During the weeks leading up to Christmas, in the more popular neighborhoods – popular being the local euphemism in Spanish for poor neighborhoods – you can see packs of children aged 5-13 or going door to door and singing; well actually chanting, a peculiar little refrain that apparently is a recreation of Mary and Josephs quest to find shelter when their little baby Jesus was going to be born, back in the day.
I managed to corral one of these small packs, roving through the Cordemex neighborhood with about 30 other groups, under the watchful eye of two mothers who maintained a healthy distance while their offspring attempted to collect some money at each stop. To me, this resembled a great deal the North American Halloween tradition when one goes door to door shouting Trick or Treat, except here it was at Christmas and the theme was religious; in addition, the desired outcome was to receive some coins while the offspring of our neighbors to the north are on a quest for sugar.
When I asked the group if I could record them they looked back at their Moms and then again at me. The Moms nodded and smiled, and I told them to pretend I was just another house. They acceded and began their little song.
The song itself presumably had a melody at some point, but this small detail was lost on this particular group (and all the others I suspect, given the level of musical education and appreciation available for this socioeconomic group in the public education system in the Yucatan) and they had repeated the verses so often that they were in a rush to get through them all. As the song progressed it became a rushed jumble of words as each member of the group tried to arrive at the end first.
In the ensuing silence the homeowner either ignores them or comes out and gives them some coins and so, thankful for their cooperation with my little recording project, placed a 50 peso bill in the shoebox that contained the evenings haul up to that point as well as some plastic Christmas-y figurines that I assumed were Mary and our man Joseph. Their eyes widened at the sight of some paper money amongst the coins and they looked furtively back at the Moms and sang part two of their little song, faster than even the last few words of the previous chant and eager to get back to the adults and show them their newly-acquired wealth.
Here is the recording:
And, since you probably won’t understand what the heck they are chanting, especially at the end when they’re racing to the finish line, here are the lyrics:
Me paro en la puerta
me quito el sombrero
porque en esta casa
vive un caballero.
Vive un caballero,
vive un general
y nos da permiso para comenzar.
Naranjas y limas
limas y limones
aquí está la virgen
de todas las flores.
En un jacalito
de cal y de arena
A la media noche
un gallo canto
y en su canto dijo:
“Ya Cristo nació”
Zacatito verde, lleno de roció
el que no se tape
se muere de frío.
¿por qué llora el niño?
Por una manzana que se la ha perdido
Que no llore por una, yo le daré dos
una para el niño y otra para Dios.
La calaca tiene un diente,
tiene un diente.
Topogigio tiene dos.
Si nos dan nuestro aguinaldo, aguinaldo
se lo pagara el señor.
Part 2 (this is the “hurray we got some money!” version:
Ya se va la rama
porque en esta casa fue bien recibida
Pasen buenas noches, así les deseamos
pasen buenas noches, nosotros nos vamos.
Lyrics from http://www.navidadlatina.com/mexico/larama.asp