For a half century of “Feliz Navidad,” Jose Feliciano has been wishing the world “A Merry Christmas.” This year, as situations are for so many, it’s a bit different.
“Christmas time is always crazy for everyone,” his wife, Susan Feliciano, said from their home in Connecticut. “Traditionally you add a Christmas carol that people love to hear and love to share with Jose, and he’s usually out there working. It’s very, very busy.
“This year,” she continued, “He’s home, but even though he misses the people out there, he’s been able to work on this lovely project and celebrate 50 years of ‘Feliz Navidad.’ He wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if he had been out there.”
The golden anniversary is taking place across all media.
The song has been reimagined, and performed by 39 musicians from nine countries. The ‘Feliz Navidad 50th Anniversary FN50’ is available on Amazon Music.
Amazon is allowing customers to ask “Alexa, tell me about the song ‘Feliz Navidad’,” or “Alexa, what is José Feliciano’s favorite holiday memory?” and hear a recorded response from Feliciano himself.
New hardcover editions of the illustrated children’s book “José Feliciano's Feliz Navidad 50th Anniversary” are available in English and Spanish. An animated video by the same title is available exclusively on Prime Video.
The video and book follow the journey of three children — Marie from Paris, Xavier from New York and Camila from Puerto Rico. In anticipation of Christmas Day, the children follow the music of superhero José Feliciano singing Feliz Navidad to people from all over the world gathering to hear the true meaning of Christmas. The video made its debut at the Nashville Film Festival alongside the new documentary “José Feliciano: Behind This Guitar,” which was awarded Best Hispanic Film at the festival.
Feliciano is also marking the anniversary on television. A Dec. 7 appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon was recorded at Factory Underground Studio in Norwalk. He was featured on “CBS Sunday Morning” Dec. 13. There’s a Christmas project with Fox, Susan said, and a streaming concert that will go global Dec. 20.
Produced by Rick Jarrard, the song was recorded in October 1970 and released a month later, but did not hit the Billboard Hot 100 until 1998. It hit the Top 100 again in 2017, and again in 2019, and has been named one of the top 25 most played and recorded Christmas songs by ASCAP.
“When Rick suggested to me to write a song for Christmas, I didn’t know if I could write a song that could meet up with ‘White Christmas,’” or similar songs, Feliciano said. “Those songs, when you hear them as a little kid, you say to yourself, ‘How can I compete with songs like that?’ I’ve always been a competitor. I’ve always been an achiever. I’ve always wanted to succeed.”
But when “Feliz Navidad” was finished, Feliciano was not convinvced.
“Rick thought it was going to be a big hit,” Feliciano said. “I wasn’t so sure. But the minute I heard everything arranged — the music with the arrangement, the strings, the brass ... I was really excited.”
The lyrics alternate between English and Spanish, “because I didn’t want the stations to find some reason not to play the record.”
It’s resonated with listeners on a personal level. Susan recalls a father and daughter from New Zealand who would race to contact the other the first time each Christmas season they heard “Feliz Navidad.” Then the artist was looped in.
“It’s being part of somebody’s life,” Susan said. “If you can make somebody smile, if you can take someone outside of what they’re dealing with — and we’re all dealing with stuff — this is a blessing.”
Being home this year has also allowed Felicano to play music with his sons, Jonnie on drums and Mikie on bass, including for the Jimmy Fallon segment.
Daughter Melissa Feliciano Erickson is manager of museum services at The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk.
“It’s a privilege for me to play with my children,” Feliciano said.
“A lot of good things have happened because of ‘Feliz Navidad,’” he said. “The main thing I’m happy about is all the joy it brings to people every Christmas, and all the charities that have been helped by my song.”