Las Mañanitas is a traditional song in Spanish that Mexicans sing to honor a loved one on their birthday or saint's day, and it is also sung on other important holidays, such as Mother's Day and the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. People may sing it as an early morning serenade to wake up a loved one - so if you're visiting Mexico and hear mariachis playing at the crack of dawn, you'll know it's someone's birthday.
At birthday parties, guests gather around the cake to sing before cutting the cake, as you would sing Happy Birthday To You (although it is quite a bit longer, so it's a good idea to have candles that will last through the song!).
The name of the composer of Las Mañanitas is not known. The Mexican composer Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948) is occasionally credited as having composed it, although it probably pre-dates him. He does seem to have popularized a particular arrangement for the song. As a traditional song with a long history, there are multiple variations of the lyrics and a wide variety of different verses. At most Mexican parties you will usually only hear the first two verses sung, but in this translation, there are some additional verses that are occasionally included, particularly when the song is performed formally by mariachis.
Lyrics and a translation of Las Mañantias:
Estas son las mañanitas,
Que linda está la mañana
This is the morning song
How lovely is the morning
* Often replaced with the name of the person who is being celebrated
El día en que tu naciste
Quisiera ser solecito
Quisiera ser un San Juan,
De las estrellas del cielo
The day you were born
I would like to be the sunshine
I would like to be a Saint John>
Of the stars in the sky
Another very important element of a Mexican birthday party is the piñata, which although it was originally associated with Christmas celebrations, they are now an essential part of most any children's party (and some adult parties as well!). The piñata has an interesting origin and history, and there is also a special song for you to learn that accompanies the breaking of the piñata.
Besides birthday parties, Mexicans find other festive occasions throughout the year that are worthy of celebrating. If you would like to have a party that is Mexican in style, we have lots of tips and ideas for throwing a Cinco de Mayo fiesta that your guests will rave about for years. These can also be used to plan a Mexican-themed birthday party, just be sure you practice singing Las Mañanitas in advance so you'll know what to do when the candles on the cake are lit!