Puerto Rico Christmas Traditions
During the festive season in Puerto Rico, songs and singing are a prevalent tradition. People enjoy participating in carol singing, which is locally known as Parrandas, Asalto, or Trulla. Friends usually gather late, around 10 pm, and go from house to house. The objective is to surprise and wake up the homeowners with the music and singing of the 'parranderos,' the people participating in the 'parranda.' Although most people have arranged to be visited, it is customary that when you have been 'woken up,' you have to join the parranda, and as more people join in, the party grows during the night. The fun can last all night, usually ending at dawn.
Christmas in Puerto Rico is celebrated with various music, including 'Aguinaldos' (Christmas songs). Some are religious and called 'villancicos', while others have a creole/criollo rhythm known as 'décimas navideñas'. Popular and traditional Christmas songs are also commonly sung and played.
To decorate their homes, Puerto Ricans use greenery, such as branches from palm trees, and Christmas decorations similar to those used in the USA, like artificial Christmas trees. Nativity Scenes, known as 'nacimientos' or 'pesebres', are also popular, with the figures of the Three Kings being significant. People often wear traditional straw hats called 'pava' during Christmas celebrations.
The main celebrations and Christmas meal occur on Christmas Eve, known as 'Nochebuena'. Christmas Day ('Navidad') is reserved for recovering from the festivities.
Between the 15th and 24th of December, Catholics celebrate the 'Misa de Aguinaldos' special masses. During these services, traditional Puerto Rican instruments such as the cuatro, guitars, güiros, and maracas are used to sing nearly all the hymns. The masses are held at dawn, at around 6 am.
On Christmas Eve, a special Misa de Aguinaldo is held at midnight, called the Misa de Gallo, or the rooster's mass. This is a significant and festive mass, including carols and a nativity play where children dress up as characters from the Christmas story. The mass is lit with candles and is a tradition for families to attend as a way to celebrate Christmas.
The main meal typically consists of 'lechón asado', roast pork cooked on a spit during Christmas. It is served with 'arroz con gandules', a dish made of rice, pigeon peas, and pork cooked in sofrito sauce, 'plátano', or plantains, and 'pasteles', which are dough made from mashed green bananas filled with meat and cooked in banana leaves. Cooking the roast pig can take an entire day and often starts early in the morning. Throughout the day, Christmas music is played to keep people entertained.
During Christmas, the most popular desserts enjoyed are 'arroz con dulce', a rice pudding type, and 'tembleque', a chilled custard made with coconut milk. The traditional drink of choice during this festivity is 'coquito', a rum-based drink similar to eggnog. It is common for guests to bring their desserts to the celebrations.
December 28th marks Holy Innocents Day, also known as 'Día de los Inocentes'. This day is similar to April Fools' Day, where people attempt to play pranks on one another. However, in the town of Hatillo, there's a unique tradition of a carnival on this day. Men dressed as King Herod's soldiers 'kidnap' children, and to get them back, people must give the soldiers sweets and candy!
On New Year's Eve in Spanish-speaking countries, the celebration is known as 'Despedida de Año' or 'Año Viejo'. It's customary to eat twelve grapes at midnight, one on each chime of the clock, for good luck in the coming year. After this, people hug each other and celebrate the new year by letting off fireworks firecrackers and honking their car horns. People usually listen to a traditional poem called 'El Brindis del Bohemio' (A Bohemian Toast), played on the radio to end the celebration.
Epiphany is a widely celebrated occasion in Puerto Rico. On the evening of January 5th, known as 'Víspera de Reyes,' traditional Catholics visit the church to recite the rosary in honour of the Three Wisemen/Kings. Children eagerly anticipate that the Wisemen will leave gifts for them and prepare for their arrival by placing fresh grass in shoeboxes under their beds for the King's camels to eat.
Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th, is known as 'Día de Reyes' or Day of the Kings. On this day, children wake up early to check what the Kings have left for them. Additionally, on January 6th, 7th and 8th, people remember the three Wisemen/Kings, namely Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar. Traditionally, special services honour Jesus and the Kings/Wisemen called 'Octava de la Epifanía' after Epiphany. These services last eight days, starting on January 6th and ending on January 13th. However, few people participate now, and Christmas and New Year celebrations often end after 'Día de Reyes'.