Monday, December 13, 2010

A Puerto Rican Christmas

Christmas Music Traditions

When I think back on my childhood, the memories are coupled with music. In fact, most of the time, I can remember "eras" in my life when a song plays on the radio or someone sends me a song to hear. I was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico where music is as much a part of your life as coffee with buttered bread. Music is such an integral part of life on the island that it's odd to drive through any neighborhood and not hear music. Women sing while sweeping the sidewalks. Men whistle and sing as they push their carts to the market. Children sing songs as they play games on the playground. Grandparents sing while rocking on the porch or just pull out their guitars and start playing. Music is part of every festive event and a HUGE part of the Christmas celebration.

In Puerto Rico, the holidays start the day after Accion de Gracias, Thanksgiving Day and end on Dia de Reyes, Three Kings' Day (or Epiphany). We celebrate with food, family and TONS of music. The parties start after work on a Friday (usually after 7 PM) and last through to the next morning (if not the entire weekend). This Christmas traditions known as the Parranda or Asalto is one of my favorites.

Here's a glimpse of the traditional Parranda:
Puerto Ricans are known for their unforgettable "parrandas or trullas navideñas". A parranda is when a small group of friends gathers together to "asaltar" or surprise another friend. It's the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling. Most parranderos play some sort of instrument, either guitarras, tamboriles, güiro maracas, or palitos. And they all sing. A parranda tends to be more secular than religious however many of the traditional aguinaldos (Puerto Rican Christmas songs) retain the holiday spirit.

parranda The parranderos arrive at the destination and then very quietly gather by the front door. At a signal all start playing their instruments and singing. The parrandas usually begin after 10pm in order to surprise and wake the sleeping friend. The parranderos are invited in and refreshments, music and dance follow. Of course we don't surprise unsuspecting victims. The parranderos are given plenty of "hints" before hand by the homeowner that he is ready to receive a parranda.

The party goes on for an hour or two then everyone, including the owners of the house, leave to parrandear some more. The group grows as they offer their parranda at several houses during that night. At the last house probably around 3 or 4 in the morning the homeowner offers the traditional chicken soup or asopao de pollo. The party is over at dawn. —From ¡Por Fín Llegaron las Navidades! Discussion Forum

My children were born and raised in the United States but we still maintain some of the traditions, including the Parranda. Thankfully we live in an area where many Latinos have moved to so it's not uncommon to hear a loud party going on all night at any point during the holidays. What are your Christmas music traditions?