and other Traditions in Puerto Rico
Holidays no doubt are the most anticipated
time of the year in Puerto Rico. Many of the customs, such
as Noche Buena, Navidad, Año Viejo, and Three Kings Day,
are celebrated with great enthusiasm. Below are brief
descriptions of the principal holiday traditions celebrated
in Puerto Rico.
Even before December arrives, the chords of cuatros and
guitars, accompanied by guiros and maracas, can be heard
playing the traditional tune of an “aguinaldo” or
“villancico” (Christmas song). Parrandas, also known as
“asaltos” or “trullas,” are the Puerto Rican version
of Christmas caroling. Friends gather late in the evening
and go from house to house singing holiday songs. The
parranderos (carolers) generally are invited in by the
homeowner and, in anticipation of their visit, the host
offers them food and drinks. The parranda then continues on
to the next house with the host usually joining in.
Parrandas generally last till mid-January.
Misas de Aguinaldos
For the nine days before Christmas Eve, the Catholic Church
celebrates the season with a “misa de aguinaldo.” The
masses normally are held at dawn and are characterized by
the singing of traditional Christmas songs accompanied by
typical instruments such as cuatro, güiro, and maracas.
After the mass, there is a get-together where participants
partake of typical dishes, sweets, coffee, and such.
On Dec. 24, it is customary for family and friends to get
together to celebrate Christmas Eve. Lechón asado, arroz
con gandules, pasteles, morcillas, tembleque, and arroz con
dulce are a few of the holiday food favorites that are a
staple of the Nochebuena celebration. After the holiday
feast, a lot of Catholic families attend a special Christmas
Eve mass called “Misa de Gallo,” also known as midnight
mass. Misa de Gallo is a solemn yet festive mass that
celebrates the birth of Jesus. In some churches, members
create a live nativity scene, dressing up as the Virgin
Mary, Saint Joseph, and the three wise men.
Indisputably, Año Viejo (New Year’s Eve) is the holiday
with the most noise and bustle in Puerto Rico. Friends and
family gather to await the arrival of the New Year and say
good-bye to the old. The celebration begins early in the
evening with a lot of drinking and eating of traditional
foods. Many choose to dress in brand-new clothing so they
can receive the New Year.
Although the government has outlawed pyrotechnics, you can
hear plenty of firecrackers, bottle rockets, and cherry
bombs exploding all night long and, as midnight draws
closer, everyone gathers in anticipation of the new year.
When the clock strikes 12, all you hear are fireworks,
horns, cheers, and cries of joy as everyone hugs and kisses
one another, wishing each other “Feliz Año Nuevo!”
After saying good-bye to the old year, a lot of Puerto
Ricans do one of many rituals to receive the New Year.
Eating 12 grapes at midnight is a custom that comes from
Spain. It is said to bring lots of prosperity to those who
do it. Another one is to throw a bucket of water out into
the street to rid the home of all the bad things and prepare
it for the arrival of all the good things. Another ritual is
throwing sugar around the outside of the home to attract
good luck and ward off bad luck.
On Dec. 28, Puerto Ricans celebrate la fiesta de los Santos
Inocentes in commemoration of the day Herod’s evil
soldiers were sent to kill the first-born boys (age 0-2
years) from every family. Fearing the newborn Messiah would
take over his throne, the emperor wanted the Messiah dead.
Children usually dress up as soldiers and play lots of
practical jokes on each another, such as stealing food and
children. This custom isn’t celebrated as much anymore,
but the small town of Hatillo continues the tradition with a
parade and a party in the municipal square.
In the center of a small hand-made altar constructed of
branches and decorated with flowers, the image of a saint is
hung. The tradition of Velorios cantados usually is
practiced to fulfill a religious promise. The saints to
which velorios cantados are most frequently dedicated are La
Virgen del Carmen, San Antonio de Padua, and the Three
Kings. Part of the tradition is to sing the entire rosary
and, at the end of the Velorio, attendees drink coffee and
Tres Reyes Magos
On the eve of Jan. 6, children pick grass and put it in a
box to leave at the foot of the bed for the Three Kings’
hungry camels. Early the next morning, they awake to see
what gifts the Three Kings, Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar,
have left them. For the month leading up to “el Día de
los Reyes,” the Three Kings of Juana Diaz go from town to
town and participate in the Catholic masses. They prepare
spiritually for this role months in advance.
According to tradition, if you receive a visit from a
relative or friend on Three Kings’ Day, you are supposed
to return the visit eight days later. This tradition isn’t
practiced as much. Some families choose this day to take
down Christmas decorations and officially end the holiday
La Noche De San Juan
On June 23rd, Puerto Ricans celebrate "La
Noche de San Juan" (St. John The Baptist Night) it is
really a celebration of the birth of Saint John The Baptist
and of course, it involves activities on or near the beach.
Most beaches in Puerto Rico celebrate with food booths,
bands and bonfires.
According to tradition, at midnight on St. John The Baptist
Day, the waters are blessed and possess special powers with
the ability to cure sickness, enhance beauty, improve
fortune success, aid fertility, increase agricultural
production, ward off evil and to bring good luck throughout
In Puerto Rico, tradition says that
walking backward in the ocean at exactly midnight brings
good luck and keeps evil away throughout the year. Most
Puerto Ricans believe that you need to walk backwards in the
water at least three times, however the more times you do
it, the more good luck you will receive.
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