December and January might just be the best time to live in Puerto Rico. When it comes to Christmas - Puerto Rico definitivamente lo hace mejor! You will find the most prettiest over-the-top Christmas decorations everywhere, the food is even more amazing than your everyday Puerto Rican comida (like that is even possible), there’s Christmas music playing everywhere and although there's absolutely no signs of snow (maybe an ugly Christmas sweater or two) the Christmas spirit is incredibly present. I’m telling you. When it comes to Christmas - there’s definitely no half-ass jingling happening - los Puertorriqueños jingle aaall the way!
Being Suecarriqueña (yes that is officially a thing now) Christmases have always been kind of a fusion of all my cultural heritages, sooo....this is actually the first time I’m celebrating a Puerto Rican Christmas, which I feel pretty darn excited about. Since I by no means would call myself an expert on how a Puerto Rican Christmas is celebrated, I asked some of my friends to share their thoughts on the matter; how they celebrate and what is their favorite parts of it all - so whether we are Puerto Ricans or not, we can add a little sabor Boricua to our Christmases.
Only 2 seasons exist in Puerto Rico: Summer and Navidades. Technically, it’s always summer; Christmas just means that summer got 10 times more festive, your house go 5 times more crowded (cousins), and your liver hates you 3 times more than it did during “regular summer”.
Christmas lasts from the end of Halloween all the way to the second weekend of January when Puerto Rico holds its “Fiestas Patronales de la Calle San Sebastián”. So we basically have the world’s longest Christmas since it lasts 72 days.
Characteristics of Puerto Rican Christmas:
• Partying every weekend is a go (no matter what age).
• Filling a school bus with your friends all the way to a third party’s house to sing carols at 3AM while you wake up their entire neighborhood.
• Wearing a red Santa hat to school is socially acceptable.
• Wearing a sweater even if it’s 80 degrees outside JUST because it’s technically winter is socially acceptable.
• Not being able to think of a witty shade to throw during La Bomba ( a customary song in which a group sings a repetitive chorus, and after each chorus a person must throw a one liner OR ELSE). If a person is unable to throw the line, he/she must endure 34 seconds of pure humiliation as the crowd sings “No sabe na!!!!” (Translation: He doesn’t know anything)
• If you’re 3-11 years old, have a 3-11 year old sibling, or are a parent of a 3-11 year old, you’re basically screwed. You’re going to attend the Velada Navideña. (It’s a school talent show where little kids are dressed up in ridiculous skirts and are forced to dance to the same choreography and songs every year: Usually its Plena music integrated with latino pop-stars like Chayanne, Ricky Martin, and Mark Anthony.
• Drinking Coquito (It’s like eggnog 2.0)
Awesome, cool, funny. All these words could describe the Puerto Rican Christmas celebration, but the most essential thing is to be here - in Puerto Rico - in order to have the real authentic experience. It doesn’t matter if you are Puerto Rican, or from another part in the world, the joy and the rhythm of the season is contagious.
Let's start with the food… The Puerto Rican cuisine changes from the usual to this special meal that is hard to translate because of the risk of losing its "taste": “arroz con gandules”, “pernil”, “pasteles”, and the kind of native desserts: “arroz con dulce”, “tembleque”. When you got your plate with all these colorful combinations, it is hard to describe the experience, but while you are eating it, there is an overwhelming feeling of enjoyment, ecstasy and delight. The music traditions of the “parrandas” is something out of this world. Kind of similar to Christmas carols, but with a Caribbean touch and with the element of total surprise, the “parrandas” provide you with this unique experience of excitement and joy. Think about it; you are at your house “relaxing”, or sleeping, and your extended family want to surprise you with this special gift that is a parranda...
Even though some people start to removing their Christmas decorations the day after the Three Kings Day (January 6th, Epiphany), the feeling of season festivities continues because of the tradition of the Calle San Sebastián festival.
I love our Puerto Rican culture deeply, and there is no time like Christmas to enjoy it fully. Christmastime here brings out the most typical savory dishes, the lively rhythms of plena music and nonstop celebrations. I’m delighted to have friends and family come to visit, and especially enjoy going with them from house to house late at night singing loudly until we are let in, fed, and have them join our parranda to the next house. To quote a popular holiday song, si los ángeles cantaron, yo también quiero cantar al amor de los amores que ha nacido en un portal. Navidad, ¡qué felicidad!
(If the angels sang, I also want to sing to the love of loves that was born in a manger. Christmas, such happiness!)
The Puerto Rican Christmas is unlike any other celebration. It is fair game to start celebrating the Christmas season and putting up decorations anytime after Halloween. My family begins by taking a road trip through the mountains and stopping at different food vendors to eat "lechón, arroz con gandules & morcilla". This tradition is called "chinchorreo". We sing and play loud traditional Puerto Rican Christmas music in "parrandas", parrandas which are a huge part of our Christmases! It's so much fun to get a group of friends and family together to sing and dance while surprising another person at their home at 2am. It's expected that everyone have their house ready with coquito or pitorro to share when a parranda drops by your house. There's a party at all times! So naturally everyone gains a nice 5 pounds by the time the season is over. After Christmas day we wait in anticipation for Reyes (Jan 6). Reyes is much more cultural. We celebrate the three kings that came to worship baby Jesus. A lot of people go to "el campo" the mountains where tradition and culture are most felt on this day. After that we celebrate "las octavitas" for the following 8 days and then end the christmas celebration with Las Fiestas de San Sebastián in Old San Juan!
My favorite part is all the parties where I get to connect with people. I love having my family on the island visiting. The vibe and energy during this time is very palpable. We are naturally extremely loud but during Christmas we somehow manage to get even louder and more expressive. I really wouldn't trade these traditions during this season for any other in the world! Wepa!
To talk to you about Christmas I have to talk about how I celebrated Christmas in during my childhood at my hometown Mayagüez with my family and how I celebrate now.
When I was a child my mom gave us boxes of chocolates at Noche Buena (night before Christmas Day) as Christmas gifts because at my home we celebrate just the Reyes Magos (three kings day) at January 6 with gift under the bed. The traditions that I have had are now passed on to my own child and nephew. They go with my Dad no cut some grass, tie it with a string and put it a box near the bed. At night the Reyes Magos "gives the grass to the camel" and leave the present under the bed. I remember it was the best feeling waking up early in the morning seeing all the present. It was amazing!
During the whole season especially at Noche Buena we receive parrandas. The Parrandas are like Christmas Carol, but loud with local songs, instruments like guitars, güiro, maracas, panderos, and is a surprise at late night. When you arrive at the house by surprise you sing different songs and the people open the doors and bring drinks and food. Usually at the last house they gave asopao (chicken soup with rice).
Another tradition in my family is the food and the visit the family, aunts and grandmas. When we visit them they always have my favorites the pasteles. Pasteles is boiled green banana mashed with meat stuffing wrapping in banana leaf. My grandma makes a coconut dessert called tembleque, a coconut custard with a gelatin texture and arroz con dulce which is a coconut rice pudding. When I was a kid, my favorite part was sharing with family lots of food, happy songs, and the lights - I love the Christmas lights. Now I celebrate Christmas with my husband and daughter and also Reyes Magos with my family:)
Abrazitos pa mis ladies for sharing your stories + traditions! You're amazing!
...and feliz Navidad to all my friends reading this! <3