Dominick the Donkey: the famous American-Italian Christmas song

Dominick the Donkey an American-Italian story

As soon as the Christmas holiday arrives, people love to sing and play the same lists of Christmas songs over and over again. Most of you may have heard the Dominick the Donkey song already during Christmas time. But what is its history? How did it become so famous around the world? We prepared all the answers for you down below, so keep on reading.

What is the “Dominick the Donkey” song about?

“Dominick the Donkey” or “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey” is an American-Italian Christmas song, describing a donkey who helps Santa Claus in bringing presents specially made in Brooklyn to the children in Italy. Indeed, as the reindeer had a hard time climbing Italy’s hills, Dominick (the donkey) was the perfect fit for the job!

This song is very special during Christmas in Italy since Italians love to listen to it pretty much every day from the beginning of December until the end of January. Furthermore, Italians also like to enjoy this song during summertime. The song began to gather attention in many countries around the world during the holiday season as it has catchy lyrics and a fun rhythm.

How is the song “Dominick the Donkey” so famous now?

Back in 1960, this Christmas song was not that big of a hit at first. Nevertheless, it was well on the road to becoming a cult classic in Italian-American households. The donkey symbol was so well-known that in 1977, a movie later symbolized Santa’s Donkey in a television special (Nestor The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.) Nonetheless, the donkey’s name in that movie was Spieltote, not Dominick.

Several years later, this Christmas song was on international headlines when a popular BBC DJ (Chris Moyles) set up a movement for pushing the song onto the UK singles chart. Chris Moyles said: “If we must leave Britain one thing, it should be that each Christmas, kids can listen to Dominick the Donkey song.” That year in 2011, it had hit number 3 on the UK singles chart. After that, the song was ranked as number 69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and number 23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart in 2014. Finally, it hit number 1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales in 2018.

Thereafter, during December 2019, this catchy Christmas song had exceeded 21 million plays on Spotify. Dominick has also been recently immortalized in fiction (Sylvan Beach, N.Y.). The author, Shirley Alarie released a two-part children’s book series in 2016, “A New Home for Dominick ” and “A New Family for Dominick,” telling the story of what happened to the beloved animal after his Christmas venture.

Who first wrote the “Dominick the Donkey” song?

Dominick the Donkey song was written by Ray Allen, Sam Saltzberg, and Wandra Merrell. It was first sung in 1960 by Lou Monte on Roulette Records. Lou Monte was born in New York, but his father and mother were born in Calabria. That is the reason why we can hear Monte’s Southern-Italian words and slang in “Dominick the Donkey” such as Paesan (which means fellow countrywomen and men), Tarantell (which is a popular Italian dance), Ciucciariell (means the little donkey), and many others. These Italian words are some lopped-off dialect words that Southern-Italians had brought to America.

In fact, Monte’s served the military during World War II. Luckily, he survived the war and decided to work his way up through the Jersey club and showroom scene, using his proud Calabrian heritage. After that, he became the King of American-Italian music and was well-known in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Eventually, he became widely famous for his American-Italian Christmas song, “Dominick the Donkey” which is now one of the most popular Christmas songs that can be heard everywhere around the world.

How does “Dominick the Donkey” play a political role?

“Dominick the Donkey” may seem like a funny song for kids, but as a matter of fact, this song is related to a significant political issue of that era. In 1960, Ethnic pride began to be an important social issue in the same period of the emergence of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. As Italian-Americans back then were treated as outsiders and experienced social ostracization in society, they used “Dominick the donkey” as the pride of their ethnicity.

Moreover, in 2012, Dominic DiFrisco, the president emeritus of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans said in an interview with Chicago Sun-Times: “To travel by donkey was universal in southern Italy as it was in Greece. Monte is playing easy with history, but it’s a pretty song. Plus, Monte was one of the hottest singers in America at the time.”

What is Dominick’s personality from the lyrics?

From the lyrics, Dominick the donkey wasn’t just the name of the song, but was the name of a very kind donkey “who never kicked but loved dancing”. Once ol’ Dom (Dominick) began shaking its tail, the old folks — cummares (which means godmothers) and cumpares (which means godfathers) — joined the fun and danced a tarentell. Furthermore, Dominick liked wearing jingle bells around his feet and he had the presents (shoes and dresses that are specially made in Brooklyn) on the sled. He also liked wearing the mayor’s derby hat as he had to look smart and sharp while serving the gifts to children.

Now you know how important this Christmas song is for American-Italian people and how it became such a famous song during Christmas time. Don’t forget to tell your children or your friends about this song and enjoy singing it along.


No Comments

Leave a Comment