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Los peces en el río

Song is Christmas Tradition in Spanish-Speaking World

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If you celebrate Christmas at all, you're almost certainly familiar with traditional carols of the English-speaking world such as "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World." While many of those carols have been translated into Spanish and some have become popular, the Spanish-speaking world also has its share of traditional carols, most of which are all but unknown outside Spain and Latin America.

Among the most popular Spanish carols is Los peces en el río, which draws a contrast between between the fishes in the river, who are excited about the birth of the baby Jesus, and the Virgin Mary, who goes about doing the chores of daily life. You'll find the song in most written and recorded collections of Spanish-language Christmas tunes.

The writer of the song is unknown, although the tune shows some Arabic influence.

The carol exists in a number of variations. Some include several more verses than the ones listed below, and some of them vary slightly in the words used. Lyrics of one popular version are shown below along with a fairly literal English translation. Note that, as is often the case in poetry and song lyrics, some of the norms of grammar and word order are applied loosely.

Los peces en el río

La Virgen se está peinando
entre cortina y cortina.
Los cabellos son de oro
y el peine de plata fina.

ESTRIBILLO:
Pero mira cómo beben
los peces en el río.
Pero mira cómo beben
por ver a Dios nacido.
Beben y beben
y vuelven a beber.
Los peces en el río
por ver a Dios nacer.

La Virgen lava pañales
y los tiende en el romero,
los pajarillos cantando,
y el romero floreciendo.

ESTRIBILLO

La Virgen se está lavando
con un poco de jabón.
Se le han picado las manos,
manos de mi corazón.

ESTRIBILLO

English translation

The Fishes in the River

The Virgin is combing her hair
between the curtains.
Her hairs are of gold
and the comb of fine silver.

CHORUS:
But look at how the fishes
in the river drink.
But look how they drink
in order to see God born.
They drink and they drink
and they return to drink,
the fishes in the river,
to see God being born.

The Virgin washes diapers
and hangs them on the rosemary,
the birdies singing
and the rosemary flowering.

CHORUS

The virgin is washing herself
with a little bit of soap.
Her hands have been irritated,
the hands of my heart.

CHORUS

Obviously, this song, like many, loses much of its impact in direct translation. Therefore, you may be interested in reading, on the following page, a singable interpretation of this song in English.

Sheet Music for this Song
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