The first time I noticed translation was probably while singing Christmas carols.
We learnt to sing Silent Night in something resembling German and Welsh at primary school, and in learning Polish I realised that the fuzzy warm sound of carols I’d heard before I could speak actually meant something: the shepherds, the kings, the manger. Suddenly last Christmas, singing Silent Night in Finnish for the first time, I realised I was singing about work. Work? It rhymes with night in Finnish (yö, työ). If you want it to rhyme, scan, and fit to a melody, you have to change your translation a bit. Or a lot.
The Austrian carol Silent Night is probably the most popular worldwide; UNESCO declared it an intangible world cultural heritage two years ago, and it is 195 years old this Christmas Eve. It has been translated into nearly 150 languages. Franz Xaver Gruber’s music is the same, but Joseph Mohr’s lyrics are not. Here are just two little differences each in four languages:
I hope you enjoy singing it in whatever language you choose. And if you’re stuck for saying Merry Christmas to someone, somewhere, here’s a handy collection of global Christmas greetings.
Have a peaceful, joyful Christmas!