When someone has a birthday in Mexico, their family and friends do not sing the “Happy Birthday” song, but a traditional one called ‘Las Mañanitas.’
However, due to its festive nature and tone, it is common to sing it at almost any type of celebration, such as Mother’s Day or patronal feasts (festivals dedicated to saints). The song has passed down from generation to generation without losing its meaning, even though its origins are unknown.
A little history
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. Romanza is a genre with deep Spanish roots. It includes lyrics and music with a profound sentimental nature, written for a single voice or instrument and distinguished by its melodic style.
Once the Mexican independence movement ended, ‘Las Mañanitas’ emerged as a by-product of the new nation’s musical interpretations, at the same time as the “corridos.” The song preserved various elements from European roots — the basis of its composition was, after all, an old 19th-century meter — but it was a part of the new Mexican identity.
Nowadays, “Las Mañanitas” is part of quinceañera celebrations, alongside the waltz. Initially, the tradition began to flatter beloved family members by singing it to them, but at the dawn of the 20th century, it became a family tradition.
Manuel M. Ponce, the founder of Mexican musical nationalism, wrote several interpretations of the song. The most popular one became the version that Mexicans sing today, at birthdays and celebrations. However, as it became popular, society began to shorten it to sing it more quickly, leaving, the modern version with just the first two stanzas.
King David wrote the Psalms, a collection of devotional poems that contain Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian writing styles, a talent many consider a divine gift. Many Jewish, Christian and Muslim poetic compositions still use the Psalms as a source of inspiration. Thus, mentioning King David in ‘Las Mañanitas’ is a way to honor his poetic spirit.
“’Las Mañanitas’ is a very peculiar composition, with a lot of cultural significance within our country,” said Javier Enrique Saavedra López, a singer with the mariachi group Los Caporales.
“The music is quite happy and goes hand-in-hand with the lyrics. Although part of the song has changed a bit in recent years, its meaning has remained,” he said. “Usually, 90% of the time when people hire us, it is for birthdays or some other celebration, and want us to sing, as both the opening and closing songs, ‘Las Mañanitas.’ The song will never go out of style no matter how many years go by because there is nothing better than to have your loved ones sing this song to celebrate you.”
“Despite the passing of time and the arrival of foreign songs, such as ‘Happy Birthday,’ ‘Las Mañanitas’ continues to be everyone’s favorite,” Saavedra López said. “Everyone knows its lyrics, from child to elderly. It is impossible to find a Mexican who does not know the song. It is impossible.”
The song’s religious connotations
The song mentions King David, one of Ancient Israel’s kings. He was born in 1040 B.C. and died in 966 B.C. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ was his direct descendant.
(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Carlin Becker)