Christmas Can Be Green And Bright
December 23, 2012 1:52 PM   Subscribe

"Mele Kalikimaka" (Ukelele cords) is a Hawaiian-themed Christmas song written in 1949 by Robert Alex Anderson. The phrase is borrowed directly from English but since Hawaiian has a different phonological system - Hawaiian does not have the /r/ or /s/ of English and doesn't have the phonotactic constraints to allow consonants at the end of syllables or consonant clusters - "Merry Christmas" becomes "Mele Kalikimaka". Enjoy the canonical version with Bing Crosby And The Andrew Sisters (lounge remix) or by KT Tunstall or Bette Milder or Jimmy Buffet or Gianni And Sarah or The Puppini Sisters or Reel Big Fish or Country Western style or pared down instrumental or Celtic Rock style or performed on the Metro by Pokey LaFarge or ..whatever the hell this is.
posted by The Whelk (16 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Extra credit: Arthur Lyman's spacey lounge version
posted by The Whelk at 2:00 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

And from a band originally formed in Hawaii: Poi Dog Pondering
posted by 1367 at 2:38 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is a pretty rockin version by the blue Hawaiians that doesn't seem to exist on YouTube sadly.
posted by The Whelk at 3:06 PM on December 23, 2012

Oh nice! I had a linguistics professor who loved to explain this at Christmas every year.
posted by sunnichka at 3:48 PM on December 23, 2012

This is one of my favorite Christmas songs. Thanks!
posted by ocherdraco at 3:51 PM on December 23, 2012

Oh, I love this linguistics puzzle! (and the song too, and its many variants)
For anybody who wants to get into the nitty gritty of how Merry Christmas becomes Mele Kalikimaka, I nerded out on it a while back, here.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:10 PM on December 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

My favorite podcasters included this song on their Christmas CD. I've been singing it to my son, love it!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:18 PM on December 23, 2012

I had to sing this at my second grade xmas pageant thing (I would guess in 1979?) and I still remember both the hula dance I did and the words to the first verse to this day.
posted by mathowie at 4:20 PM on December 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was at the final NYC show for Prairie Home Companion yesterday evening, and the DiGiallonardo Sisters sang this. No coincidence, as they have surely spent a lot of time listening to the Andrew Sisters catalog.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:38 PM on December 23, 2012

Straight up one of my favorite Christmas songs.
posted by maryr at 6:37 PM on December 23, 2012

Love the song, but I can't get Cousin Eddie dressed in a leopard print Speedo with a wife-beater tucked into it out of my head when I hear it.
posted by OHSnap at 7:17 PM on December 23, 2012

Awesome post! I love this song; Its a great Christmas song, and one I often forget. Thanks for this year's reminder.
posted by k8lin at 9:18 PM on December 23, 2012

My wife directed this music video for the Memphis Dawls last year, and after the late-December shoot was over, the band busted out into "Mele Kalikimaka"while they passed the wine, so my wife made them do it in front of the camera.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:55 PM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

iamkimiam -- very interesting phonetic walkthrough of Mele Kalikimaka in the linked thread... is there a specific reason why the Y maps to E rather than to I, and why the S maps to K rather than H? Is it convention/arbitrary?

It almost seems that with the phonetic sounds available, one could almost choose "Meli Kalihimaha" as an analog that is perhaps as good of a trans-phoneticisation as "Mele Kalikimaka"?
posted by chimaera at 11:17 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

chimaera: I suspect it's the T which is pronounced in Christmas that maps to K. In Hawaiian there's a single phoneme which is pronounced /t/ on western islands and /k/ on eastern ones. Hawaiian speakers heard it as a single sound, with dialect variation in pronunciation.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:51 AM on December 24, 2012

OK, that KT Tunstall version was fabulous; it's going on my holiday mix CD.

(Have to say, I love the typo "Bette Milder"--sounds like she's fading out with age.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:38 AM on December 24, 2012

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