‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa not a creature was stirring, not even a Coquí. The children were tucked in their beds fast asleep in hopes Papa Noel soon would be there.
Christmas in Puerto Rico starts early on, for some it starts right after Thanksgiving, which is the Advent or the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. There are many celebrations that make “Navidad en Puerto Rico” such a special time, the most famous traditions?: The “parrandas”or “asaltos navideños” especially on Christmas Eve and “Los Tres Reyes.”
The Epiphany is the main celebration. On January 6 “Los Reyes” or The Three Wise Men arrive to bring offerings to baby Jesus. Christmas day, meaning “Nochebuena” is another celebration but not as important as The Three Kings.
Here’s a few ways we celebrate:
Attend a Misa de Aguinaldo
From December 15-24, churches conduct misas de aguinaldo, masses held at dawn featuring the singing of aguinaldos, which are Puerto Rican versions of Christmas Carols.
Catch a Parranda
A parranda is the local translation of carolers, who will travel around the neighborhood singing aguinaldos. Parrandas get going in late November and can still be found in January.
What Are the Parrandas?
Las Parrandas are a unique tradition where a group of friends or family known as the “trulla,” goes unannounced over a neighbor’s house very late at night to sing traditional Puerto Rican Christmas carols composed of six-syllable verse lines. The songs they sing are called “aguinaldos” or gifts.
Christmas Eve trumps Christmas Day for most Puerto Ricans. This is when a typical Puerto Rican Christmas dinner is served, consisting of lechón (roast pork), pasteles (patties), and arroz con gandules (rice ‘n beans). The traditional Christmas dessert is tembleque(I have a recipe on my site), which is a kind of custard with coconut, cornstarch, vanilla, and cinnamon. Instead of eggnog, you’ll have coquito, or coconut nog. And after dinner, many Puerto Ricans attend a midnight mass known as the Misa de Gallo or “Rooster’s Mass.” You might just catch a live reenactment of the nativity scene.
What is La “Nochebuena” or the Puerto Rican Christmas Eve?
Christmas in Puerto Rico has a mid-point, it is the 24th of December when Puerto Ricans dress finely to attend mass and celebrate with a great dinner afterwards. Children get some presents that night from Baby Jesus and the parents but they will receive even more on January 6th.
In Puerto Rico Christmas also includes “misas de aguinaldo,” which are masses that churches celebrate with music and carols at dawn, generally between 5:00 am and 6:00 am during the nine days before Christmas.
Eat Your Grapes!!
New Year’s Eve in Puerto Rico is appropriately called Año Viejo, or “Old Year,” and it’s a fun time to be outside; fireworks, honking cars, and the cacophony of celebration can be heard everywhere. At the stroke of midnight, local tradition demands that you eat 12 grapes for luck. You’ll also find some people sprinkling sugar outside their house for good luck or throwing a bucket of water out the window to expel all the negatives of the old year and get ready for a fresh start. As for where to be when the clock strikes 12, head to the Puerto Rico Convention Center for the fireworks show.
Collect Grass for the Camels
On the night before January 6, Three Kings Day, Puerto Rican children collect grass and place it in a shoebox under their beds for the Three Kings’ Camels. (The Kings themselves don’t get a plate of cookies or a glass of warm milk.)
How, might you ask do you celebrate Three Kings Day, the Most Important Celebration in Puerto Rican Christmas? Here’s what you need to know.
“Three Kings Day, or El Día de los Reyes Magos, celebrates the biblical story of the three kings who saw a star appear in the sky on Christmas Day and followed that beacon to a livestock shed in Bethlehem, where they found, and worshiped, the newborn Jesus.”
Children in Puerto Rico expect presents from both, baby Jesus or the parents and The Three Kings. The tradition on the evening of the Epiphany on January 5 is for the children to leave grass and water for “Los Reyes” camels’ to eat.
Some Puerto Ricans still observe the traditional “Octavas” -octaves and the “Octavitas” -Little Octaves. They are two-eight-day periods of continuing adoration of “The Three Kings” and baby Jesus from January 9 on. The “Octavitas” are right after the “Octavas.”