Ahhhh Christmastime. It’s such a wonderful time of year, isn’t it? To me it means slowing down from the busy-busy of day-to-day life and re-channeling those efforts towards family and the season at hand. I’m excited to share with you today what Christmastime in Puerto Rico is like.
Christmas in Puerto Rico (Navidad en Puerto Rico)
Puerto Rico has a very long Christmas season. It runs from early December all the way through January 6th, which is Three Kings Day (the Epiphany). It’s long and it’s never dull! It used to go past this date, through mid-January, but as generations become more Americanized, you are more likely to see celebrations stop right after Los Reyes come. Here is the breakdown of a Puerto Rican Christmas season:
- Noche Buena: Christmas Eve December 24
- Navidad: Christmas Day December 25
- Año Viejo: New Year’s Eve December 31
- Año Nuevo: New Year’s Day January 1
- Víspera de Reyes: Three Kings Eve January 5
- Día de Reyes: Three Kings Day January 6
One of the most notable traditions in the Puerto Rican Christmas season is parrandas or caroling. But make no mistake – this is not your traditional caroling. As parranda is a small group of friends and family gathering together to surprise people with lots of great and loud music. Many play instruments like guitars, tambourines, güiros, maracas, and palitos ( hollow wooden instrument sticks). Basically, anything that makes noise. Often you’ll find someone with a tambor (a drum) too!
Here is a video of a real Parranda.
They’ll gather together outside of the home they are going to sing at and yell “asalto!” (literally translated assault) and start to play instruments and sing. Each one usually lasts about an hour, or even two. The destination houses usually have a little hint that they’ll be getting some visitors so there is lots of food and great drinks to enjoy!
After this, they move on to the next house usually taking along a few people from the previous house. By the end of the night (or the next morning) – the group is now a few cars full and a great crowd!
Here is some traditional music that is played by the group.
Another tradition during the Puerto Rican holiday season is to cook a pig on a spit. It’s an event in and of itself. Usually starting early in the morning before dawn, the pig is put to cook. You’ll have at least to men watching it while making sure the heat is being distributed well by rotating the pole. This is usually done in someone’s back yard.
I remember this so vividly back home. My father would always go all out and it was always a hit! While the lechón (pig) is roasting that day the family is gathered together listening to lots of holiday music, singing, and enjoying desserts and great drinks. Kids are playing and running round while everyone enjoys their time.
Traditional foods from a Puerto Rican Christmas are foods such as pasteles, lechón asado, arroz con dulce, coquito (our version of eggnog), and I’m sure there are so many more that I am forgetting.
We would usually do the pig on a spit for New Year’s or Three Kings Day. I think we would alternate the years as I remember it being on both equally. Pasteles were always a hit on Christmas Eve but they were consumed all through the season much like coquito (eggnog).
Año Viejo (New Year’s Eve) is spent in just as much celebration. The family gathers together, usually with close family friends, and everyone gets all dressed up to welcome the New Year! At midnight the whole family pops poppers, and lights little twinkly lights.
Día de Reyes celebrations begin the eve of Three Kings Day at home, but all over the island, the days leading up, you’ll find lots of activities in the placitas (town squares). The Reyes visit, much like Santa does here in the states, and the kids tell them what they want but they also, very often, are giving out gifts!
The Fortaleza (the Governor House) of Puerto Rico traditionally holds a big celebration for families. Here’s a video clip from the last one.
On the eve of Three Kings Day kids gather grass in a shoe-box to put out for the camels to eat along with a bowl of water for each.
My dad would always make a huge mess throughout the house with a trail that the “camels” left. It was so fun waking up to that on Three Kings Day! I love doing the same for my kids and it always provokes a sweet giggle from them when they wake up. Usually followed by “man those camels sure are messy!”
After three kings came the Octavas and Octavitas. And lasted for 8 days (hence the name) each. They were 8 days of glorifying Christ and the 8 more days of continued adoration to Christ. But I personally do not recall celebrating this, though my family did celebrate this at one time for sure. I think with time traditions began to fade out and at this time Christmas in Puerto Rico comes to an end right after Three Kings Day.
I hope you enjoyed getting a little peek at what Christmas in Puerto Rico is like!! I’d LOVE to hear about your Christmastime festivities and celebrations!
Be sure to visit other posts in this linkup about what Christmas looks like around the world!