José Feliciano's Feliz Navidad was published in 1970
José Feliciano's Feliz Navidad was published in 1970 By Kingkongphoto & from Laurel Maryland, USA - Jose Feliciano, CC BY-SA

In 1970, while recording his eponymous album in Los Angeles, songwriter José Feliciano had a bad case of homesickness. It was Christmas time and the Puerto Rican artist was far away from his family in the town of Lares. His 11 brothers, the traditional table with lechón, pasteles and rum weighed heavily on his mind. But rather than dismiss the feels, José decided to write a song. The result is none other that Feliz Navidad, a song that became so popular it would eventually be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The song itself couldn't be more simple, but many believe that's exactly what makes it so timeless. In total, the lyrics are comprised of just 19 words. But in a way that came natural for the Latino musician, 6 of those words are in Spanish (Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad) while 13 are in English (I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart), making the song a true symbol of Latino heritage and culture.

"The idea of Feliz Navidad was to unite people" Feliciano explained to ABC back in 2020. "My idea was that it wouldn't matter what language you sang in because we all share the feeling of Christmas. The harmony and instrumentation of the song are also an homage to his latin roots as Feliciano not only plays the acoustic guitar but a cuatro, which as traditional 10-stringed instrument from Puerto Rico, commonly used in villancicos or local Christmas carols.

José Feliciano became a household name thanks to Feliz Navidad
José Feliciano became a household name thanks to Feliz Navidad Photo by Bar Cabanier for Wikimedia Commons

As has happened to many cult songs in history, Feliz Navidad had to wait a long time to garner mass appeal. The original version did not enter any of the Billboard popularity charts until almost thirty years after it was recorded, on January 3, 1998. Nearly two decades later, the song re entered the main Billboard Hot 100 songs chart and made the top 10 for the first time in 2020, becoming Feliciano's first top 10 hit on the Hot 100 chart since his cover of Light My Fire, way back in 1968.

Sales and downloads have also been huge for Feliciano thanks to the track. As of November 25, 2016, total sales of Feliz Navidad stood at 808,000 downloads according to Nielsen SoundScan, placing it eighth on the list of all-time best-selling Christmas/holiday digital singles in SoundScan history. In terms of income, Feliz Navidad is the gift that keeps giving. According to some projections, the song has amassed more than $4.2 million dollars.

Regardless of commercial success, however, the song has become a staple at every Latino household during the holidays and has been covered by countless artists all over the world. From Michael Bublé and Thalía to Dora, the explorer, many have been enamored by the song's timeless message of unity.

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