HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Who needs a silent night if you can put on the right tunes?
Whether you’re kicking back at home or hosting a party, the right music can set the mood. Sure, you can listen to Mariah Carey belt out (again) her iconic insistence that all she wants for Christmas is you, or you can steer away from the mainstream mainstays and try a few songs that capture the spirit of Christmas in the Rio Grande Valley.
Here are a few of our suggestions:
‘Feliz Navidad‘ by José Feliciano
Ok, Feliciano’s bilingual Christmas greeting is a mainstream mainstay. You’ll happen to hear it piped in over supermarket speakers at H-E-B and perhaps as some sort of Muzak reduction in elevators and department stores.
Why it makes our list: If you wanted to capture the spirit of Christmas for the Valley, a region blended and balanced between American and Mexican traditions, this song is the classic and uncontroversial choice. If anything, it’s so popular that it’s hook can become overbearing and repetitive–but maybe only if you’re listening to it on repeat as you’re working an extended shift at one of those grocery stores. However, in measured doses, it’s a perfect, happy Christmas song that will warm you to the bottom of your heart.
‘Christmas Time in the Valley’ by Freddy Fender
This song starts out with a tropical, almost-Hawaiian vibe. For anyone outside the Rio Grande Valley, the musical instrumentation seems suitable for crooning about some getaway along the Pacific Coast. However, anyone from San Benito would know exactly which Valley that Fender is referring to–especially when the song switches over to Spanish.
Why it makes our list: Freddy Fender is a Valley music legend, hailing from San Benito. Fender could have sang “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” and it would make the list. Still, this is a solid addition to a Christmas playlist for a region that typically experiences more sunshine than snow during the holidays. He sings, “Feel the palm trees sway | as if they’re dancing | Here comes Santa Claus | to the Valley once again.” He finds happiness in this, he sings. So do we.
‘Merry Christmas From the Family’ by Robert Earl Keen
This country song won’t perk up the party with an upbeat tempo full of sharp, happy notes–but it’ll bring smiles with its quirky lyrics. The music plods slow and easy through its versus, building to a more jubilant, drunken chorus. Drunken? In a Christmas song? Yes. Humor carries the song along through a narrative of extended family coming together, all while celebrating quirks and shortcomings. Rather than celebrating the cliched utopia of an imagined winter wonderland, this song captures how many people in Texas truly mark Christmas.
Why it makes our list: This might be the best (and only) Christmas song to reference Harlingen. Listen for the verses: “Fran and Rita drove from Harlingen | I can’t remember how I’m kin to them | But when they tried to plug their motor home in | They blew our Christmas lights.”
‘Christmas in Texas’ by Texas Latino
This Christmas song is a rewrite of “Christmas in Dixie,” made popular years ago by country music group Alabama. That original version started by contrasting the American south to the snow in New York City, the sunshine in California, and a list of other places. However, Texas must have checked that list twice and decided the original wasn’t good enough. The Texas version injects the song with more energy and keeps the lyrics confined to Texas cities. Why bother comparing Texas cities to New York and California, anyway?
Why it makes our list: The groups to record this song include Texas Latino and The Ranch Road Band. “Christmas in Texas” gives the Valley its proper due when talking about the full scope of Texas, and why it shines bright. The Valley is about the people. “From the Dallas skyline | to the folks in the Rio Grande | Merry Christmas from Texas | and peace throughout this land.”
Bonus: A mention of The Ranch Road Band requires a nod to their San Antonio Christmas classic “Riverwalk Christmas.” You can decide on your own if a song about San Antonio deserves to be on the Valley’s list of Christmas songs, but many of us love the Riverwalk, our memories there, and our families who live in San Antonio.
‘Christmas with my Dad’ by The Krayolas
A Christmas song about memories of a father who’s passed away might not ring like the bells of joy. In fact, the song gets straight to that point, asking “Christmas without my dad, will it always be this freaking sad?” But the muted happiness of this song comes from taking the time to remember a loved one. We all think about those we loved who are no longer with us during the holidays. This song pays tribute to a father who “could make you laugh singing Mexican music.”
Why it makes the list: Anyone missing a father who was “one tough hombre” this Christmas should give this song a play.
Many Christmas songs are meant for the children to sing along. This bouncing Spanish song provides the right Christmas magic, a gift of musical joy powered by a child lead vocalist and a chorus of children singing backup. Play it to start the party before shuffling the kids to bed in anticipation of Santa.
Why it makes the list: Rio Grande Valley families grew up with the children singing this song, with some students performing this piece at school. In the Valley, we hear it play at posadas, parties, and everywhere you have children choirs.
‘Frosty the Snowman’ with Flaco Jimenez & Freddy Fender
The children won’t be the only ones to enjoy this version of the classic tune. Combine the San Antonio’s best accordion player (Jimenez) with the Valley’s own El Bebop Kid (Fender), and the result is a combo that couldn’t make a bad song. The proof is ‘Frosty the Snowman’, which they make danceable.
Why it makes the list: In this song, it goes: “There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found because when they placed it on his head he began to dance around.” But have you ever danced to “Frosty the Snowman”? If you have, it was definitely with this version playing.
At the quietest of Christmas nights in the Valley, this tune feels right. Multiple artists can be heard singing the Spanish version of “Silent Night,” including Italian singer Andrea Bocelli. Christmas does not feel complete without “Silent Night,” but the Spanish version is like a prayer becoming the sweetest of dreams–at least for Bocelli’s version. Luis Miguel has a version with brass instrumentals that will keep the party enlivened and entertained, rather than sleepy and peaceful.
Why it makes our list: This song has been recorded by a variety of singers and bands, including Jimmy Gonzalez y Grupo Mazz. Valley residents can pick any version that suits their tastes. We recommend the Grupo Mazz version, which manages to blend both Spanish and English lyrics into a recording suitable for everyone in South Texas.
‘Merry Christmas from the Rio Grande’ by Rachel Lovestrand
Every song list needs an encore closer. This fun locally written song by Gavin Audagnotti and Rachel Lovestrand-Audagnotti was written for Valley school children who needed a Christmas song that reflected the joys of South Texas in December. The song celebrates a Christmas warm enough to use an oscillating fan, which is true for most years even if 2022’s Christmas weekend is below-freezing.
Why it makes the list: It sums up our wishes for you this Christmas, from our ValleyCentral family to yours. Merry Christmas!