Tag Archives: Parranda

Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day)

Puerto Rico was a Catholic Spanish colony for over 400 years. Christian influence is everywhere inspiring most of our christmas traditions and customs. One such tradition is Three Kings Day. The three kings or magi were originally mentioned in Mathew 2 as wise men who followed the star of Bethlehem bringing gold, myrrh, and incense to the baby Jesus. Later the tradition became more elaborate naming the kings as three: Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar, who traveled on camels from different parts of the world.

A King on a Christmas Tree
A King on a Christmas Tree

In Puerto Rico young children gather grass on January 5th and leave it in a box for the camels to eat while the three kings come and leave their gifts under their bed or christmas tree. On the morning of January 6th they wake to find their gifts while the grass they gathered is gone and sometimes tossed about. The camels (or horses) are a bit messy.

This tradition is so strong a set of real life Magi, Los Reyes de Juana Díaz actually travel through various pueblos of the island spreading cheer, joy, and hope as they go. The Governor traditionally holds a special celebration where children receive gifts. In some households, Santa never arrives, only the Three Kings. Most families have some sort of celebration and many versions of the magi appear all over the Island. This year, the magi brought gifts and a small carriage to give the kids a ride. They loved it!

We ate, we sang, we drank, we joked, and just when we were about to leave… the Parranda arrived.

La Parranda
La Parranda

Welcoming the New Year… a lo Boricua

I suspect every culture has a very peculiar and personal way of celebrating the New Year. As traditions go, this celebration is quite universal, even if very different from one place to another. An interesting life goal could be to experience a New Year celebration in a different country every year. But in order to get the real experience you need to celebrate with locals, otherwise you’ll just be in a hotel with cheesy music and muted versions of the real thing.  So here’s a taste of what it’s like to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Puerto Rico:

Lechón a la vara (pork on a stick)
Lechón a la vara (pork on a stick) Photo by: Maricel Jiménez

The Menu: Some items vary depending on who’s hosting the party, but certain things will always be there.

  1. Lechón (pork), usually left with the skin, is a favorite of all. A traditional way of preparing it is to roast the entire pork “a la vara” in a pit occasionally turning it.
  2. Arroz con Gadules (rice with pigeon peas). Of course pork must be combined with arroz con gadules!
  3. Pasteles: This is a typical dish made with plantain or yuca batter and stuffed with pork or chicken and wrapped in plátano leaves (plantain leaves), then boiled. It’s not officially the christmas season until you eat one.
  4. Morcillas. This plate is peculiar… there’s some rice in there with spices. It kinda looks like a dark sausage. Just try it!

The Alcohol: You can’t have a New Year’s celebration without

Bottles of Pitorro Photo by: Maricel Jiménez
Bottles of Pitorro
Photo by: Maricel Jiménez

alcohol can you?

  1.  Pitorro, the old-time favorite that just keeps getting better. Pitorro is home-made spiced rum, cured over time. You’ll find large bottles like in the picture filled with colored liquid and chunks of various fruits. As traditions grow, people keep getting more creative with the recipes: pear, passion fruit, tamarind, coconut and pineapple, coconut and almond, papaya, etc. It’s really strong, but washes down warm and you sip it (at least I do).
  2. Coquito: An eggnog like drink made with rum, coconut milk, condensed milk and other spices. It’s served cold, and it’s sweet and delicious, although usually strong so they serve it in a shot glass.
Panderos, palitos, amd a güiro.
Photo by: Maricel Jiménez

The Music: Although some houses will have music playing from a speaker, at some point live music simply happens. Whether a parranda arrives (a group of people singing with guitars, güiros, maracas, and anything that makes noise. It’s a loud, merry version of caroling… boricua style), pleneros (group of people playing panderos and singing Plena), or simply someone grabs an instrument and everyone starts singing, sooner or later it’s bound to happen.

Pyrotechnics: When the clock strikes midnight it’s essential to make a lot of noise. Firecrackers and cherry bombs used to dominate, but ever since fireworks became mainstream this is one tradition that, like the Pitorro, keeps getting more elaborate. The skies alight with sparkles of different colors and everybody cheers: ¡Felicidades!

The party continues well into the night… or morning, if the neighbors don’t mind, and you can bet you’ll be eating left overs on Jan 1st. No worries, those are the kind of leftovers that make it a very Happy New Year!