Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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10 of the Best Halloween Costumes for Your Dog

Amazon/Chewy
Amazon/Chewy

Although trick-or-treating might look a little different this year, there’s no reason why you (or your favorite pet) still can’t celebrate Halloween in style. To help you get in the spooky spirit with your four-legged housemates, we’ve rounded up some of 2020’s best—and cutest—costumes for your dogs. Whether your little monster wants to pay homage to their favorite horror movie or simply don a festive sweater, one of these costumes is guaranteed to earn them an extra treat or two.

1. Taco Dog; $19-$20

Rubie's/Amazon

Dogs and tacos are two of the internet's favorite things, so why not combine them into one? This delightful costume features a sombrero headpiece and taco bodysuit that includes all the necessary taco fixings, like lettuce, cheese, meat, tomatoes, and guac. The costume sizes range from small to XL, so no matter if your dog is best described as a mini taquito or a beefed-up burrito, they'll be able to find a perfect Halloween fit.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Wonder Woman and Superman; $15-$25

Rubie's/Amazon

All dogs are superheroes, even if their most valiant feat is greeting you at the door when you come home. Your pet can show off their inner helper in one of these officially licensed costumes from DC Comics. The Wonder Woman costume features the superheroine’s signature emblem on the back, with a sweet tiara and tutu completing the look. The Superman costume, meanwhile, is fitted with a dramatic cape that’s sure to get them an extra bone or two when going for their evening walk.

Buy it: Wonder Woman and Superman on Amazon

3. Hogwarts Outfit; $15-$16

Impoosy/Amazon

“Yer a wizard, Sparky!” Impoosy’s Hogwarts-inspired costume takes the magic of Halloween to the next level. The set has an adjustable Velcro cape, striped tie, and a pair of glasses so your pet can embrace their inner boy-who-lived (lightning bolt scar not included). As a fun bonus, the costume comes in four different colors, so your pet can sport their house colors in style … after trying on the Sorting Hat, of course.

Buy it: Amazon

4. U.S. Mail Carrier; $18-$19

California Costume Company/Amazon

If you’d rather dress your dog up as a real-life hero, try a U.S. Postal worker. Postal workers deliver the mail in spite of snow, rain, and sleet, and this clever costume will allow your pet to honor the workers who are as faithful as man’s best friend. California Costume’s Mail Carrier ensemble has a combined shirt and front legs piece with attached “arms,” which hold your dog’s special delivery via Velcro. Show your appreciation for your dog's service with a spoonful of peanut butter (your real mailperson might actually like that, too).

Buy it: Amazon

5. Any Star Wars Costume; $6-$28

Rubie's/Amazon

The Force will be with your four-legged friend this Halloween. The Star Wars collection from Rubie's has looks for all of your favorite characters, including R2-D2, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Yoda, and more. If your pet doesn’t exactly love dressing up for the holidays, the collection also includes smaller items like this Yoda ears headpiece, so they can still get in the spirit even without a full getup.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Where’s Waldo?; $25-$29

Rubie's/Chewy

Your pet will stand out in the crowd in this adorable Where’s Waldo? costume. Featuring Waldo’s iconic red and white striped sweater, beanie, and glasses, this officially licensed set is perfect on its own or for matching with a two-legged human. The hat and felt glasses include an elastic chin strap and adjustable ear loops, so your pup will stay stylish and comfortable all night long. They might not be wandering around a crowd of 500 people like their bookish counterpart, but at least they'll look great while social distancing.

Buy it: Chewy

7. Fair Isle Halloween Sweater; $14-$16

Frisco/Chewy

Whether your pet wants to keep it more casual this year or have an excuse to celebrate for the entire month of October, Frisco’s Fair Isle sweater will put the “howl” in their Halloween look. The orange and black sweater is embellished with traditional Halloween images—ghosts, Jack-O’-Lanterns, skulls, cats, bats, and gravestones—that are much more endearing than they are spooky. The sweater also contains a leash hole, so your furry pal can show off his look both inside and outside the house.

Buy it: Chewy

8. Pennywise; $18-$22

Rubie's/Chewy

There’s nothing more fun than playing with your pet, but this terrifying Pennywise costume might just make you think twice. With its sickeningly cheerful tassels and buttons, orange wig, and plush “balloon,” this costume might even scare you if your pet wears it for too long. If It isn’t your thing, check out these Freddy Kreuger and Chucky-inspired costumes to add some extra fright to your night.

Buy it: Chewy

9. Jack Skellington; $20-$22

Rubie's/Chewy

This look is the opposite of a nightmare before Christmas. Disney’s officially licensed Jack Skellington costume from Rubie’s Costume Company highlights The Pumpkin King’s classic outfit, which includes a pinstriped jacket, bat bowtie, and headpiece with a printed image of Jack’s smiling face. Despite Jack’s Christmas obsession, this look embraces his trademark style. This is Halloween, after all.

Buy it: Chewy

10. Headless Rider; $18

Frisco/Chewy

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of America’s most infamous ghost stories. Celebrate Washington Irving’s beloved folktale by turning your pet into the headless horseman’s ghoulish accomplice. This is a great option for pets who might not like getting dressed up, but who feel comfortable wearing simple thunder jackets or shirts. Simply fasten the cape around them via hook-and-loop fasteners, and presto! They’re automatically the companion of a plush, headless terror (terror being relative, in this case).

Buy it: Chewy

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