The Holidays in Puerto Rico

by | Jan 17, 2018 | Headlines, Puerto Rico | Comments

Puerto Rico has one of the longest holiday seasons in the world, beginning with Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November and ending with Three Kings Day on January 6. The reason for this is because Puerto Rico has adopted American and Spaniard holiday traditions after being their colony.

With Thanksgiving being a federal holiday, many employees are given the day off to spend with their families. Though Puerto Rico may not feel directly connected to the history of this American holiday, we still celebrate in our own way. Usually, families gather together at one of their houses, and share traditional Puerto Rican dishes served as a feast. It’s an opportunity for everyone to catch up and be thankful for any number of things. This year’s Thanksgiving fell two months after Hurricane Maria which made it difficult to celebrate. It was harder to visit family members and only 42% of electricity generation had been restored. It was during this month that news of the Whitefish Scandal circulated and the cancellation of the contract happened, the last day of the same month. It was hard to gauge morale at this point. The government’s promise that electricity would be restored to 95% by December seemed highly unlikely because of the previously mentioned scandal, many were still working out how to get help from FEMA, family members had moved abruptly, homes were lost, and roads without light posts (common in rural roads) were still dangerous to travel.

The next holidays celebrated in Puerto Rico were Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For Christmas Eve, shopping and food establishments were open for ‘special hours’, meaning they could be open and close earlier to give their employees time to prepare for Christmas Day. Christmas Day in Puerto Rico is celebrated in a similar fashion to other countries. Children wake up to their presents and are sometimes taken to the houses of extended family members to collect the presents “Santa” left for them there.

It’s hard to say how exactly the hurricane made Christmas Day different. From this writer’s perspective, the malls were full to the brim the entire month of December; Christmas shopping seemed to be in full swing. It was easier for families to visit each other than it was during previous months. However, many families were separated due to the exodus of Puerto Ricans to the US. My own sister spent Christmas Day in Florida as she was sent to finish her semester there. Yet, with communication systems in working order, it was easier to communicate with friends and family adding to a feeling of connectedness. Students had varied experiences as some universities gave two weeks vacation whereas others were only given the day off. I spent it traveling back to my campus in San Juan after having spent the weekend with my family in Ponce.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, students opted to stay on campus in San Juan because classes continued to be held. The week after Christmas, friends and classmates celebrated together. I was reminded of how, after the hurricanes when the first schedule of adjustments to the semester was released, many joked that they would exchange gifts and greet the New Year with classmates. This turned out to be true. I spent the week eating leftovers and watching holiday movies with close friends. It was one of the few times after Maria that we had all managed to be together. Compared to last year, when we were at each other’s apartment every week, now our time is taken up by our responsibilities as students more and more, making it harder to maintain a social life.

The transition from 2017 to 2018 was met with little fanfare in the municipalities that lacked electricity. Some places had a few fireworks, others had none. New Year’s Eve fell three months after Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico had not reached the 95% goal of electrical capacity placed by the governor. Electricity is at 68% of generation, with “pockets” in municipalities still in a blackout.  In municipalities with electricity, however, fireworks, music, and caravanas (caravans) carried on similar to previous years.

Despite the annual “No Mas Balas Al Aire” (No More Bullets To The Air) campaign there were still reports of people who shot bullets in the air as a form of celebration. This was more dangerous this year as many houses have blue tarps instead of roofs. A video even went viral of teenagers from Bayamon shooting bullets. Though they turned out to be blanks, they received criticism for their actions. Shooting bullets into the air during New Year’s Eve is a misguided tradition not exclusive to Puerto Rico, but was especially dangerous this year because of the added risk of inadequate shelters. Thankfully, there was only one injury from a stray bullet this year.

The last holiday of the season is Three Kings Day on January 6. It is a tradition inherited from Puerto Rico’s time as Spain’s colony. On this day, smaller gifts are given and a festival is celebrated in Juana Diaz. Throughout Puerto Rico, men dress up as the wise men and give out candy to children. It was a tradition that was continue this year. The Three Kings Day Festival in Juana Diaz, also, remained largely unchanged. The town plaza and street was closed off so that people would be able to walk freely, a stage is placed in front of the plaza’s church wherein Mass is given and later on a reenactment of the birth of Jesus. I managed to visit at night to get a rare treat, the beverage called Mauby (Maví or Mabí in Spanish), and see the handmade goods being sold by the street vendors. This day is humbler than Christmas, perhaps because it is less commercialized and is deeply rooted in Christian tradition. There is no expectation of giving or receiving gifts, though money is still well-received when given out to younger family members. It was the tradition that had changed the least Post-Hurricane, signaling that not everything in Puerto Rico has changed.