How Puerto Ricans Celebrate Christmas
Like many Latino celebrations, a Hispanic Christmas involves lots of food and lots of family, gathering in a party filled with joy and laughter.
We typically regard Santa as a cute custom but we don’t take him as seriously as Baby Jesus or the Three Kings.
Instead, for Boricuas, the Christmas gift-giving traditions mainly involve the Three Kings from the Bible. Though most Hispanics attend church and express deep reverence for Christ during Christmas, the holiday is by no means exclusively religious. We also include many other secular traditions like parrandas.
Celebrating with Puerto Rican Parrandas
One of the most famous of these secular traditions is the Puerto Rican parrandas. This is basically like Puerto Rican Christmas caroling that we combine with a block party.
The idea of the parrandas, also called asaltos or trullas navideñas, is to surprise a sleeping neighbor with song and music.
Nowadays, no one is really surprised since we give our neighbors lots of hints about when the parrandas might begin so that they can be prepared to host the party, very convenient!
The parrandas still begin relatively late at night, like 10pm, and continue until the early hours of the morning.
The first step in Puerto Rican parrandas is to gather a small group of friends, dress up in straw hats, and pick up various musical instruments, like guitars, tambourines, and maracas.
Then, the group sneaks over to the neighbor’s door and starts playing their instruments and belting out Christmas carols at the top of their lungs. The neighbor opens his door and gleefully invites everyone in to dance and party.
After a little while, the group of musicians will move on to the next neighbor, and then the next and the next until early morning. As they leave each house, more people will join them until the party is truly huge.
At the last house on the parrandas route, the carolers eat a traditional chicken soup at dawn to signal that the party is over. There is also lots of hand made Puerto Rican pasteles, Which take lots of time and effort and taste deliciously.
In Puerto Rico, the songs or “aguinaldos” Boricuas sing during parrandas, are not only religious but also include secular songs about Christmas, as well as some traditional songs that don’t mention Christmas at all.
As the night progresses, people drink more and the singing gets more raucous and less likely to be religious in nature. It really is more of a party than a religious event.
The reason a parranda puertoriqueña is so fun is because it turns into a community event. This is a big difference between Puerto Rican caroling and American caroling, which usually involves just a few singers going door to door and singing to unsuspecting neighbors who often listen politely before going back to their private affairs.
Parrandas are most common in Puerto Rico, but some American cities with large Puerto Rican communities also have their own parrandas. Parrandas are not unique to Puerto Rico and many Cubans also practice them.
In Venezuela, parrandas are a mix of Afro-Venezuelan musical form from the states of Aragua and Carabobo.
I think areas where it is really cold at Christmas, like here in the US, don’t really lend themselves well to this tradition. Although who knows, after some rum and coquito we maybe ready to bring more parrandas to the U.S.