Hi everyone! I hope you’ve had a great time this holiday season, lighting up Christmas trees, wrapping gifts, spending time with family and friends, doing everything you love.
For those of you who wonder how Christmas is spent in Puerto Rico, I want to share with you how we do it and what I like to do with my loved ones too.
Let’s talk about the Christmas tree. That most of us put it right after Thanksgiving. That’s when our Christmas starts, up until the 20th of January (I will explain why). The house decorating takes a little more time. At least a week or two.
Let the recitals, ‘parrandas’ and festivities begin!
The Nativity Story
This time of the year, Puerto Ricans like to observe the birth of baby Jesus at community churches (Catholic and Christian denominations) by making the Nativity Story’s plays or recitals to bring a fresh reflective message to the congregation and visitors about the meaning of Christmas.
Some towns have their own activity schedule and programs with plays about the Nativity Story with local actors, and its free of charge.
Trovadours’ festivals and contests
The season brings out the best of local musicians and bands to the countryside’s Christmas fairs. There are contests being held in different municipalities where trovadours sing their best rhymed verses called ‘décimas’, about culture, our history, Christmas customs and life in the Island. You can also enjoy the works of local artists in paintings, handmade fashion, jewelry, pottery and more. Let’s not forget the traditional candy stands! Haha.
Unexpected visitors bring the party
Let the parrandas begin! Puerto Ricans like to visit family and friends’ houses carrying music instruments, maracas, tamborines, cow bells, sticks, or just clapping hands to start the ‘parrandas’ (in the US is carolling, but we tune in louder and the most funny lyrics sang for generations). At the parrandas, the home owners that could be warned or not about the party, have to be prepared with typical food like: chicken soup, arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), Puerto Rican white cheese and guava paste with crackers, alcoholic or virgin ‘coquito’ (creamy coconut drink) and hot cocoa. Or they can also receive some of these edible delights from the guests.
La ruta del lechón (The pork route)
It is a Puerto Rican custom to visit Guavate in the town of Cayey to eat pork, and crunchy pork skin, root vegetables or tubers like sweet potato, cassava, ñame, yautía, malanga and also boiled green bananas along side arroz con gandules and pasteles (cassava or plantain dough stuffed with pork or chicken).
At Guavate you will also find kiosks with beautiful jewelry or clothing made by local artists. The place also invites locals and tourists to get the best pictures taken for the natural and gorgeous landscape.
Misa de gallo (The rooster’s mass)
Due to our Spanish heritage the Catholic celebrate the rooster’s mass on midnight of Christmas Eve to conmemorate Jesus’ birth.
Noche Buena (Christmas Eve)
Family, friends and neighbors gather to enjoy great Puerto Rican food and desserts (including the famous coconut drink ‘coquito’) they sing and dance to the traditional music not only ours but the all time Christmas songs. Some families start moving from one house to the other to bring the joyful tunes of aguinaldos, parrandas, at the sound of bomba, plena, and décimas (for those trovadours in the group, hehe). Some can keep up until the sun comes up, if there aren’t kids to surprise with Santa’s gifts the nex day…
On Christmas morning, kids enjoy their gifts as well as adults which also is a big deal among them; because we too expect to be gifted something nice, ha ha! Also the parrandas, aguinaldos, and all kinds of parties continue with our delicious traditional food (or leftovers from Christmas Eve). The visits to the grandparents’ are a must and gathering with our loved ones to open gifts and enjoy a blessed day all together is what distinguishes our Christmas.
New Years Eve
On this day some Puerto Ricans party in the evening. This is not a holiday, but those who can go to hotel parties or spend their time with family and friends, usually make plans and enjoy it until the clock strikes 12.
Some of the very Puerto Rican NYE traditions are:
>Eating 12 grapes for good luck all year long
>Spreading rice all over ourselves and the house at midnight, to make sure we have an abundant year
>Playing maracas, whistles, cow bells or any type of percussion instrument to welcome the New Year with joy
>Saying a prayer to bless our families and friends, to declare all sorts of blessings upon us for the New Year
>The superstitious like to mop the house previous to the NYE celebration and after the clock strikes 12 they throw the dirty water out of the house to clean the house from negative vibes
I know there are more traditions, but it’ll be overwhelming…
New Year’s Day
Pretty much since midnight, after celebrating the New Year has come and congratulating those we spent the evening with, the party doesn’t stop. There’s more dancing, laughing, eating and singing; for some until the sun comes out.
During the day, the families visit their loved ones who live in other towns or receive their visit. There’s always the traditional food to delight everyone’s pallate and while people talk about the night before or their plans for the new year, you can hear the folkloric music in the background.
Fiesta de Reyes (Día de Reyes)
Día de Reyes or Three Kings’Day (the three wise men) celebration is conmemorated on January 6. The government prepares months before the event to gather thousands of toys for the children.
At our house and many others the kids gather a bunch of green grass for the Three Kings’ camels to eat when they pass by and they put it under their beds. This is a very Puertorican tradition. On January 6, the kids look under their beds to find the gifts that the Three Kings left them.
Las Octavitas (8 more days of Christmas)
Because we love to party, let’s repeat the parrandas, eating, singing, dancing, corporate parties and friends keep visiting and bearing gifts too.
Fiestas de la calle San Sebastián (5 days of celebration in San Juan)
This festival (Fiestas de la calle San Sebastian) take place in our capital city, San Juan. The people gather there to enjoy local food, drinks, local art, music, sometimes there are different stages with diverse performances like plays, trovadours, new singers or reknowned artists. It is the time when all of Puertoricans enjoy the last week of Christmas and with the same energized spirit prepare for a new year of challenges, victories and more holidays to come.
If you liked this cultural overview of Puertorican Christmas, feel free to share it! Also, I’d love to read your comments and know how you liked it.