Christmas in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a island located in the east side of the Caribbean Sea that features a culture full of joyful celebrations and beautiful traditions.  Puerto Rico is recognized with one of the longest end of year holidays in the world!  The multiple holidays and celebrations start  with Thanksgiving and end in  January 14th with the “Octavitas”.   For the majority of Puerto Ricans,  it is the most anticipated season of the year and transcends individual religious beliefs.   Sometimes, it is very common to listen to Holiday music or participate in festivities a few days before or after the official dates of celebration.

During this time of the year families and friends come together to share their favorite dishes and recipes, visit each other’s  homes, dine together and enjoy music.  Public places and homes are commonly decorated with the traditional Christmas trees, lights and cultural decorations.  Some of the festivities are: “Noche Buena” (Christmas Eve), “Navidad” (Christmas Day), “Despedida de Año” (New Year’s Eve), ” Año Nuevo” (New Year day), “Fiesta de Reyes”  (Three King’s Day) and ” Octavitas” (eight days of celebration after the Three King’s Day).  One of the greatest traditions during this time of  are the traditional “Parrandas”…no holidays are complete without “Parrandas”!

Noche Buena  (Christmas Eve)

The night of December 24th, family and friends celebrate Christmas Eve.  Commonly,  family and closes friends get together at the home of someone who serves at host.  Guests prepare typical dishes such as: roast pork, rice with pigeon peas, salads, desserts and drinks.  Desserts are prepared, mostly using coconut as a base flavor, for example: “Tembleque”, “Arroz con Dulce”, “Majarete” and the traditional “Coquito”, among others.  People share gifts and children and wait the arrival of baby Jesus who brings gifts as a surprise. It is also common to have a gift exchanges between the visitors.

Navidad (Christmas Day)

On Christmas day, children look for their gifts under the tree.  Sometimes it is a day spent assembling gifts (if it is necessarily), playing outside, going to a park, or visiting family.

 Despedida de Año (New Year’s eve)

On the night of December 31th, people get together and wait with great enthusiasm for the arrival of the New Year.  In this celebration there is no lack of music, whistles, confetti and  lots of fireworks.  Families and friends gather together to eat the typical dishes mentioned above, sing, dance and celebrate.  When midnight arrives, friends and family greet each other, share good wishes for the new year and the demonstrations of affection, such as hugs and kisses.  Some people perform different rituals, confident that the new year will be accompanied by good times and good luck.

Año Nuevo (New Year day)

It is New Year’s Day! and the celebration continues.  Some people remain in their homes waiting for family and friends to visit. Other people visit family and friends.  Many people wear new clothes as a symbol of the new beginning full of hope.  It is a day of New Year’s resolutions, promises or personal commitments for the next 365 days.  Of course diet and exercise are among the main promises, after weeks of eating!

 Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three King’s Day )

On the eve of January 6th, the kids await for the surprise arrival of the Three Wise Men.  The three wise men secretly arrive during the night and leave presents under the bed. So kids needs to be prepared!  During the day of January 5th,  they go out to collect  grass in cardboard shoe boxes. They put the grass and water under their beds for the Wise Men camels. The tradition says that during that night, Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar arrive in the children’s rooms and  leave them the toys while the camels eat the grass and drink the water.


Accompanied by the traditional “Cuatro Puertorriqueño”(string instrument close in shape to the violin), the guitar, güiro (percussion), maracas and tambourines, among other instrument; provide the musical background to singers of varied experience.  When the music and the singers join together, they form a Parranda. They stem from traditional “Christmas Carols”, “Aguinaldos” and “Popular Music”. It could be said that there is a party in the heart of every Puerto Rican.

The “Parrandas”, also known as:  “Asaltos” or “Trullas” are a beautiful tradition that consist of a surprising arrival at a family’s or friend’s house late at night (normally between midnight to early hours in the morning). The group secretly arrives and start singing outside the house until the owners wake up and let them in.  A brief visit that lasts no more than 1 hour or so.  The group then moves on to the next house.  Sometimes those who receive the visit join the group and continue visiting and surprising other families until dawn. The group gets bigger and bigger!   Appetizers, drinks and sometimes a soup is shared.

Sra. Migdalia Negrón Martínez
LAL Spanish Teacher


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