Your favourite Christmas songs in the wrong language

Your favourite Christmas songs in the wrong language


norman lebrecht

December 19, 2021

I relish the shock of the familiar sung in an unexpected dialect.

1 English to Arabic

2 German to Japanese

3 French to Swedish

4 English to French

5 English to German

6 German to Russian

Now add yours.


  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I don’t think the French, Germans and Japanese would like their languages being referred to as dialects!

    • Carlos Solare says:

      You mean the Swedes, Russians and Arabs are fine with it?

    • John Borstlap says:

      All languages different from English are dialects, that’s the reazon everybody wants to speak English, it’s simply the best lanuage. Altough the gramar and speling is not always easy. Even the Indians after our long civlizing influense still spell things like ‘washeen masheen’ and the like. More proof needed?!


  • John Borstlap says:

    They have become very diverse and inclusive, linguistically. I like the Arabian best, it’s les vulgar.

  • V.Lind says:

    The Japanese Silent Night was delightful. The Russian one was magnificent.

    These were nearly all a charm, though I have never heard, nor heard of, the song Dalida was singing.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Six years ago I spent the holidays in China on a concert tour. On Christmas eve we went to a small restaurant in Xi’an where the locals tried, unsuccessfully, to teach us Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in Chinese. Try it:

  • Robin says:

    Lovely! It just goes to show that a good tune is open to all sorts of enjoyable interpretations. I suppose many Westerners will stick with Jussi Bjorling. Once you’ve heard him it’s hard to imagine someone out singing him.

  • Una says:

    I remember singing in a London synagogue something in Hebrew to the tune of ‘It came upon a midnight clear’ and then later ‘Joy to the world’ in Swahili in Dar es Salaam! They also. Sang the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah in Swahili – and unaccompanied with no shortage of tenors!

  • Patrick says:

    And then there is Christopher Rouse’s wonderful “Karolju”….

    “As I wished to compose the music first, the problem of texts presented itself. Finding appropriate existing texts to fit already composed music would have been virtually impossible, and as I did not trust my own ability to devise a poetically satisfying text, I decided to compose my own texts in a variety of languages (Latin, Swedish, French, Spanish, Russian, Czech, German, and Italian) which, although making reference to words and phrases appropriate to the Christmas season, would not be intelligibly translatable as complete entities. It was rather my intent to match the sound of the language to the musical style of the carol to which it was applied. I resultantly selected words often more for the quality of their sound and the extent to which such sound typified the language of their origin than for their cognitive “meaning” per se.”

  • Joel Kemelhor says:

    In whatever language Jussi Bjorling sang, it was not a “wrong” language. Both words and sound remain radiant after more than 60 years.

    • Laura says:

      He was a Swede whose grandmother was a Finn. This song sang by him is the most beloved Xmas song in Finland ever and his fame is not fading. I guess the Swedes are of the same opinion.

  • fierywoman says:

    “For unto us a child is born …”
    in Italian becomes:
    “A noi è nato un bambino…”

    (apologies if the accent mark goes the wrong way!)

  • How delightful to find the wonderful FAIRUZ singing Jingle Bells in Arabic as the first item selected here. For more than a decade Richard Baker used to play this enchanting rendition
    on his BBC Radio 4 programme (ever since I sent him a copy !). I have never seen this original piece of film before. Years later she recorded it in London but the chorus, unable to cope with
    the language, lost a little of the charm by having to “la, la, la” their way though it. Enjoy it !

  • msc says:

    I have an disc with the Laulupuu Choir of Lahti and the Lahti S.O., cond. Vanska (BIS 947), that has ‘Winter wonderland’ and ‘Silent night’ in Finnish. I also have Karita Mattila singing ‘Angels we have heard on high,’ ‘Silent night’, and ‘O holy night’ in Finnish (Ondine 10092). I kind of wish Torme’s ‘The Christmas song’ were also in Finnish — sometimes it even sounds like it. Alas, I found no links to full versions.
    Didn’t Freddy Mercury and Montsarrat Caballe do a Marathi/Spanish version of ‘Baby it’s cold outside’?

  • Petra says:

    Not a Christmas song but How Great Thou Art is the american lyrics to the Swedish song O Store Gud by Carl Boberg. He wrote it in 1885 and the translation in english was published in Minnesota as early as 1886.