Christmas in Puerto Rico

christmas in san juan, puerto rico

Image by scaturchio via Flickr

If you were spending Christmas in Puerto Rico, you would say Merry Christmas this way: Felices Pascuas! This is in Spanish, the language of Puerto Rico, and it means Happy Christmas! Christmas is celebrated for many days in this beautiful is­land. The celebration begins on Christmas Eve, Noche Buena, and continues until Three Kings’ Day, which is the sixth of January. Christmas Eve in the Roman Catholic churches is the time when the birth of Christ is dramatized. There is the stable, the sheep, the oxen, and Mary with the baby Jesus. Christmas Eve is also the time for special feasts in the homes. Elaborate preparations are made for these. Homes are lighted and deco­rated. People dress in their very best clothes. In the homes of the well-to-do financially there will always be found a whole roasted pig, barbecue style. People who cannot afford such a sumptuous feast will at least try to have arroz con polio, which is rice and chicken. This Christmas feast is a time for all the family to gather at one of the homes, making a sort of family reunion of the occasion. The feast comes late at night and the service in the Catholic church follows the feast in the homes. Many of the families spend the evening in merriment and in singing the old Christmas carols. It also is a time when young men serenade their young lady friends to the accompaniment of a guitar. Groups of musicians go from place to place singing their greetings, expecting gifts of money or food. Sometimes they take with them a representation of the Bethlehem scene. The most exciting time for the children is Three Kings’ Day.


Image by blucolt via Flickr

One person, in writing about this day, says that no stockings are hung on Christmas Eve. There is a reason for this. It seems that the Puerto Rican children believe that the Three Kings come from the Orient each year riding camels. On the night of the fifth of January, the children fill boxes with grass and place cups of water beside them for the camels. They expect the kings to leave them gifts.

Another author has something different to say about this custom. Puerto Rican boys and girls would be frightened if Santa Claus should come to them in a sleigh drawn by rein­deer. In Puerto Rico the children say that Santa Claus just comes flying through the air like a bird. The children make little boxes which they place in the courtyards or on the roofs and old Santa Claus drops the gifts into them as he flies around at night with his bag. According to custom, Santa Claus does not come on Christmas Eve only. He may come every night or two during the week. This is very exciting for the children and each morning they run out eagerly to see if Santa has left any­thing more in their boxes during the night.

On Bethlehem Day, the twelfth of January, groups of chil­dren parade through the streets of the town. The first three chil­dren in the procession are dressed in robes to represent the Wise Men from the East, bringing their gifts to Jesus. Follow­ing them come the angels and shepherds and flute players. These are dressed in lovely costumes and carry garlands of flowers. Processions such as these are very beautiful and mean a great deal to the children who take part as well as to others who watch the festival.

In Evangelical or Protestant churches Christmas also is cele­brated as ajoyous festival. Children and grownups alike dram­atize the age-old Christmas story. Christians go from home to home singing the beautiful Christmas carols. Christian fami­lies have happy times together in their homes. One way in which Puerto Rican Christians honor Jesus on his birthday is to share with others. This is the real meaning of Christmas in any land, not just on the island of Puerto Rico.

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