Los peces en el río
Language Resources

Spanish Christmas Carol: Los peces en el río (Fish in the River)

This is maybe the most famous Christmas carol in Spain; it is also one of the oddest carols and the one that causes the most bewilderment. Why do the fish, which live in water, start to drink? What is the Virgin doing washing clothes and dressing up after giving birth? We’ll give an explanation in a minute, but first let’s look at the lyrics.

Pero mira cómo beben los peces en el río,
pero mira cómo beben por ver al Dios nacido.
Beben y beben y vuelven a beber,
los peces en el río por ver a Dios nacer.

La Virgen está lavando
y tendiendo en el romero:
los pajaritos cantando
y el romero floreciendo.

Pero mira cómo beben los peces en el río,
pero mira cómo beben por ver al Dios nacido.
Beben y beben y vuelven a beber,
los peces en el río por ver a Dios nacer.

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

Pero mira cómo beben los peces en el río,
pero mira cómo beben por ver al Dios nacido.
Beben y beben y vuelven a beber,
los peces en el río por ver a Dios nacer.

But look how the fish drink in the river,
but look how they drink to see God being born.
They drink, they drink and then they drink again,
the fish in the river, to see God being born.

The Virgin is washing
and hanging clothes to dry in the rosemary:
the birds singing
and the rosemary flowering.

But look how the fish drink in the river,
but look how they drink to see God being born.
They drink, they drink and then they drink again,
the fish in the river, to see God being born.

The Virgin is combing her hair
between curtain and curtain.
Her hair is made of gold
and the comb of fine silver.

But look how the fish drink in the river,
but look how they drink to see God being born.
They drink, they drink and then they drink again,
the fish in the river, to see God being born.

Well, it turns out this is an atypical Christmas carol. In the first place, because it is not focused on the Baby Jesus, but rather the Virgin Mary. In the second place, the scene created is calm, almost pastoral. There are no angels, or bells, or a multitude of shepherds gathered together; we are only privy to an intimate moment while the Virgin is fixing herself up and washing the Baby’s diapers.

Many authors say that it is a Christmas carol full of symbolism. The fish are those who followed Jesus (remember that the apostles were fishermen) and that they are celebrating his birth by drinking to his arrival. They also cite the rosemary plant, which symbolizes rebirth and immortality. And the song talks about hair of gold and of a silver comb; it is said that the gold is synonymous with divine knowledge and that the silver is purity and liberation. We would like to know what the curtains are doing there; but there is no shortage of people who talk about the other life metaphor (you know, “the final curtain” and all of that).

Are you surprised? We were left stunned when we learned about all of this. Maybe they are not more theories, but the next time we sing this Spanish Christmas carol, we’ll think about it in a different way.