Mele Kalikimaka

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"Mele Kalikimaka"
Single
Released1950
Genre
Songwriter(s)
  • Robert Alex Anderson

"Mele Kalikimaka" (pronounced [ˈmɛlɛ kəˌlikiˈmɐkə]) is a Hawaiian-themed Christmas song written in 1949 by R. Alex Anderson. The song takes its title from the Hawaiian phrase Mele Kalikimaka, meaning "Merry Christmas".[1] One of the earliest recordings of this song was by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1950 on Decca.[2] It has been covered by many artists and used in several films (including L.A. Confidential, Catch Me If You Can, and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation).

History of the song[edit]

Anderson recalled the inspiration for writing the song in 1949 while working at Vonn Hamm-Young:[3]

Well, I'll tell ya, a stenographer in our office, this was just before Christmas, and we are all leaving (5 o'clock), and she was next to me and she said, "Mr. Anderson, how come there's no Hawaiian Christmas songs?" She said, "they take all the hymns and they put Hawaiian words to the hymns, but there's no original melody." Well, that spurred me right away – I thought, "what a good idea!" I thought this over, and over a period of a few days this came into my head, put it down on paper, and I've been singing it ever since.[4]

Bing Crosby was a frequent visitor and golf partner of Anderson. Anderson played the song for Crosby, who liked it so much that he surprised Anderson with the 1950 recording.[5] In 1955, the song became part of Crosby's famous compilation album Merry Christmas. According to Anderson's daughter Pam, the family still receives revenues from all over the world every year from his songs including Mele Kalikimaka.[5]

Origin of the phrase[edit]

The expression Mele Kalikimaka is a loan phrase from English. But since the Hawaiian language has a different phonological system from English, it is not possible to render a pronunciation that is especially close to Merry Christmas. Standard Hawaiian does not have the /r/ or /s/ sounds of English and its phonotactic constraints do not permit consonants at the end of syllables or consonant clusters. Thus the closest approximation to Merry Christmas is Mele Kalikimaka.[6] The earliest record of Mele Kalikimaka in print is from 1904, in the Hawaiian language newspaper Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, published between 1861 and 1927.[7]

The phrase is derived from English as follows:

Merry Christmas
Every consonant must be followed by a vowel in Hawaiian. The T is removed, since it is already silent in English.
Merry Carisimasa
C is not a letter in Hawaiian; the closest phonetic equivalent is K.
Merry Karisimasa
R is not a letter in Hawaiian; it is equivalent to L. Y is replaced by E, the sound it already denotes in English.
Mele Kalisimasa
S is not a letter in Hawaiian; the closest phonetic equivalent is K.
Mele Kalikimaka

Charts[edit]

Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters version

Chart performance for "Mele Kalikimaka"
Chart (2020) Peak
position
Global 200 (Billboard)[8] 73
US Billboard Hot 100[9] 36
US Holiday 100 (Billboard)[10] 25
US Rolling Stone Top 100[11] 32

References[edit]

  1. ^ Elbert, S.; Pukui, M. Hawaiian Dictionary. p. 481.
  2. ^ "Decca matrix L 5830. Mele Kalikimaka / The Andrews Sisters ; Bing Crosby". Discography of American Historical Recordings. Archived from the original on December 28, 2019. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
  3. ^ Young, Peter T. (December 22, 2019). "Mele Kalikimaka". Images of Old Hawaiʻi. Archived from the original on December 25, 2019. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
  4. ^ kawika96797 (c. 1994). "R. Alex Anderson-Mele Kalikimaka". Retrieved December 28, 2019 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ a b "1998 Hall of Fame Honoree: R. Alex Anderson, The Composer Who Charmed Hawai'i and the World". Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on March 27, 2015.
  6. ^ Golston, Chris; Yang, Phong (2001). "White Hmong loanword phonology". In Féry, A.D. Green; van de Vijver, R. (eds.). Proceedings of HILP. 5. Potsdam: University of Potsdam. pp. 40–57.
  7. ^ Azambuja, Léo (December 1, 2015). "Mele Kalikimaka". For Kauai. Archived from the original on March 27, 2017. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
  8. ^ "Bing Crosby Chart History (Global 200)". Billboard. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  9. ^ "Bing Crosby Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved December 29, 2020.
  10. ^ "Bing Crosby Chart History (Holiday 100)". Billboard. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  11. ^ "Top 100 Songs". Rolling Stone. December 24, 2020. Retrieved December 30, 2020.

External links[edit]