Equator Gringos

December 16, 2007

Transcultural Christmas Humbug

Filed under: Ecuador — Tags: , , , , , , — lstollin @ 3:01 pm

We were practicing Christmas songs at school this week in preparation for a community service visit to a low-income day care center, and one Villancico (Spanish Christmas Carol) caught my ear – in a funny and weird way. There are verses about Mary washing diapers in the river and so forth, but here is the rousing chorus:

Pero mira como beben los peces en el rio
Pero mira como beben por ver al Dios Nacido
Beben y Beben y vuelven a Beber
Los peces en el río por ver a Dios Nacer (to listen, click here)

Here’s my translation (I’m not making this up):

But look how the fish drink in the river
But look how they drink, seeing God born
They drink and drink and return to drink some more
The fish in the river, seeing God born

What am I supposed to think? Is this what all the drunks in Ecuador sing as they’re getting trashed at Christmas? Like, “Hey, what do you expect me to do? (hic) God’s being born!”

So here’s the evidence, as I see it, that this song is basically a Christmas drinking song:

  1. Drinking is about the last thing I would think of fish doing in the river.
  2. There was no way to ascertain during ancient times if fish were drinking more or less than usual at any given moment.
  3. There is no biblical evidence of Jesus’ birthplace being particularly near a river, much less a seafood market or pet shop.
  4. Only a few species of fish can see clearly what’s going on above water.
  5. Witnessing supernatural events is not known to make people or animals thirsty.
  6. The only other mention in any language of fish drinking is the English phrase, “drinking like a fish” which refers exclusively to alcohol consumption.

You might be stunned to find out that I’m not the only person perplexed by this “drinking carol.” For you Spanish readers, here is a discussion among people trying to make sense of the drinking fish in this song and whether fish really drink. At least one sarcastic writer in Spanish agrees with my assessment: here is the link containing many other tongue-in-cheek claims about this particular carol, referring to “alcoholic fish” and calling Villancicos in general a “fountain (or source) of perversions.”

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!



  1. Being a conservation biologist (zoologist as they used to call it), I have a bit to input. This tidbit, I think, lends even more credence to this song being related to getting plastered.
    Truth be known, only saltwater fish actually drink the water they swim in. Any exclusively freshwater fish would die mighty quickly if it did. This is due to the permeability of cells to various mineral salts, therefore their vulnerability to losing said salts, via simple osmosis, to a freshwater environment which has a comparatively low concentration.
    Check this link out for a fairly simple explanation of this understandably non-intuitive fact:


    Comment by Kyron — December 19, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

  2. Luke, I too was confounded and amazed by the utter nonsensical nature of this song. I think your intuition may be correct regarding the drinking. I find it even more astonishing that there is more than one of us who has spent serious time contemplating the meaning of such nonsense.

    Comment by inthetropics — March 31, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

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