How fun to be in the islands for Christmas, Today, Michelle Creamer shares with us what it's like in Puerto Rico for Christmas.
Navidad (Christmas) in Puerto Rico is unlike any other I have ever experienced. Puerto Ricans have incorporated their Caribbean, African, and Spanish heritage while embracing some American customs. A mixture of lots of the Christmas around the world traditions we've seen so far.
The city of San Juan was named as one of the top ten places to visit during the holiday season. In early November there is an excitement in the air for the start of the Christmas season. Puerto Ricans have already begun adorning their homes, porches and lawns with American style Christmas trees, lights and other decorations.
Town plazas have started setting out their huge Christmas displays including beautiful manger scenes, figures of the three kings, and decorations showing the unique cultural aspect of their municipalities. It is difficult to find even a single building not decorated for the holiday season.
In the malls, Christmas markets have opened where you can buy local trinkets and food. Small musical bands with guitars, cuatros, güiros, and maracas walk through crowds of shoppers playing traditional Christmas music. Children eagerly come to sit at tables resembling Los Reyes (Three Kings) as well as Santa Clause to write their letters. Afterwards, they carefully place the letters in slots in front of them.
The November Parrandas
In late November, it is time for Puerto Rico’s well-known holiday tradition called parrandas. In the past, parrandas were very similar to Christmas caroling. A group of people would gather in the evening with their musical instruments to go over to a friend’s home. They would surprise their friend with Christmas music. This would last about an hour or two until the homeowner offers some refreshments. Then they would all, including the friend, move on to another house and continue the procession. This would last all through the night until dawn.
Nowadays, in the evening, the group meets at a local business or restaurant instead of a house. The singers, usually dressed in costumes or traditional Puerto Rican Christmas attire, climb into the back of a modified tractor trailer with their musical instruments. T
he truck is decorated from top to bottom with lights and greenery. The tractor trailer drives around to the different neighborhoods. The loud honking, lights, and Christmas music prompt people especially children to come out of their homes to watch them pass by.
While the musicians sing, they also throw out candy and sometimes small gifts. This usually goes on till late at night and finishes back at a local business or restaurant that provides food and refreshments for the parranda. The parrandas continue through the entire holiday season, ending the morning of Día de Reyes (Three Kings Day).
Puerto Rican Christmas Preparations
Mid-December is when many of the festivities come into full swing. All the towns have a festival not only to celebrate Christmas, but also to show off the distinct heritage of their area.
Catholic churches begin having their special services including masses and singings. This leads all the way up to Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). Carports and porches are filled with beautifully decorated tables and chairs ready to receive the family for their holiday meal.
The Traditional Christmas Meal
The meal includes traditional dishes like lechón asado (roasted pork), served with pasteles (mashed green bananas filled with meat and wrapped in banana leaves), and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas). The dessert table often includes tembleque (custard made from coconut milk), and rice or bread pudding.
After the meal, families and friends stay to play games and listen to Christmas music. Quiet is not a word that can describe a Puerto Rican Christmas. These gatherings can linger late into the night. Some Puerto Ricans spend Christmas day recovering from the night before. While many Puerto Rican families now follow the American custom of opening presents from Santa Clause on Christmas morning.
New Year's Eve in Puerto Rico
Despedida de Año (New Year’s Eve) is another big celebration in Puerto Rico. Many families gather together to anxiously wait for midnight. A meal is served while they are waiting. Music and games are usually played to pass the time. As it draws near, we begin to gather outside to wait for the beautiful spectacle.
As we excitedly wait for the arrival of the new year, people around us begin to set off fireworks. On the stroke of midnight, fireworks go off everywhere! Not just in the town plazas, but neighbors join in on the fun as well. The whole sky is lit up with an array of colors and sparkle. This can last for a full ten minutes, but some continue to set them off throughout the night.
Puerto Rican 3 Kings Day
Like many other Hispanic cultures, the holiday season does not end on Christmas day. Día de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day) is recognized and celebrated on January 6th. The night before Día de Los Reyes, children go outside and cut down grass. Afterwards, they place the grass in shoes boxes for the Kings’ camels to eat.
As day breaks, trucks with loud speakers will drive through all the neighborhoods waking the children. They happily awake to discover the grass has been eaten and a gift has been left by Los Reyes (the three Kings). Although, there is supposed to be 8 more days of celebration to follow, many Puerto Ricans choose this as the last day of the holiday season. However, many business and homes will leave their Christmas decorations up until the end of January.
Michelle R. Creamer and her family are missionaries on the island of Puerto Rico. You can connect with her here.