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Little Donkey


Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without hearing the song, Little Donkey, but what is this heart-warming carol about and who wrote it?


Song origins

Many people are surprised to discover that the popular Christmas song, Little Donkey, was written just under 60 years ago. Unlike other traditional carols, such as Silent Night, composed in 1816, or Away In A Manger, written in 1887, Little Donkey is a fairly recent Christmas ditty.

Sunderland-born Eric Boswell is credited for composing Little Donkey back in 1959. At the time, he had been writing quite serious music, which he steadily became frustrated with. He wanted to compose something less complicated and came up with the idea to write a simple song that children could sing along to. A huge fan of Christmas, Eric tried to think of Christmas themes that had not yet been written about, and it was the idea of Mary travelling to Bethlehem on a donkey that inspired his lyrics.

Little Donkey Credit: bmatrix / Adobe stock

Little Donkey quickly caught the attention of international publishing house, Chappell, in London. It became an instant hit, reaching number one in the UK Sheet Music Chart in 1959.

Although the carol had been written with children singing it in mind, it was well-known names such as Gracie Fields, Vera Lynn, the Beverley Sisters, Nina and Frederick, and Aled Jones who made the song famous. Both Gracie Fields and the Beverley Sisters enjoyed chart success twice with Little Donkey, while the version by Danish singers Nina and Frederick peaked at number three in the charts.

Little Donkey also experienced international acclaim and was translated into many different languages. Composer Eric especially liked the French version, stating that it translated exceptionally well in this language. He also once remarked in an interview that you could hear kangaroos in the background of an Australian version of the carol.

Although Eric enjoyed massive success with Little Donkey, he did not want to become known as someone who wrote religious tunes. His next compositions were a complete departure from Little Donkey - he wrote humorous lyrics that depicted the life and times of a Geordie. His later songs included 'I've Got a Little Whippet' and 'Supermarket Blues'.

Eric passed away in November 2009, aged 88. A week after his death, a new album of his songs was released, including a version of Little Donkey recorded by Eric's pal Graeme Danby and Gracie Fields. Although Gracie died in 1979, digital technology enabled the two voices to duet together on the track.



Popular today

Little Donkey is as popular today at Christmas as it was when it was first recorded. Frequently featuring in the top five Christmas carol polls, alongside classics such as Silent Night and Away In A Manger, Little Donkey is a staple tune at Christmas concerts and children's nativity plays.

Certainly, Eric's desire to create a simple tune that children can sing has been fulfilled. Written in a single octave, it's easy to play and boasts a beautiful simplicity that tells the traditional tale of Christmas.

Whether you have donkeys or horses in your stables, make sure they are comfortable and warm this Christmas, with the high-quality animal rubber matting available from Coruba.

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