A Christmas Carol that's usually attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder (1481–1553).

It's believed that "Riu, riu, chiu" is an imitation of a bird call.

Notes

(1) "Riu, riu, chiu" is an imitation of a bird call as far as we know. "La guarda ribera" is usually translated as "the riverbank protects her" (which is kind of weird since "ribera" has no article while it should). But some people suggest that "guarda ribera" is an old form of "guardarrío", a vernacular name of the kingfisher. Kingfishers defend their young with alerting calls if any predator comes near.

(2) Some later versions of the song changed this line to, "Dios guardó del lobo a nuestra cordera" (that translates as "God protected our lamb from the wolf") but the verb "guardar" also used to mean "to forbid, to avoid", so it might mean "God forbade the wolf to [reach] our lamb." Note that "nuestra cordera" in the original is feminine, so it means Virgin Mary.

(3) "Garçón" (later "garzón") at that time meant "young boy" –from the French "garçon" (meaning boy, young male child). "Garzones" is sometimes translated as "heron" but the word "garzón" -from "garza" = "heron, crane". It's used (present tense) in two countries in Latin America that were unlikely to use it when the song was written (since America has just been discovered). So these young boys flying, making sounds and singing to announce Jesus was born to "gascones" (most probably Basque shepherds) were angels.

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Here are the original lyrics of the song as spelled in the "Cancionero de Uppsala" (i.e. the Uppsala Songbook - a volume of mostly anonymous Spanish music printed in Venice in 1556 ) - except for many "s" that were spelled with the long "ʃ".

At that time:

"v" was pronounced more or less like "v"
"z" was pronounced "dz"
"ç" and "ce/ci" were pronounced "ts"
"x" was pronounced "sh"
"j" and "ge/gi" were pronounced like the "s" in leisure
"s" between vowels was pronounced like "z".

Original Lyrics:

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera.

1. El lobo rabioso
la quiso morder,
Mas dios poderoso
la supo defender;
Quisole hazer
que no pudiesse pecar,
Nia unoriginal
esta uirgẽ no tuuiera.

2. Este ques nacido
es el gran monarca
Christo patriarca
de carne uestido
a nos redimido
Consehazer chiquito
a unquera Infinito
finito ses hiziera.

3. Muchas profecias
lo an profetizado,
Y aun en nuestros dias
Lo hemos al conçado
Adios humanado
Vemos enelsuelo,
Yalhombre nel cielo
porquel lequisiera.

4. Yo ui mil garçones
queandauan cantando,
por aqui bolando
haciendo milsones,
duziendo agascones
gloria sea enelçielo
Y paz enelsuelo,
pues Iesus nasçiera

5. Este uiene a dar
alos muertos uida
y uiene areparar
detodos lacayda
es la luz del día
aqueste moçuelo
estes al cordero
que S. Iuan dixera

6. Mirabien queos quadre
que ansina lo oyera
Que Dios no pudiera
Hazer la mas que madre
El quera supadre
Oy della nasçio
Yel quela crio
Su hyo so dixera

7. Pues que yatenemos
Lo que desseamos
Todos Iuntos uamos
Presentes lleuemos
Todos le daremos
Nuestra uoluntad
Pues aseigualar
Conel hombre uiniera

Watch
You can hear the verses 1, 2, 4 & 7 in this video.
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You can hear the verses 1, 2 & 4 in this video.
Please let us know if you think this video has been taken down by YouTube.
Thanks!
You can hear the verses 1, 2, 7 & 4 in this video.
Please let us know if you think this video has been taken down by YouTube.
Thanks!

Sheet Music

Sheet Music - Riu, riu, chiu

Thanks and Acknowledgements

Thanks to David W. Solomons for pointing out this song to us! You can hear his rendition in the 2nd video.

Translation by Monique with Lisa.

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