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The Sheboygan Press

Christmas In Puerto Rico Truly Something Special

by Teresa Blundell

December 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Sheboygan Press. All rights reserved. 

Latinas Unidas has been providing important information about people of different cultures and customs from other countries that are members of the Sheboygan community. I am a native of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico , and I have lived in this community for the past eight years with my husband, Bob, and my son, Jonathan. I would like to share with you today how Christmas is celebrated in Puerto Rico , and some history about my country obtained from the Web site, "Christmas in Puerto Rico ."

By birth we are U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain until 1898. As one of the conditions to end the Spanish-American war between Spain and the United States, Spain was forced to cede Puerto Rico to the victorious Americans under the Treaty of Paris. The Puerto Rican political leadership was dazed by the events of 1898 and their immediate reaction upon seeing how the people welcomed the Americans was to ask for statehood . In 1917, the Jones Act granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. In 1952, Puerto Ricans obtained a certain degree of autonomy and Luis Munoz Marin, the former governor at the time, drafted a constitution with the creation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , which is still the government status of Puerto Rico today.

For us, Christmas signifies the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and is a religious holiday among the traditional families. Churches are filled with people that halt their celebrations to commemorate the birth of the Messiah.

Historically, Christmas in Puerto Rico and the traditions that go along with it used to start in December. Due to North American influence, and given the North American tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving the last week of November, that date has become the beginning of our holidays.

In Puerto Rico , December is a balmy month bright with flowers and green trees, and Christmas is the great festival of the year. A joyful spirit blends with the solemn religious mood. Both have been perpetuated in the old Christmas songs, called "aguinaldos" and "villancicos," which have become part of the island's tradition. In the spirit of the holiday, which extends from just before Christmas through Three Kings Day, groups of friends gather together and move from house to house, singing Christmas songs. These groups are called "parrandas" and usually include a group of musicians. Among the musical instruments are guitars, the native cuatro -- a stringed instrument similar to a guitar -- and hollow gourds filled with pebbles.

The original meaning of aguinaldo was gift or treat, and it is amply fulfilled as the singers and players are treated to such favorite foods as barbecued pig, plantain dough filled with chopped meat and boiled; chitterlings, crispy fried rice pudding made with spices and coconut milk. After the parranda has sampled good cheer at many neighbors' homes, members participate in singing and dancing in the last home.

In terms of celebration days, the season starts around December 16 with the Mass of Aguinaldo. This continues with Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, The Three Kings Eve on Jan. 5 and The Three Kings Day on Jan. 6. Puerto Rican children wait for the coming of the Eve of the Three Kings when they place a box of straw under their beds for the kings' camels, and in return the children find presents left by the Three Wise Men the following morning. The celebration continues with an eight-day period known as the octavitas (eight days after The Three Kings Day), followed by the octavonas, eight more days ... etc. The holiday season in Puerto Rico is truly something special!

We wish a very Merry Christmas to you all!

Teresa Blundell is a founding member of Latinas Unidas, a group of local women committed to helping Hispanics in Sheboygan County. Blundell is also a bilingual career consultant at the Sheboygan County Job Center.

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