‘What Child Is This?’ in Spanish

‘¿Qué niño es este?’

Christmas sand sculpture from the Canary Islands
Sand sculpture from the annual Belén de Arena (Bethlehem of Sand) event in Spain's Canary Islands.

El Colleccionista de Instantes / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Here are the Spanish lyrics for "What Child Is This?" a well-known Christmas hymn whose original lyrics were written by the English composer William Chatterton Dix in 1865. The Spanish lyrics here, which do not follow the English closely, are in the public domain. This carol is usually sung to the tune of "Greensleeves," an English folk song.

¿Qué niño es este?

¿Qué niño es este que al dormir
en brazos de María, pastores velan,
ángeles le cantan melodías?
Él es el Cristo, el rey.
Pastores, ángeles cantan,
«Venid, venid a él, al hijo de María».

¿Por qué en humilde establo así,
el niño es hoy nacido?
Por todo injusto pecador
su amor ha florecido.
Él es el Cristo, el rey.
Pastores, ángeles cantan,
«Venid, venid a él, al hijo de María».

Traed ofrendas en su honor
el rey como el labriego.
Al rey de reyes, salvador,
un trono levantemos.
Él es el Cristo, el rey.
Pastores, ángeles cantan,
«Venid, venid a él, al hijo de María».

English Translation of Spanish Lyrics

What boy is this, who while sleeping
in the arms of Mary, shepherds keep watch,
angels sing melodies to him?
He is the Christ, the king.
Shepherds, angels sing,
"Come, come to him, the son of Mary."

Why in a lowly barn such as this
is the boy born today?
For every unrighteous sinner
his love has flourished.
He is the Christ, the king
Shepherds, angels sing,
"Come, come to him, the son of Mary."

Whether you're king or farmhand,
bring offerings in his honor.
To the king of kings, a savior,
may we lift up a throne to him.
He is the Christ, the king
Shepherds, angels sing,
"Come, come to him, the son of Mary."

Grammar and Vocabulary Notes

Niño, although usually translated as "boy" as in the translation here, also can refer to a child if the child's sex isn't known.

In traditional Spanish, este as a demonstrative pronoun is spelled using an orthographic accent as éste. Under modern rules of the language, however, the accent can be omitted as it is here if it isn't necessary to avoid ambiguity.

The phrase al dormir is an example of using al with an infinitive. This is a common way of saying when the action of another verb in the sentence takes place.

Pastor in Spanish can mean either "pastor" or "shepherd."

The verb velar usually means merely to stay awake. However, it sometimes can be translated as taking care of, safeguarding, or keeping watch over someone or something.

Le is an indirect-object pronoun. In the sentence "Le cantan melodías" (they sing melodies to him), the direct object is melodías, because that is what is being sung, and le is the indirect object because it indicates whom the melodies are being sung to or for. In this case, le refers to the baby child.

El Cristo uses "the Christ" as a title or description rather than as a name in the traditional English version of the hymn. Cristo comes from a Greek word meaning "Messiah."

Note the use of the personal a in the last line of each stanza. When a person (or an animal or object treated as a person) is the direct object of the verb, the a is required before the object.

This Spanish version uses angular quotes, which are more common in Spain than in Latin America. Double quote marks such as those of English could have been used instead. Note that closing period goes outside the quote marks rather than before.

Venid is the second-person informal or familiar plural imperative form of venir. This verb form is seldom used in Latin America, where vengan would be preferred.

Al is one of Spanish's very few contractions. It combines the a and el.

Humilde could also have been translated as "humble," its cognate. The placement of humilde before establo gives it a more emotional connotation than it might have had otherwise.

Establo is a cognate of the English "stable" and can also be translated that way. "Stable" as an adjective in Spanish is estable.

Injusto usually refers to someone being unfair or unjust. "Unrighteous" was used here to fit the context.

It is common in Spanish to use the suffix -dor with the stem of a verb to create a noun for a person or thing who performs that verb's action. An example of this is pecador, which comes from the verb pecar, meaning "to sin."

The first two lines of the final stanza have been transposed and translated nonliterally to make the translation less awkward.

Traed is the second-personal informal plural imperative of traer. Note that the plural form is used here even though its subject — el rey como el labriego (the king as well as the farmhand) — would be grammatically singular in English. As a general rule in Spanish, two singular nouns joined by a word or phrase that means "as well as" take a plural verb.

Levantemos is the first-person plural imperative form of levantar. "Un trono levantemos" (an unusual word order is used here to fit the music) could also have been translated as "let's lift up a throne."

Labriego is an old word referring to a farmer or peasant. It has been mostly replaced in modern usage by labrador.

Alternative Spanish Version

Here are the lyrics and translation for the first verse of another public-domain version of the song:

¿Quién es este niño, que tendido para descansar
sobre el regazo de Maria, está durmiendo?
A quién los ángeles cantan con dulces himnos
Mientras los pastores guardan vigilia?
Este es Cristo el Rey,
A quien los pastores resguardan y los ángeles cantan;
¡Deprisa!, ¡deprisa! ir a alabarlo,
¡al Niño, el hijo de Maria!

Who is this boy, the one inclined to rest
on Mary's lap, is sleeping?
To whom do the angels swing with sweet hymns
While the shepherds keep watch?
This is Christ the King,
Whom the shepherds keep watch over and the angels sing to.
Hurry! Hurry! Go praise him,
the boy, the son of Mary!

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Erichsen, Gerald. "‘What Child Is This?’ in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-child-is-this-in-spanish-que-nino-es-este-3079493. Erichsen, Gerald. (2020, August 27). ‘What Child Is This?’ in Spanish. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-child-is-this-in-spanish-que-nino-es-este-3079493 Erichsen, Gerald. "‘What Child Is This?’ in Spanish." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-child-is-this-in-spanish-que-nino-es-este-3079493 (accessed April 2, 2023).

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