smiles/I feel that you're not here." Hey, Buki: drink some ponche with the single tías to make you feel less lonely.
"Navidad y Año Nuevo" — Eydie Gorme y Los Panchos
You can never go wrong with the greatest supergroup of all time, even if this track is a bit more produced than some of their earlier collaborations. Eydie and the trio made two Christmas albums, with "Navidad y Año Nuevo" being the best song out of the collection. Kudos to Columbia Records for remembering to put the tilde over the n in año in an era where they could've been excused for the mistake. Although imagine the aftermath if they hadn't put on the tilde…YIKES!
"24 de Diciembre" — Juan Gabriel
Okay, so this isn't one of JuanGa's better efforts, too enamored he is of castanets and mid-1990s beats. But this is El Divo de Juarez we're talking about, in the year of his passing. And the more I listen to this song, the more I think Juanes took some elements of this song to create his mega-hit "A Diós le Pido"—just listen closely…
"Rumba en Navidad" — Grupo Kual
Not to be confused with the La Sonora Matancera classic of the same name, this might be the most danceable rola on this list, even if it's sad AF: a guy is missing his girl and parents because he's "far from his pueblo." But fear not: the ceaseless synth sounds of sonidero's most famous group will wash the sad away—and if you don't believe me, believe the protagonist, who says "Voy bailando pa' olvidar"—"I'm dancing to forget." WEEEEBEEEEEE!
"Deseo de Navidad" — Ramón Ayala
Don't believe the opening accordion riff of "Jingle Bells" offered by Mexico's accordion king: This one's the saddest Christmas song of them all. A husband tells his departed wife that not only does he miss her, but their sons miss their mami even more. "They don't wish for toys or gifts," the protagonist pleads. "They just want for you to return to his home." And as one more dagger to the heart, Ayala finishes off the song with "Jingle Bells" again—BRUH…