In Part 1 of our Mi Navidad series, Paloma Rodriguez shares her experience and traditions surrounding the Christmas Season through her Puerto Rican heritage.
Christmas in Puerto Rico is the most precious, energizing and longest festivity for the Caribbean island's people. Our traditions may start as early as September, when some stores make what we call “Navidades en Septiembre”, where a big sale for the Christmas season is launched. On November 1, people begin to decorate their houses with lights. The government also decorates the streets and we start hearing our traditional Christmas music that includes villancicos, trovas, and “aguinaldos” - that literally means gifts.
As we approach Christmas, people start showing up to houses unexpectedly to do what we call a “Parranda”, which is like a Christmas carol, but with pleneros (hand drums), maracas, güiro, cuatro, guitars, food, and our traditional “coquito”, a coconut drink that is similar to eggnog. On Christmas Eve, we usually gather in big family groups and we share a dinner. The dinner plate usually has: “pernil” (roasted pig leg), “arroz con gandules” (rice with pigeon peas), macaroni or potato salad, and “pasteles” which may resemble a “tamal”, but is made with green bananas filled with chicken or pork, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. For dessert we have “tembleque” which looks just like a coconut pudding and “arroz con dulce”, which is rice boiled with milk, raisins and sweet spices. On Christmas day, we wake up early to open Santa’s presents and later we share another meal with family and friends.
Right after New Years, comes one of our main celebrations: Epiphany. This is when we receive “Los Tres Reyes Magos” (Three Wise Men). On January 5th, our children collect grass and put it in shoeboxes under the tree for the 3 camels to “eat”, just like the cookies kids leave for Santa. On the morning of the 6th we also receive presents just like The Three Wise Men brought to Jesus in Bethlehem. We continue the celebration for the “Octavitas”, or 8 more days of celebration of Jesus' birthday, which is mainly a Catholic tradition, but we all get to continue celebrating. We finish up mid January in the famous “Fiestas de San Sebastián”, were Saint Sebastian, the Saint of our Capital San Juan, is celebrated. This traditional celebration occurs in Old San Juan and involves four days of celebration with music, food and “artesanías” (local handcrafts). Some people extend the celebration and finish up with the celebration of “Día de la Candelaria” of February 2nd, 40 days after the birthday, were people make a bonfire to burn Christmas trees and commemorate the Candelaria Virgin.
This is how we celebrate this beloved time in Puerto Rico, surrounded by food, happy music, family and friends. And in the midst of adversity, we celebrate that Jesus Christ was born and came to bring joy to us all.
Paloma Rodriguez-Rivera is a 26 year-old Puerto Rican Methodist Latina. She has served as a Youth Leader and is currently the Lay Leader of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. She loves science, helping others and fighting for social justice - especially women’s rights and environmental issues.