The Carol of the Guardians

Common or Eurasian Kingfisher – Alcedo atthis (Wikimedia)

Christmas traditions vary from family to family and culture to culture, but nearly everyone who celebrates cherishes at least one or two. Some have been passed down for centuries. Others are newer, but no less beloved: a certain Christmas Eve dish; a favorite cookie recipe; a must-see movie; candlelight services at midnight.

My own celebrations recall the traditions of my Swedish family: cardamom seed buns and pickled herring; strings of cranberries on the tree; bayberry candles, and sweet, tinkling angel chimes.  Pink and lavender trees, Mannheim Steamroller, and Elves on the Shelves have their place, but I prefer my family’s older ways, and probably always will.

Still, something new occasionally emerges from the clutter and cacaphony of our commercialized season to attract my attention. Some years ago, a snippet of song stopped me as I shopped in a local grocery. Light and rhythmic, it lilted through the store: a memorable melody with indecipherable words sung in an unfamiliar language.

Eventually, I found the source of the song and learned its extraordinary history.

Riu, Riu Chiu” is a part of the Cancionero de Upsala [sic], also known as the Cancionero del Duque de Calabria or the Cancionero de Venecia, a volume of mostly anonymous Spanish music printed in Venice in 1556.

The only known original, held at the library of Uppsala University in Sweden, either was “highlighted by Rafael Mitjana y Gordon in 1904” or “edited in 1909 by Rafael Mitjana,” depending upon which source you consult. Despite uncertainties about the date, Mitjana’s spelling of ‘Upsala’ is correct, since the name of the town wasn’t changed to ‘Uppsala’ until the major Swedish spelling reform of 1906.

That a collection of Spanish songs, printed in Italy, should end up at a Swedish university appears to be one of the more delightful accidents of history. The volume may have been acquired as war booty when the Swedish army plundered Prague in 1631, or 1648, although how the manuscript traveled to Prague isn’t clear.

In any event, “Riu, Riu Chiu” is part of a collection titled:

Villancicos de diuersos Autores, a dos, y a tres, y a qvatro, y a cinco bozes, agora nvevamente corregidos. Ay mas ocho tonos de Canto llano, y ocho tonos de Canto de Organo para que puedam aprouechar los que, A cantar començaren. Venetiis, Apud Hieronymum Scotum, MDLVI.

This translation not only clarifies the collection’s contents, it sugggests its broad appeal :

Villancicos from divers authors, for two, and for three, and for four, and for five voices, now newly corrected. There are also eight tones of plainchant, and eight tones of organum for the benefit of those that are still learning to sing. Venice, by Hieronymus (Girolamo) Scotto, 1556.

Two other songbooks, the Cancionero Musical del Palacio and the Cancionero de Medinaceli, contain all the richness and variety of the Spanish Renaissance in their collections of compositions for instruments and voices. On the other hand, the Upsala collection has preserved fifty-four villancicos.

Over time, villancico has come to refer primarily to Christmas carols, but the songs, rooted in village life, were much like our folksongs. Sung in Castilian Spanish, Catalan, and Galician-Portuguese, most of the villancicos were secular, but twelve in the Cancionero de Upsala were meant for Christmas, including “Riu, Riu Chiu,” attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder.

Just as Swedish spelling reforms cause difficulty for people dealing with early documents, changes in the Spanish language have left room for interpretation when it comes to the lyrics of “Riu, Riu Chiu.”

Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols, tell us that:

“Riu, riu chiu” was a traditional call of Spanish shepherds when guarding their flocks in a riverside fold. Elsewhere, the catchy tune is found in a variant form with a secular shepherd-song, and it may derive from a genuine example.

Jula Karolaro, on his Yuletide Carols site reports that “Riu, riu chiu” is the call of a nightingale, or the call of a shepherd to his sheep. As he puts it:

The first line in Spanish is ambiguous, as to whether the riverbank is protecting a nightingale, or a shepherd is protecting his flock at a riverbank. So in both translations, I equivocated a bit in that first line by vaguely referring to a “riverside guardian”.

Lisa Theriot, in notes accompanying her own translation, says:

“Riu, riu, chiu” is meant to be onomatopoeia for birdsong, though the type of bird is still under debate. Leading candidates are the nightingale, for the beauty of his song, and the kingfisher, because of the concept of guarding the riverbank.

After listening to recordings of the kingfisher, Lisa found herself favoring its role as the anonymous bird. Well acquainted with the kingfisher’s call, as well as its willingness to aggressively defend its territory, I’m more than happy myself to consider “Riu, Riu Chiu” the “Kingfisher’s Carol.”

Whatever questions remain about the history of the villancico, we can be grateful for the graceful translation of the lyrics provided by the San Francisco Bach Choir, and the happy transmission of the melody through the centuries.

Today, versions of the carol abound. Everyone from Chanticleer to the Monkees have given it a whirl. But in this age of overly-produced recordings, the simplicity of the version offered by the Capella de Ministrers, an early music group formed in 1987 in Valencia, Spain, brings life to a timeless song of the season.

Cancionero de Upsala/Cancionero del Duque de Calabria ~ Atríbuido a Mateo Flecha el Viejo
Riu, riu, chiu
la guarda ribera
Dios guardó el lobo
de nuestra cordera
Dios guardó el lobo
de nuestra cordera.
El lobo rabioso
la quiso morder
Mas Dios Poderoso
la supo defender
Quizo la hacer que
no pudiese pecar
Ni aun original
esta virgen no tuviera.
Riu, riu, chiu…
Este que es nascido
es El Gran Monarca
Cristo Patriarca
de carne vestido
Ha nos redimido
con se hacer chiquito
Aunque era infinito
finito se hiciera.
Riu, riu, chiu …
Pues que ya tenemos
lo que deseamos
Todos juntos vamos
presentes llevemos
Todos le daremos
nuestra voluntad
Pues a se igualar
con nosotros viniera.

Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank is protected
God has kept the wolf
From our ewe lamb
God has kept the wolf
From our ewe lamb
The rabid wolf
Wanted to bite her
But Almighty God
Knew how to defend her
He willed to make her
Unable to sin
Even original sin
This virgin did not have
Riu, riu, chiu…
The one who is born
Is the Great Monarch
Christ the Patriarch
Clothed in flesh
He has redeemed us
By making himself small
Though he was infinite
He became finite
Riu, riu, chiu…
Now we have
What we desire
Let us go together
To present him gifts
Let us all give him
Our will
For he came
As our equal
Riu, riu, chiu…

Comments are welcome.

100 thoughts on “The Carol of the Guardians

  1. Wow, I haven’t thought about the song “Riu, Riu Chiu” in a long time. It was one of the songs that we sang in a choir that I was a member of during my high school years in the early 1970’s. I remember loving the harmony parts in the chorus (I sang bass). Thanks for providing such fascinating information about the background of the song. You helped to bring back some wonderful memories.

    1. What a great memory. It’s funny how some works stick with us: popular and otherwise. I can’t hear Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” without being back in high school orchestra — but our Christmas music didn’t include gems like this. Lucky you, to have been introduced to it so early, and to have had the chance to perform it — I’m glad to have reminded you of it.

  2. I have loved this carol for as long as I’ve heard it. This is a beautiful rendition that you included here. Thank you for this one, Linda. And for the history behind it, none of which I knew!

    1. I chose this version because of the score in the video, but I think it’s as lovely as any of the versions I found online. I enjoy much popular Christmas music, especially some of the older songs, but my real love is music like this: ages-old, with no need for anything but human voices and traditional instruments. Thank goodness for the musicologists, who unravel some of these songs’ mysteries for us!

  3. The carol does not sound familiar to me, but the history of it and its trek around the world is interesting. I listened to it and can’t imagine the Monkees singing it. That would probably be the one I would recognize.

      1. Thanks for the clip. I guess I never saw that either, but back then my parents were in charge of our one TV and probably didn’t want to watch a Monkee Christmas special. I was impressed with their singing. I can’t believe how much time has passed and that I can remember back to 50 years ago.

      1. Thank you, Linda. I’m fine and finally feeling a bit more mellow in the light of my Father’s passing. At 93 and with end-stage cancer it was time, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I think it’s the first time in my life I have real and ongoing grief. It feels like the end of an era. Even the suicide of one of my friends 20 years ago didn’t strike me as hard as my Father (a couple of weeks ago).

        But it’s the heat and horrific bushfires that are really frightening over the east coast. Gosh, it’s not even the hottest time of our Summer yet.

  4. I’ve heard a choir of twenty-four sing this carol every year for the past four years. It’s beautiful to hear live and it will be even better next year knowing its fascinating history. Thanks! The topics you pick to research and write about never cease to amaze me. Merry Christmas!

    1. Every year for four years? Does Guyland have a choir that performs during the holidays? (That certainly is something to imagine!) I think the history of the song is fascinating. So many of these ancient carols are hard to track; there’s more hypothesis than history, when you get right down to it. But in this case, we know a lot, and the history’s as interesting as the song is beautiful.

      1. LOL No, the senior hall Christmas Luncheon features a high school choir that requires an audition to get into and they perform this song. They do a beautiful job.

        1. I’m still laughing. There’s a story there, don’t you think? A talented but down and out waitress decides to nurture the Christmas spirit by getting the guys to participate in a choir. Hijinks ensue, as well as an eventual spilling over of good will. Get on it, Jean!

    1. The world is so rich. None of us can travel everywhere or experience everything, so it’s worth sharing what catches our ears or eyes — or, I presume, our taste buds or noses. There may be others who’ll enjoy what we’ve enjoyed, just as you enjoyed this carol. I’m glad you did. I think you’re spending Christmas in Ajo, but wherever you are, I hope it’s a happy one!

      1. We are in Ajo and sometimes I chafe living in the fish bowl of an RV Park when there is so much to see and experience…out there. That said, this border town has a lot of stories. I’m going to tell one soon but it may get me in trouble. You’ll see.
        Merry Christmas Linda. I hope you are enjoying your new home and the piano music floating down from above.

  5. Lovely. My childhood homes were ones of fracture and discord. There were no real traditions besides shouting and flying silverware. As an adult I’ve never been able to establish any sort of holiday rhythm that made sense to me at all, but I do take refuge in music.

    1. I’ll confess that the first thing your mention of shouting and flying silverware brought to mind was a scene in my favorite Christmas film, but I suspect there was very little that was amusing in your experience. I had to wait for adulthood to experience a painful and unhappy Christmas, but I suppose such times come to us all, eventually.

      Music is a good refuge, and more than a refuge. It’s a wonderful part of life in general. In my new apartment, my upstairs neighbor asked me to let her know if her piano playing disturbed me. For some reason, I assumed she had a keyboard, but when I heard the music, it sounded for all the world like a real piano. I asked her about it, and it is a piano. It’s not at all bothersome, and she seems to be quite accomplished. It’s an especially lovely way to hear the faint sound of Christmas carols.

        1. It’s especially nice that she’s considerate enough to play mostly in the afternoon, and never past about 8 p.m. And it really is faint — sometimes, fainter than I’d like.

          1. Before my step brother moved out he played piano in the room above mine. I loved it. Now he composes wonderful music and has some cd’s out!

  6. As always Linda, they way you weave a story makes it personal as well as informative.

    I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed this carol before, but the tune seems familiar.

    As a lead up to Christmas this was a beautiful “Seasons Greetings”. Let me return it with this…

    May you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    1. We may not always get a Christmas ‘miracle’ drifting down from the skies, but we always can have the music. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and the bit of its history that I found. A Merry Christmas to you and yours — at least the kids will be able to be out and about, and who knows? Even the adults may do a little porch-sitting; the weather’s going to be perfect for it. I may make a visit to the refuge, to see how the celebrations are going down there!

  7. I enjoyed listening to the carol – not one I’ve ever heard before. I do like the idea of a ‘Kingfisher’s Carol’. Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year to you!

    1. So many of our most familiar ‘old’ carols are rooted in England, but I’ve found many that are equally appealing from other cultures, like this one. I’m happy to have introduced you to something new, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Speaking of being introduced to something new — I was at our local plant nursery yesterday, and guess what I found blooming? A whole table of those spidery, ‘spooky’ fringed dianthus that you showed in your blog. I’d never seen them here before. I may not have been aware of them until you posted the photo. Anyway, they’re beautiful, and blooming like crazy right now. Apparently they thrive as a winter plant here, so I may pick up one or two, pot them, and take a photo for you!

      Merry Christmas!

    1. The kingfishers we have here don’t sound particularly musical, but when I listened to some of the other species, it did seem as though someone could interpret their song this way. It is beautiful, and the melody’s surprisingly memorable. I caught myself whistling it yesterday.

        1. Well, at least that’s the good professor’s theory. My first response was, “Say, what?” but I found this article that explains his hypotheses. Whatever is or isn’t true about the connection, I just learned a good bit more than I knew about the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie!

  8. Chipper and energetic, this Christmas carol is. I can see why its melody attracted your listening ear while grocery shopping. Your photo of the kingfisher is amazing. What vibrant colors and keen focus. I wish you a deeply spiritual Christmas and an optimistic New Year. I am pretending that I live in England, where finally, the Brexit saga will be drawing to a close and where I have a strong leader. What a relief (at least to me) that the insidious Jeremy Corbyn will soon be gone from the face of British politics. Thank you, Linda, for providing the very best reading and photography in the blogosphere. You are an amazing woman. Cheers!

    1. I only wish the photo were mine. I wanted one of the species that the originators of the carol might have known, so instead of our belted kingfisher, I chose the Eurasian kingfisher. It’s a far more dramatic bird than ours, with those beautiful colors.

      I’m certainly looking forward to the new year. With a good bit of decision-making and decision-implementing out of the way, I’m anticipating more writing and more time to learn about photography. Both possibilities please me. Not only that, the weather people claim we’re going to have a somewhat typical winter, which means good working conditions, and that’s a nice thought, too.

      This is a season of celebration, and here’s another wonderful, celebratory song, this one for Hanukkah. More dreaming about the things we can be is all to the good.

      1. Thank you for this lovely upbeat expression of friendship. I’m so pleased that your decisions have been executed and you can now devote more of your time to the activities you choose. Merry Christmas to you dear Linda.

  9. I really enjoyed this thought-provoking post, Linda, as always. I love that a recording heard while grocery shopping was the kernel that got this going, because that’s how life is, especially if you’re curious and in love with life like you are. I googled and found a Spanish recording of it, and understand what you mean by the “light and rhythmic” element. I enjoyed your research too, and discoveries. As a birder, I was intrigued by the Kingfisher title and the onomatopoeic reference, which is why I decided to listen to the song. I know our local kingfisher, which I have heard hundreds of time with great appreciation, sounds more like “kek, kek, kek.” But that was the beauty of your post, as you said, a song that was “a collection of Spanish songs, printed in Italy” that ended “up at a Swedish university” which further prompted you from a random recording in the grocery store. Truly wonderful. Thank you so much.

    1. Is your kingfisher the belted: Megaceryle alcyon? I see that it’s listed as a year-round resident for your area. It’s true that the call is more metallic and harsh — not quite what I’d imagine being the inspiration for this carol. Still, ‘metallic and harsh’ might be just the ticket to send el lobo on his way!

      I always like to imagine what the original singers of songs would think if they could know how their music has endured and spread. A Basque shepherd hearing “Riu, Riu Chiu” in a grocery store would have plenty to be amazed by: the very concept of a grocery store, music filling the space without any obvious musicians, and the song itself, still echoing, even in that very strange place.

    1. You’re welcome, John. It’s always nice to be minded that “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” isn’t the beginning and end of Christmas music! Merry Christmas to you and yours — both two and four legged!

    1. It is snappy, isn’t it? I heard one version of it that was much — much! — slower in tempo, and it just didn’t work. This has a tempo that would make it great for following a flock through the hills.

      As for the little drummer boy, I just have to share my favorite version with you. I think you’ll get a kick out of this.. Again, Merry Christmas, and safe travels!

    1. A lot of Christmas music’s so familiar we don’t even hear it, or so awful we don’t want to hear it. I think this one’s appealing for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it’s quite whistle-able, even if we can’t pronounce the lyrics. Merry Christmas — I hope it’s a happy day, and a happy season!

    1. I’ll bet you like some of my other favorites, then, like “Pat-a-Pan.” This video is remarkable not only for David Archuleta’s interpretation of the song, but also for the dancer.

      In 1894 Thomas Edison invited Annabelle Whitford Moore, a well-known vaudevillian, to perform in a filmed dance for the kinetoscope. He then altered the film to create the illusion that Annabelle’s dress was changing colors as it moved. Frame by frame, he tinted the film by hand so that when the light passed through the film, it came through stained. What followed was the very first known color film, known as “Annabelle Serpentine Dance.” It’s used to great effect in the video, and has a very merry Christmas feel, indeed!

    1. I’d assumed the technique was a form of canon, although precisely which one I can’t say. The most familiar canon, of course, is the round, like those we sang as kids: “Three Blind Mice” and such.

      The selection you linked is gorgeous. Oddly enough, I first learned about Anuna when I was researching versions of “La Danse de Mardi Gras” for one of my Cajun culture posts. Their version of it is fabulous.

    1. Sorting through translations of songs or poetry can be perplexing, given the wide variations that often appear. But there always are commonalities: enough to get a sense of things, at any rate. I like the thought of nature (the kingfisher) and humans (the shepherd) working together to guard the flock. It carries echoes of “let heaven and nature sing.”

  10. Lovely song and I will listen to it a few more times. Sometimes music works like that. It grow on one. When I was young my parents made an effort for us children to sit around the Christmas tree( a real one) and sing traditional songs. But that was in cold Holland.

    In Australia it was radically different with heat, bushfires and lots of beer with a holiday on the beach. The church service would be hot and sweaty with Bogong moths swarming around the lights. Even so, it did finally dawn on us that Christmas is celebrated irrespective of climatic conditions.
    Fascinating story, Linda.

    Have a good Christmas.

    1. When I moved to Houston from Iowa, and then on to Liberia, it took some time to adjust to the fact that Christmas celebrations weren’t going to take place in a snowy, ‘traditional’ landscape. Now, I’m accustomed to lighted palm trees and agaves with decorations at the end of each leaf, but it took a while.

      Your mention of a holiday on the beach brought to mind our local weather service office’s note about Christmas day; they suggested that sandmen would be a better project than snowmen, as there’s not a chance of snow within at least a few hundred miles. I only hope that, regardless of what the scientists predict, your country receives some rain, and less wind. The news is grim, indeed. I presume your Prime Minister is home from his own trip to the beach.

      And by the way — I thought of you and Helvi this week when I made a little trip to a local nursery, and saw rows and rows of the most beautiful cyclamen. I’ve been doing some repotting of plants and now have an empty pot that’s just the right size for one. I believe I’ll go back and get one, just because.

  11. This is a new one for me, Linda, and that’s saying a lot as I thought I’d sung, played, or listened to most carols by this time! Fascinating history you’ve uncovered, and including the translations is a big help to those of us who aren’t fluent in Spanish!

    1. I’m really surprised you didn’t know this one, Debbie. Of course, I didn’t know it either, despite years of listening to Christmas music. Thinking about it, I realized that the grocery store where I heard it has unusual music even in non-holiday seasons: a lot of late 50s and early 60s, selections from musicals, and so on. They’re strictly local, so they can choose what they want to play, and don’t have to depend on corporate sorts who have other ideas about what appeals.

      There’s no translation needed for this: enjoy your time with Domer, and don’t let Dallas get off his schedule. (Well, maybe for Christmas day…)

  12. This is beautiful Linda. It’s delightful that ‘Riu, riu, chiu’ referred to the birdsong of the kingfisher and/or nightingale.

    I read more about ‘villancicos’ in the Wiki article, and it’s so interesting to learn how (in the ‘Spain and the New World’ section), they went on during the Baroque period. ‘Villancico’ composers typically held positions as ‘maestro de capilla’ (chapel master) at the major cathedrals in Spain and the ‘New World’, and wrote in many different renaissance and baroque styles.

    The article names some of the most prominent Baroque Latin American composers, one of which was José Cascante, a Colombian Baroque composer and organist. Born in Bogotá, he was the ‘maestro de capilla’ of that city’s cathedral for many years. He also wrote in more popular genres which began to sound more Latin in style. Here’s an example ( Although José de Cascante is referred to as “Renacentista’ (from the Renaissance) in the YouTube interpretation, he is from the Baroque period.

    Popular genres began to evolve from the Latin American Baroque Villancicos composers. It is now accepted that from this musical genre, the more folkloric Latin Christmas music evolved called ‘Aguinaldo’, which sounds different. The “Aguinaldo” developed in the rural areas as a way to sing religious poems during the Christmas season. They began to sing outside of churches, and used folkloric ‘guitar-like’ instruments which belong to the lute family. It derived both from Church and Spain.

    1. It certainly is a rich tradition, and I suspect mostly unknown to many of us in North America. As I listened to the performance you linked, I noticed a number of performances of works attributed to Mateo Flecha in the sidebar, and listened to some of those, as well. Most took place in cathedrals or other acoustically suitable places, and the combination of the musical form with the acoustics does wonderful things for the human voice.

      When I looked up the meaning of aguinaldo, I was surprised to see that it can refer to a Christmas song, a bonus paid to workers, or a plant! The plant is known as aguinaldo blanco, or Convolvulus nodiflorus. It blooms at Christmas time, which I suppose is the reason it got its common name.

      1. If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have discovered the ‘Camerata de Caracas’ channel in YouTube. If you go directly to the channel, you will see that Mateo Flecha is also interpreted there.

        This music also came from Portugal, and Gaspar Fernandez was a notable exponent who was born there. However, he went to live in Guatemala and Mexico and contributed a sizable amount of vernacular villancicos written in pseudo-African and Amerindian dialects and occasionally Portuguese. Here’s and example

        The ‘Aguinaldo’ has different meanings and I remember the ‘Convolvulus nodiflorus
        aguinaldo blanco’ plant. It’s from one of those ‘morning glories’ families but native to P.R..

        1. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the lyrics to these villancicos. This last one I posted was about an ‘Hermano’ (brother) ‘Mano Fasiquillo’ arguing with another black ‘Hermano’ because Mano Fasiquillo stated Jesus was born in a stable. In the midst of the argument they both find baby Jesus.

          1. I apologize for the delay on the explanation of the lyrics. The last link I shared ‘Mano Fasiquillo’ is what is known as a ‘Villancico de negrilla’ (Black Villancicos) using pseudo-African lyrics. This is why it has a mixture of Spanish and ‘pseudo-African’ words combined. They demonstrate ‘afro-colonial’ influence in the ‘villancicos’ written in Latin America.

            You might ask why I wrote about all this. I was raised in an atheist background. Neither my father nor mother practiced any religions, and Christmas emphasized Epiphany. My father listened to Gregorian Chants at the most, and other classical music. I was baptized Catholic but my parents were atheist. This post about ‘villancicos’ awakened an interest in me.

  13. Here in the Philippines, which is a Catholic country thanks to the Spaniards, I still find it incongruous to hear so many American versions of Christmas songs in our hotel and in shopping malls.

    As the Wikipedia article about this song notes, riu is the Catalan word for ‘river,’ and that makes sense, given the following line about guarding a river bank. chiu could be a meaningless rhyming variant (like the second part of fiddle-faddle or super-duper or fancy-shmancy.

    1. In Liberia, it wasn’t quite so jarring to hear American seasonal music, given the historical ties between the U.S. and Liberia and the common use of English, but it was a bit odd to see traditional Santas in shop windows and hear songs about snow.

      I tried to think of more of those nonsense rhyming pairs, and the first that came to mind was one my mother resorted to when I was trying to make up my mind: “Don’t wiffle-waffle.” Of course, that reminded me of ‘shilly-shally’ and ‘dilly-dally.’ I was prone to both.

        1. One thing that intrigued me about the list of ablaut reduplications is how many have been picked up and used commercially. Fiddle-faddle is a popcorn treat. Ping-pong is a game. Jib-Jab was a great political parody site. Tiktok’s a Chinese video-sharing social network, and we know where ‘splish, splash’ ended up. It suggests that the reduplications are memorable because of the sounds, and might more easily embed themselves in people’s minds as brands.

  14. Good morning, dear Linda,
    we celebrate Christmas in the Scandinavian way as well. Yesterday we had our pre-Christmas sauna, ate fårikål (not really a Christmas meal, but traditional Norwegian) and heard Swedish Yuletide Carols.
    It’s funny that you mention Uppsala. Our dear Master studied at the Carolina Rediviva library old (unreadable) manuscripts. Anyway, we had a great time living in Sweden and Dina is born in Norway not that far from the Swedish border. So we feel quite Scandinavian.
    Thank you VERY much for visiting our blog regularly and commenting there.
    Wishing you a wonderful Festive Season and a happy and healthy New Year
    The Fab Four of Cley
    By the way, we didn’t know this song before.

    1. Isn’t it fun, sharing traditions, and memories of traditions? Now, if only I could find a local purveyor of sylta and a potatis korv that tastes as good as Grandma’s!

      I knew that Dina had been born in Norway, but I didn’t know about your studies in Sweden, Klausbernd. My paternal grandparents both immigrated from Sweden at the turn of the last century, sailing from Gefle (now Gävle, again). It’s such an interesting story. They were on the same ship, but didn’t know one another, and didn’t meet until they disembarked and got settled in Minneapolis. Then, they married and moved to Iowa, where my grandfather continued working as a miner, as he had in Sweden.

      It’s been wonderful following your blog, with Dina’s superb photography — and such an interesting comment section to go along with your unusual destinations. I’m eager to see where you travel in the coming year, and what you decide to share with us. God Jul!

      1. Good morning, dear Linda,
        we love these Christmas traditions and we all love sylta. We can get them here in a delicatessen shop in the near market town. Dina and Selma :-) are sitting in the kitchen reading cookery books for our Christmas roast we’ll have tomorrow. We celebrate Christmas like in Sweden and Germany on the 24th in the evening.
        Our dear Master lived part of his childhood in Sweden, in a little village near Växjö/Småland. Very idyllic, like in “Karlsson-on-the-Roof” and in Bullerby.
        That’s a nice story of your grandparents. You could easily make it into a novel, like Vilhelm Moberg’s “The Emigrants”.
        Thanks a lot for following and liking our blog.
        God Jul og a Gott Nytt År
        The Fab Four of Cley
        :-) :-) :-) :-)

    1. Have you ever sung it at church? Since I’ve discovered it, I’ve been curious about why I’ve never come across it — I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in any hymnal. I suppose its quasi-secular nature might explain that, but it is a wonderful carol, and I wish more people could know it. I’m glad you did, and enjoyed the history! Merry Christmas to you and Dr. M!

      1. No – we’ve never sung it in church. I guess I’ve heard it on various Christmas albums (most recently on David Archuleta’s – it was pretty good until he did some sort of very weird finale at the end).

        1. I have a hard time with souped-up versions of old music. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear Archuleta’s version in a store, but if I’d heard his rather than the more authentic version, I probably wouldn’t have paid one bit of attention to it.

  15. Wow … love this and no, ,, didn’t know it was a Christmas song … but think I heard it a few times before now. Just didn’t know what I was listening to since it was not in English…
    Hugs to all reading this note and may you all be blessed in the new year ahead .. I hopefully will have a new grandchild in the early month of May.

    1. Isn’t it funny how a melody can embed itself and be enjoyed even when we don’t understand the words? This one is so simple that whenever I listen to it, I find myself humming or whistling the tune for hours afterward. Sometimes, it even will pop up out of ‘nowhere.’ It’s a wonderful song.

      You must be pleased as can be with the prospect of that grandchild. I hope all goes well. Best wishes to you for a very happy 2020 — it’s a little odd to realize we’re two decades into the new century, when it seems as though the millenium hoopla was just yesterday (or maybe the day before).

  16. Oh … by the way … I ran and searched the ITunes and found your version to download and buy … a joy ‼️ And right now my home is echoing with this song on repeat mode. 😁

    1. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed it enough to search for it, and that you found it! It is such a cheerful tune, and easy to learn. Soon, you’ll be singing it on your own, and not just listening to it.

  17. Riu, Riu, Chiu was part of my family Christmas tradition. My parents loved choral music, I think I heard it first from a Deller Consort recording. I don’t think I’ve ever read the words until your post – it’s just been a lilting, infectious part song to me. Thanks for reviving a Christmas memory.
    On the history of the piece and Flecha, there’s a manuscript tradition for the piece that goes back further that the Venetian publication. I looked on the internet, and the piece is supposed to be in the Barcelona Songbook, manuscript M 454 in the Biblioteca de Catalunya. It goes back to 1535 and earlier, compiled by different scribes at different times. Probably there are more manuscript copies than Barcelona Songbook. If you’re curious, the whole manuscript is scanned and on the internet.

    1. I still remember the Deller Consort from a tape of Christmas music that was part of the Readers’ Digest music collection. Obviously, that was many years ago.There were some less common songs on that tape that I dearly loved. Then, the tape died, and I never could find a replacement. Now, all of the songs are on a four disc Deller Consort CD: “Christmas Music and Motets.”

      For the purposes of this post, I had to eliminate some of the verses I found, just so people could follow along, but it was interesting to see how many variations exist. Another beauty with a confusing (to me) background is “Dindirindin.” From what I can figure out, the language is a meld of several, suggesting to some that it came from a region where language was fluid — perhaps like the Spanglish that’s developed down here.

  18. What a delightful carol — thank you! That must have been some grocery store where it caught your attention. No such charming selections playing in our local stores this season. You did a great job of tracking down and illuminating the song’s history.

    1. Isn’t it fun? It’s eminently singable, too — or at least whistle-able until the lyrics are learned. The grocery store is part of a very small local chain. It has a smaller selection of items, with occasionally higher prices, but it also has polite, well-groomed high school checkers, it’s cleaner than any of our hospitals, and the sackers always ask if you would like them to take your purchases to your car and load them for you. Every employee smiles, and they can choose their own recorded music because they have no corporate overlords. Now that I think about it, that may be why they smile so much!

    1. The old — truly old — songs are so interesting, grounded as they often are in nature. “Down in Yon Forest’ comes to mind, and “The Carol of the Birds.” I’m sure there are more. They certainly have the kind of staying power that “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” probably never will have.

  19. When it comes to the commercialized season and the insanity of feeling we must shop ourselves into oblivion or something, this poem by William Wordsworth, while not specifically Christmas always comes to mind for me:

    The World Is Too Much With Us

    The world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
    The winds that will be howling at all hours,
    And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
    For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
    It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

    Merry Christmas,

    1. That’s such an appropriate choice — always, but especially in the Christmas season. There’s a whole lot of getting and spending going on, and some of it seems to have no purpose except as a Pavlovian response to some very sophisticated merchandisers. Funny that the analysts determine whether Christmas has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by the number of dollars spent — and sad that so many people buy into that perspective.

      Merry Christmas, once more — isn’t it nice that we have twelve days to celebrate?

    1. It’s the sort of carol that plays well even in July: so lilting, and happy. I’m glad to have introduced you to it. Happy Christmas to you and yours — especially that little one! I’m sure you’re having great fun with your family!

  20. I was not familiar with this carol, and enjoyed learning about it and its history. There are so many wonderful Christmas traditions. I love Christmas eve candlelight services, setting up old creches that have been in the family for years (as well as newer ones that have been more recent gifts), etc.

    1. Your mention of the creches reminded me of this one, an artistic treasure tucked away in Connecticut. The Smithsonian story’s not long, but it’s fascinating, and the creche is beautiful.

      There are a couple of other wonderful ancient songs I’d intended to write about this year, but the extremely short time between Thanksgiving and Christmas caught up with me. You’re right that there is a multitude of traditions worth exploring — as well as those family traditions that we cherish.

  21. That’s a very colourful Kingfisher you have there, Linda. What we have is the belted one, greyish blue. Didn’t know it’s related to Christmas. I’ve much enjoyed our visits through the past 10 years and look forward to the next. I’ll take this time to wish you continual blessings beyond Christmas and all the way into the next decade! :)

    1. Actually, we share the belted kingfisher. The one up above is European; I chose its image because of the roots of the song. If the shepherds did listen to a kingfisher as they guarded their flock, that probably would be the one.

      I’m looking forward to the coming decade, although I’m going to try to be reasonable and take it one year at a time. I know you’ll be enjoying the new challenges that come with growth — not only family-wise, but professionally as well. It will be fun to look back at the end of 2020 and see how we’ve developed.

  22. Thanks for the introduction to a new nativity song! It is truly lovely, and the recording is delightful. Folk-music seems to be an especially fitting vehicle for Christmas songs: catching the specificity and earthiness of the narrative, sometimes lost in other carols etc.

    Best to you in this Christmastide, and the coming New Year!

    1. It occurs to me that “Riu, Riu, Chiu” might be a song that would appeal to your singing group. As I recall, your repertoire includes music from a variety of backgrounds. I think you’re right about the specificity and earthiness, too. So much Christmas music swings between a kind of disembodied spirituality on the one hand, and crassness or ridicule on the other.

      In a way, “Riu, Riu, Chiu” could be a musical companion to William Kurelek’s A Northern Nativity. It has some of the same qualities.

  23. What a gorgeous piece of music that is, thanks for posting it. It’s hard for me to reconcile the calls of Kingfisher’s I’ve heard with the lyrics, but, well, who cares? I love the almost jazzy syncopation of the song and the spare, simple arrangement. Old is good!!

    1. I know — our belted kingfishers have a call that’s gutteral and almost creaky, like a badly oiled screen door. Still, those European birds may be more sophisticated in song, just as they’re more brightly decked out. It’s one of my favorite carols, partly because it is so jaunty, and memorable, and easily sung — even with a horrid accent!

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