Las Mañanitas: The Birthday Song Without a Birthday

BY: 
Efrain
 | September 21, 2023

Illustration By Nuestro Stories

Imagine this: it’s your birthday and your family bursts into your room at the break of dawn (aka very early in the morning). 

Then, in unison, everyone begins to sing that familiar song to celebrate your big day. Las Mañanitas! Si, Las Mañanitas. You know how it goes: “Estas son las mañanitas que cantaba el Rey David, Hoy por ser día de tu santo te las cantamos a ti.”

This is totally normal, right? 

Oh, I forgot to mention that you’re from a big Latino family – full of Spanish speakers – who love you to pieces. Now this makes perfect sense, right? 

Of course it does! Because this – your imaginary celebratory scenario and wake-up call – is the ritual that happens for millions around the Spanish-speaking globe on that one special day of the year. 

The song, “Las Mañanitas,” (which directly translates to “The Little Mornings” – or “The Morning Serenades” – in English) is a traditional folk song that is sung on birthday mornings, parties, and celebrations. “It’s just a song we sing when it’s someone’s birthday,” the YouTube channel The CrazyGorilla explains in its video “Mexican Birthday Song (Las Mañanitas) | Mexican Survival Guide” (which has over 1.2 million views. 

Oddly enough, though, “Las Mañanitas” own birthday is a little bit of a mystery. Depending who you ask, it could be 100 or 1000 years old. 

Historians and scholars agree that the song has a long history and has evolved over time, becoming a popular and cherished part of Latino culture. And, always, as CrazyGorilla says “The lyrics are thoughtful and beautiful.”

The lyrics of “Las Mañanitas” (which has different versions, actually) typically express well-wishes and congratulations to the person celebrating their birthday. While there are several variations of the song, the basic melody and sentiment remain consistent. 

Then again, the lyrics and melody of “Las Mañanitas” have been modified and adapted so much – by various composers and musicians over the years – that the exact origin of the song is difficult to pinpoint.

Las Mananitas Own Birthday

“While the composer of ‘Las Mañanitas’ is unknown, composer Manuel M. Ponce is often credited as popularizing the song,” Indiana University, Bloomington, says, adding: “Although this is not the only birthday song, it is the most popular.”

According to the outlet El Sol de Mexico, Composer Manuel María Ponce Cuéllar was born in December of 1882, and wrote Las Mananitas around 1914. He’s also credited for writing the popular song Cielito Lindo. 

Other song historians (and music websites like Spotify), credit Las Mañanitas to Mexican composer Alfonso Esparza Oteo around the same timeframe as Ponce, the early 1900s.

Then there are scholars who say the song first appeared in Spain centuries ago. (Hence the lyric about the 3000-year-old El Rey David in a birthday song). “Due to its composition style, some believe the song originated in the Sephardic Jewish quarters of Medieval Spain. When the ‘romanza‘ genre reached colonial Mexico, it served as an evangelization method,” the Florida Star outlet reports. 

“Las Mañanitas” has evolved from a regional folk song to a great uniter, embraced and sung by people from different regions and backgrounds in other Spanish-speaking countries … and solidifying its place in everyone’s musical heritage.

“In some countries, such as Colombia, the song is mostly sung to girls, especially on their 15th birthdays,” the kids’ website Kiddle.com explains. Plus: “Las Mañanitas” are also an annual event held in Ponce, Puerto Rico, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. It consists of a pre-dawn festival parade, followed by a Catholic Mass, and a popular breakfast.”

From the great Mexican singer Vincente Fernandez to pop star Thalia to mariachi bands and kids’ cartoon characters, “Las Mañanitas” has been sung by, and for, VIPs and “ordinary” people alike.

Sure, no matter where we live, there seems to be that one Spanish-speaking relative, or friend, who will belt out “Japiberdey tuyu!” or a “Feliz Cumpleanos a ti,” … but, still, nothing says “Happy Birthday” like “Las Mananitas” does – for over 100 years.

Our Top 7 Favorite “Las Mananitas” Videos

“Las Mañanitas” has been sung by countless artists. Everyone has their favorite rendition. Here are our top picks:

  1. Vicente Fernández – A renowned Mexican ranchera singer, Vicente Fernández is known for his powerful voice and has sung “Las Mañanitas” on various occasions. His YouTube video has over 201 million views. 

  1. Topo Gigio – The character of a children’s television show popular in Mexico has over 10M views for his rendition of “Las Mañanitas.”

  1. Pedro Infante – As one of the most beloved icons in Mexican music and film, Infante has also performed this traditional song, with over 9M YouTube views for an audio version.

  1. Alejandro Fernández – The son of Vicente Fernández, Alejandro Fernández, has included “Las Mañanitas” in his repertoire and performed it at concerts and celebrations. One of his versions of the song has over 21M views.

  1. Ángela Aguilar – The Los Angeles-born Mexican-American singer with millions of followers on social media has one of the top viewed versions of “Las Mañanitas” on YouTube, at over 9.6M views.

  1. Los Tres Tristes Tigres – The three sad tigers – brothers Tony, Teo y Timy Trex – are a Mexican Mariachi band whose happy version of “Las Mañanitas”  has over 29M views. 

  1. Thalia – Mexican Actress and Singer Ariadna Thalía Sodi Miranda, best known as Thalia, has an official YouTube video, with over 4M views, where she sings “Las Mañanitas” and wishes the listener “Felicidades.”  

 

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Featured image is from the image Hoja Suelta, by José Guadalupe Posada, 1901.
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