Pat-a-pan, a Spooky Holiday Carol?
by Emerian Rich
My favorite holiday song is a French Christmas Carol called “Pat-a-pan” written by Bernard de La Monnoye and first published in 1720. Written way before “The Little Drummer Boy” (circa 1941) it has the same sort of concept. A young boy playing a drum in celebration of the birth of Christ.
“Willie, bring your little drum, Robin bring your fife and come!
And be merry while you play, ture-lure-lu, pata-pata-pan,
Come be merry while you play for the joy of Christmas day.”
Often played as an instrumental due to the awesome drum and flute parts that can be highlighted without vocals, “Pat-a-pan” is most well known by the Mannheim Steamroller version here:
I fell in love with this song in high school choir where we learned the French lyrics which meant nothing to me. Its haunting melody and renaissancy sound always made me feel as if there were some underlying tale, like it spoke of a story without using words. Very few songs can evoke feelings in just the music – without lyrics.
You might be wondering what this has to do with horror. It’s hard to imagine such a benign song conjuring evil images, but one year when playing it around my husband I found out. The ultimate scrooge when it comes to Christmas music, my husband quirked a brow and said, “I kind of like this one. It’s spooky.”
I had to know more!
You see, his vision of “Pat-a-pan” plays out a bit differently than the “Willie, bring your drum” message that La Monnoye thought up. Instead of little Willie and Robin rallying the town into Christmas spirit by playing their drum and fife, his version features another little boy.
Patapan is a little ghost or demon boy who runs around up in the attic. I’m not sure of the extent of evil he perpetrates (hubby wasn’t clear on the deets) but he was sure nothing good could come from it. The thought of the evil minion “pat-a-panning” around up in the attic makes my husband happy (as it would any self-respecting horror addict).
So, I play this shared favorite faithfully every year and grin at my husband’s dark imaginings. I’ll never share the actual lyrics with him and burst his happy twisted bubble—ever.
Now, listen to the instrumental version again and conjure the image of a pasty-skinned, shadow-eyed boy in an old school uniform, haunting your attic.
For those of you curious about the English lyrics, my favorite vocal version is by Mindy Gledhill below.
Have a spooky connection to a holiday carol? Tell us! We can’t wait to share it.