Yankee Doodle Dandy: More than a Patriotic Song
Updated: Apr 14
How Yankee Doodle turned teasing and taunts on its head... and made a fabulous hat for the occasion!
“Yankee Doodle Dandy'' is a favorite at Primerrily. It’s also the state anthem of Connecticut. But this song hits more than a patriotic note. The origins of the term “Yankee Doodle Dandy'' are not as widely known as the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” So join us in the Treehouse as we share Dandy’s backstory, sing about him, and craft his famous cap (in which he stuck that famous feather… and we’ll explain the “macaroni”).
Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni
Yankee Doodle keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
Ad with the girls be handy
(abridged lyrics for kids)
A cheery tune with playful lyrics, who would think that the term “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was originally intended to mock the new American “Yankee”? But from the perspective of the British, particularly the elites, gritty pioneering Americans were viewed as “dödels,” which translates to “simpletons.” And a “dandy” is a man who places obsessive importance on appearance, fashion, and leisure. Macaroni -- meaning fashionable -- was the look that Yankee Doodle Dandy was going for merely by sticking a feather in his cap. So clearly, there is nothing flattering about being called a “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” In today’s vernacular, the British might ridicule with “Yankee poser!”
Sure, American style was not as refined as that of the British. After all, we were a scrappy new nation… but a scrappy and confident new nation. We were not going to let silly taunts get under our skin. How funny that this is something we love telling our kids! The simultaneously held values of confidence, humility, and fortitude enabled our revolutionary-era Americans to turn an insult on its head:
“By 1781, when the British surrendered at Yorktown, being called a "Yankee Doodle" had gone from being an insult to a point of pride, and the song had become the new republic’s unofficial national anthem.” Yankee Doodle - Songs and Poetry- Lyrical Legacy | Teacher Resources*
Today, the Yankee Doodle Dandy expression continues to evoke playful patriotism. The song’s lyrics were drafted with lighthearted grit in the face of ridicule. In celebration of Yankee Doodle Dandy’s character, hats off to him!
Ideas for discussion:
Ask your child: What are some ways kids might have teased you that we can turn into a source of uniqueness or distinction? (e.g. wearing glasses)
Ask your child: What are some styles and ways you like to dress up which are unique to you, and some ways which are similar to others?
Arts & crafts & song: Sing along with your kids as you craft Yankee Doodle Dandy’s cap… feather encouraged!
"... a quick and classic folding trick. You can make this hat from a standard piece of printer paper or newspaper. You can decorate the hat to your fancy, and you can teach your friends! Read on to learn how...: -WikiHow Authors
P.S. If your kids want more Yankee Doodle Dandy in their repertoire (it's just so fun to sing!), you might recall this one from your childhood: the chorus line to the hit Broadway song, "The Yankee Doodle Boy":
I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy
A Yankee Doodle, do or die
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam
Born on the Fourth of July!
I've got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart
She's my Yankee Doodle joy;
Yankee Doodle came to [town]
just to ride the ponies
I am the Yankee Doodle Boy!
-- Little Johnny Jones by George M. Cohan, 1904
*Editor's note: The Yankee Doodle Lyrical Legacy page has been removed from The Library of Congress's website. We've notified the website (submit your feedback via the page as well!), and hope that the page returns soon. In the meantime, please visit Digital History (uh.edu) for a reproduction of the information from LOC.