In some parts of Latin America, Christmas season is synonymous with Tamalada season; in others, it’s Coquito season. But in most of the region, it’s Midnight Mass season, Fashion-Show-in-La-Sala season or Answer-Probing-Questions-From-Your-Tití season.
No matter what you call it, every Christmas season deserves a soundtrack that can touch even the hardest of hearts.
This ranked list of Spanish-language holiday classics, old and new — for those who celebrate Christmas on Dec. 24, as is the Latin American tradition — was compiled with suggestions from various Latino staffers at The Times. We’ve included a Spotify playlist to enjoy on Nochebuena with your family, friends, partners and pets ... or even just by yourself!
24. Conexión Divina, “Comó Poder Olvidar”
The up-and-coming, all-woman sierreña trio Conexión Divina puts the “ay” in “Happy Holidays” with their crestfallen track about spending Christmastime solo. — Suzy Exposito
23. Trio Vegabajeño, “Las Cantares De Navidad”
Born 1943 in Vega Baja, the same town as Bad Bunny, the great Puerto Rican bolero masters Trio Vegabajeño got a second shot at fame in 2020, when the Grammy-winning reggaeton star closed his album “El Último Tour del Mundo” with this 1950s Christmas standard. — S.E.
22. El Alfa, El Cherry Scom, Kiko El Crazy and Shelow Shaq, “Prende El Arbolito”
Did somebody order a chaotic Christmas dembow? No. Did we need a chaotic Christmas dembow? Absolutely. In “Prende El Arbolito,” or “Light the Little Tree,” Dominican rapper El Alfa and his merry men detail a night of debauchery worthy of the “naughty list” — that is, once the kids and their abuelos are fast asleep. — S.E.
21. Los Shapis, “En Navidad”
You can find a Christmas song in just about any genre — including chicha, the Peruvian answer to American psychedelic rock. Los Shapis make Christmas sound extra groovy on their 1980s recording of “En Navidad.” — S.E.
20. Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera, “Jingle Bells”
Celia Cruz, the eternal queen of salsa, serves a generous helping of Cuban tumbao in this Spanish-language take on an all-time classic. — S.E.
19. Prince Royce, “Mi Regalo Favorito”
Bachata royalty Prince Royce delivers rom-com-worthy taglines in his funky, original Christmas carol “Mi Regalo Favorito,” or “My Favorite Gift.” It doesn’t get more Hallmark than this verse: “Neither gold nor silver can surpass / Your eyes, your kisses, your way of loving,” he sings in Spanish, “From the [Three] Kings to Christmas / Next to the tree I wait for you.” — S.E.
18. Raulín Rodríguez, “Navidad, Navidad”
As great as Prince Royce and Romeo Santos are in bachata, none of their Christmas songs can match the migrant melancholy in this jam that anchors the genre to its working-class tiguere roots. Best line: When Rodriguez, in the midst of missing dinner with his family, shouts “¡A comer lechón!” — Gustavo Arellano
17. Eydie Gormé and Trio Los Panchos, “Melchor, Gaspar y Baltazar”
Buttressed by flourishes of Sephardic Spanish guitar, the ultimate practitioners of bolero cool lay down this sweet paean to the Three Wise Men, whose feast day is the traditional day that kids across Latin America got their gifts. — G.A.
16. Carla Morrison, “Jesús”
This Mexican singer-songwriter wrote a Christmas song so suffused with indie-folk chill that you can hardly tell it’s a song about Jesus Christ. — S.E.
15. Augie Rios, “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?”
Released the same year as Ritchie Valens’ version of “La Bamba,” this chintz speaks to a U.S. that once was fine with bilingualism in its chart-toppers. Oh, for sweeter times than these… — G.A.
As Mexican singer-songwriter Carla Morrison releases a new album and embarks on a tour, she’s talking openly and honestly about her mental health.
14. Los Lobos, “La Rama”
Full disclosure: I recommended this son jarocho standard to the band from East L.A. for its 2019 Christmas album, and even got thanked in the credits. No payment needed — just the satisfaction that such a joyous song found a wider audience. — G.A.
13. Fuerza Regida, “24 de Diciembre”
There’s this hilarious meme on Mexican Twitter right now about how our dads and uncles celebrate Christmas with leather jackets, Carta Blancas and guns while their sons and nephews wear Christmas pajamas, drink Michelob Ultra and light fireworks. This syrupy rola by the Rancho Humilde compas is the meme manifested. — G.A.
12. Los Tigres del Norte, “La Navidad de los Pobres”
Working-class heroes Los Tigres put the increasingly consumerist holiday into perspective when they sang the praises of being rich with faith and community in lieu of material wealth. “Although the house is small / I made the doors big / For whoever wants to enter / When Christmas comes.” — S.E.
11. Grupo Kual, “Rumba en Navidad”
This relentless track — like anything played by the sonidero giants — is so danceable that few pay attention to its sad lyrics of a man far away from his pueblo for the holidays. But that’s the point — ¿Pos’ uno que hace pero bailar? — G.A.
The pandemic forced Los Lobos off the road for the first time in 40 years. The downtime led to questions about the future, then an all-L.A. covers album.
10. Tony Camargo, “El Año Viejo”
The swagger of this Mexican danzón looking back at a good year — if your 2022 left you a goat, a black burro, a white filly and a good mother-in-law, consider yourself blessed — makes it Latin America’s version of “Auld Lang Syne,” except better. — G.A.
9. Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe, “Aires de Navidad”
Puerto Rican trombonist Willie Colón teamed up with his fellow Fania All-Star, the late, great singer Héctor Lavoe, to indulge in some Christmas fun in the song “Aires de Navidad.” The title of their joint holiday album, “Christmas Assault Vol. 1,” alludes to the island tradition of ambushing friends and family with carols late into the night. — S.E.
8. Chavela Vargas, “Amarga Navidad” and Jenni Rivera, “Amarga Navidad” (tie)
Ranchera icon José Alfredo Jiménez wrote this heart-wrencher, but his macho tears are universal enough that two feminist icons, Chavela Vargas and Jenni Rivera, matched his bravado wail for wail. — G.A.
7. Elvis Crespo and Víctor Manuelle, “El Cuerpo Me Pide”
A duet between the princes of Puerto Rican salsa and merengue is great enough — but the two facing off about who can party harder during the holidays? Boricua gold. — G.A.
6. El Gran Combo, “No Hay Cama Pa’ Tanta Gente”
In what translates to “There are not enough beds for this many people,” this comical salsa jam echoes the trepidation of many Latino kids when their parents host family ragers on Nochebuena: “Who are all these people, and where are they gonna sleep tonight?” Bad news, Junior: Your primos already called dibs on your bunk bed. — S.E.
Mexican grupera band Los Bukis will play its first shows in 25 years at a sold-out SoFi Stadium. “The music,” says Marco Antonio Solís, “survived everything.”
5. Pandora, “Los Peces En El Río”
The ‘80s Mexican girl group at its most ‘80s — triple-tracked vocals, drum machines, incessant chimes. But the approach turns a sweet villancico (Christmas carol) about fish drinking water in honor of the birth of Jesus — no, seriously — into a power ballad that few could match. — G.A.
(Suzy’s millennial counterpoint: RBD, “Los Peces En El Río.” Mid-aughts, pop-rock mallcore, brought to you by Latin America’s favorite teen telenovela supergroup.)
4. Luis Miguel, “Santa Claus Llegó a La Ciudad”
Eat your heart out, Michael Bublé — Mexico’s Luis “Ole Green Eyes” Miguel claimed the title of Spanish-language Frank Sinatra in this highlight from his 2006 big band Christmas album, “Navidades.” — S.E.
3. Los Bukis, “Navidad Sin Ti”
Just play that soaring chorus by Marco Antonio Solís at any chipster bar, and watch the room erupt in drunken cries — but only the real ones can do el Buki’s spoken-word interlude. — G.A.
2. José Feliciano, “Feliz Navidad”
This song is so ubiquitous and cheery, it’s easy to dismiss it as little more than a bilingual novelty track. But Feliciano’s guitar and voice turns schmaltzy lyrics into a stirring message of goodwill, giving just a hint of the wizardry the underappreciated artist always brought to his music. — G.A.
1. La Rondallita, “El Burrito de Belén” (a.k.a. “Mi Burrito Sabanero”)
Known in English as “The Little Donkey of Bethlehem,” or “My Little Donkey of the Savannah,” this is, without question, the most enduring Christmas carol of the Spanish-language world. Written in 1972 by composer Hugo Blanco, “El Burrito” was recorded first by folk singer “Tío” Simón Diáz, then again by Venezuelan children’s choir La Rondallita in 1975.
The latter version became a massive international hit, which showcased the voice (and endearing lisp) of soloist Ricardo Cuenci, who was only 8 years old at the time of recording. Last year, BBC Mundo tracked down Cuenci, who still lives in Venezuela; he never received his big break, much less compensation for “El Burrito.” Cuenci claimed the song brought him to Puerto Rico, where he was scouted to join the popular boy band, Menudo. But his father declined the offer, and Cuenci’s voice began to curdle under the influence of puberty.
In the 50 years since its inception, this Christmas carol, or what Venezuelans call an “aguinaldo,” is still widely beloved (if a little grating on the ears). The Little Donkey has been paid tribute by a number of artists worldwide: It got the rockero treatment from Juanes, a weepy bachata rendition by Aventura, a merengue by Elvis Crespo and even a remix by Miami bass king DJ Laz. — S.E.
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