Lullabies may be sweet, soothing bedtime songs, but they can also be creepy as hell when you really listen to the lyrics. (And if you’ve seen enough scary movie trailers, you know even the nice ones can sound freaky.)
This dark lullaby phenomenon is certainly not limited to the U.S. Parents around the world have lulled their babies to sleep with grim words about menacing monsters or violent circumstances.
Below, we’ve rounded up a sample of dark and disturbing lullabies from around the world.
This classic lullaby, which is well-known in much of the English-speaking world, sounds very sweet. But the ending is pretty unnerving, as it seems like a baby has fallen from a treetop to his or her death ... or at least serious injury.
Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
“Bíum Bíum Bambaló”
This Icelandic lullaby has been covered by Sigur Rós. While the lyrics “Bíum bíum bambaló, Bambaló og dillidillidó” are just soothing sounds meant to calm a baby, the subsequent lines are somewhat creepy, suggesting there’s a mysterious figure lurking outside the house.
My little friend I lull to rest.
A face waits at the window.
This Haitian lullaby is a bit menacing. The lyrics instruct the child to go to sleep, or fall prey to a crab. Other places in the Caribbean have similar lullabies with other creature threats like a big cat.
Sleep, little one.
If you don’t sleep,
The crab will eat you.
“Le Grand Lustucru”
It’s “le grand Lustucru” who’s crying.
He’s hungry and will eat
Raw and alive, without bread or butter,
All the little kids
Who aren’t asleep.
“Highland Fairy Lullaby”
This old Scottish lullaby tells the story of a mother whose baby was carried off by fairies while she gathered berries.
Hovan, Hovan Gorry og O
I’ve lost my darling baby, O!
“Nana Nenê” makes a reference to Cuca, a monstrous alligator in Brazilian folklore. Keeping in theme with other lullabies, this Portuguese-language song warns children that Cuca may be coming for them, so they need to quiet down.
Hush little baby
Cuca is coming to get you,
Papa went to the fields, mama went to work.
“Ninna Nanna, Ninna Oh”
The Italian term for lullaby is “ninna nanna,” and one famous ninna nanna is called “Ninna Nanna, Ninna Oh” ― which depicts a mother pondering whether to give her baby away to creatures like the white wolf, black ox or old hag. Other versions evoke the boyegman.
To whom shall I give this baby?
If I give him to the old hag, she’ll keep it for a week.
If I give him to the black ox, he’ll keep it for an entire year.
If I give it to the white wolf, he’ll keep it for a long time.
Many traditional Japanese lullabies are sad because they were written by young impoverished girls who had to leave their homes to take care of wealthier families’ babies. In one version of “Itsuki Lullaby,” the young caretaker laments being away and suggests that no one would care if she died.
I am a beggar, just a beggar
They are rich people
with good obi and good kimono.
Who will cry for me
When I die?
Only the cicadas in the mountains.
Please hush…my child…
There… The moon is full,
Like the head of a scary giant
One who’s looking for a crying child.
This Spanish lullaby speaks of a bogeyman-type monster named Coco who will eat children up if they don’t sleep.
Sleep little one.
Coco is coming
And he will eat you.
Then Sandman will rise up and knock quietly on the door
He has blue slippers and he’s tiptoeing with them
He is creeping in and jumps behind the closet
“Bayu Bayushki Bayu”
A version of this Russian lullaby warns of a little gray wolf who will drag a child into the woods if he or she lies too close to the edge of the bed.
On the edge you mustn’t lie
Or the little grey wolf will come
And will nip you and will nip you on the tum,
Tug you off into the wood
Underneath the willow-root.
“Lima Anak Ayam”
One chick dies
One chick dying leaves four
While the Scottish “Highland Fairy Lullaby” is about fairies kidnapping a baby, this Irish lullaby is about fairies carrying off a mother and holding her captive to care for their babies instead of her own.
Hush-a-by baby, babe not mine,
My woeful wail, do you pity never?
Hush-a-by baby, babe not mine,
A year ago I was snatched for ever.
“Mues Sang Få Hansemand”
Dad is working very hard, Mum has to help.
Hans cries again and again when she has to leave.
We have to work to earn a living. The children will suffer.
We cannot give them any better even though we want to.
“Incili Bebek Ninnisi”
This Turkish lullaby is related to a story about a man who promised to sacrifice three camels if his wife could have a child, but then decided to renege and keep the three camels after she gave birth. An eagle then carried the baby off and tore it to pieces. The song is from the perspective of the grief-stricken mother.
Above black eagles wheeling,
All of a sudden swooping,
My little baby stealing,
Sleep, little baby, sleep.
Above black eagles soaring,
A crown of pearls left lying,
Your stupid father snoring.
“Par Les Chemins Creux De La Lande”
Close your eyes, my little boy
The nasty werewolf takes away
The children who don’t sleep.
Then he skinned the Crow and cut her in pieces.
She weighed near sixteen and twenty pounds.
From the pelt he made twelve pair of shoes
He gave the best pair to Mother
And the meat he salted in vessels and barrels
And preserved the tongue for the Yule meal