CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS FROM PUERTO RICO & SPAIN WITH SOFÍA
Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean islands, Sofìa grew up with all its rich Christmas traditions. Former Spanish colony now part of the United States, Puerto Rico has inherited a fascinating cultural blend.
Sofìa now lives in Malàga on the Spanish shores of the Mediterranean ocean with her daughter Isabel and her husband. In this article, they share about the traditions of both countries as well as their very own ones.
What is Christmas like in Puerto Rico?
It is usually said that Puerto Rico has the longest Christmas season in the world and I believe this is true! The holiday season begins right after Thanksgiving and hardly stops until mid January. We begin our Christmas shopping and there are then parties every weekend right until the third week of January, yes, January next year!
We don’t get to wear the cosy winter knits clothes due to the high temperatures but it is nice to enjoy lovely weather while we celebrate.
Under the sunshine we still wear the traditional holiday colors : green, white, red, gold and we love a lovely classic tartan!
Even if our weather is warm and tropical meaning we never have snow, we like to recreate a cold wonderland! There are Christmas trees and winter decorations everywhere! We even have snow machines releasing soap and water to look like snow!
We also have many light shows and festive decorations everywhere, the ones in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico’s colonial capital, are particularly famous.
Do you have Christmas carols?
Christmas carols are a big thing during the festive season! In Puerto Rico, they are called "parrandas" and in Spain they are named "villancicos de navidad". The idea is to gather all together at night with lots of instruments and sing our classic Christmas songs! We will creep in silently to our neighbors’ or friend’s homes and surprise them by dancing and singing! It's very joyful and merry!
What about the Christmas food?
In Puerto Rico, we have rice with gandules which is a kind of lentil. It is served with pork pasteles, which is plantain paste filled with pork and folded in banana leaves! Strange as it may seem, it is delicious. For dessert, we have tembleque, a coconut-based jelly-like sweet treat.
All the cafés are decorated and we love to eat out. One of our favourites is the Café del Niño in Old San Juan which is very family friendly. After feeding our friends the pigeons and taking in the best view of San Juan Bay, we always make sure to stop by!
What are the other celebrations following Christmas in Puerto Rico?
We celebrate Three Kings’ Day on the 6th of January. It is actually a tradition coming directly from Spain in honor of the three Kings that went to visit Jesus when he was born. That morning, everyone in the family receives gifts that the Three Kings brought during the night. The children leave water and grass for the camels in a box prepared and decorated the day before. We also put coquito, a Puerto Rican eggnog made with coconut milk, condensed milk and rum for the Kings. This is one of my favorite traditions because it encourages creativity. It is fun for kids to decorate the boxes for the grass with messages and drawings.
After this celebration comes yet another one called “Las octavitas”! It lasts eight days. We typically throw parties and sing a lot! To end the festive season, we have a musical jubilee with lots of colors and fun decorations. It is called las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián or la SanSe.
What’s a typical Spanish holiday season like ?
Spain has typical Roman-Catholic Christmas traditions, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on the 25th of December.
On Christmas Eve (Noche Buena in Spanish) families gather for a big dinner after or before Mass. Many often go out to a pre-dinner with friends and enjoy a walk around the city to see the Christmas lights. Obviously, we go to bed early because we must wait for Papá Noel (Santa Clause). The next day, we open gifts and stay at home. It is a calmer Christmas than in Puerto Rico.
Like in Puerto Rico, we also celebrate Three Kings Day, it’s actually almost a bigger event than Christmas. We have a first round of gifts on the 5th of January, “Three Kings Eve”. We then go to see the “Cabalgata de los Tres Reyes Magos”. This is a big parade, where the streets are closed and the Three Kings from Orient, and their page children, throw chocolate and candy to the spectators. It is incredibly fun and picturesque. Every town in Spain has their special customs so each one is unique. On the 6th we open gifts from the Three Kings again.
Madrid is particularly special at Christmas. On Serrano Street, all the high-end boutiques decorate their window displays and the lights illuminate the entire town.
The Botanical gardens feature incredibly beautiful light show to admire at night!
We also love to stroll in the Christmas market to get into the Christmas spirit! You can find all sorts of pretty presents, handmade craftsmanship and the loveliest floral decors.
What is Spanish Christmas food like ?
In Spain, we normally begin our dinner enjoying langostinos or gambas (different shrimp species), coquinas (miniature clams), cured cheese, cured Spanish Iberian ham and other cured sausages.
Typically, our second course may consist of either a fish plate or lamb and we finish off with turron as dessert. This almond nougat comes in a great variety of flavors, ranging from chocolate, rum with raisins, yogurt but the most traditional flavor is prepared with honey, sugar, egg whites and toasted almonds.
We also appreciate Mantecados, a very sandy cookie often eaten with anis or other dessert liquors.
And what will your own family’s Christmas be like this year?
This year we will spend Christmas in Puerto Rico.
Loyal to our tradition, my mom and I will go on a last minute “elf run” to the stores for any magical last-minute gifts that might pop up. We go super early on the 24th to avoid getting caught up with the swarm of people. We will then prepare my parent’s home where all the family gathers for our Christmas Eve party. It is my personal favorite day of the year, it's so crisp and magical, I can feel the excitement, the eagerness, the joy all around.
We are incredibly grateful because this year will be extra special; for the first time after COVID all my family will gather. This is exciting because some of my family members have not had the opportunity to meet Isabelita, and they will this year.
On the 25th, we will open gifts that Santa Claus left under the tree. We’ll then spend the morning at home cuddling and playing with our new presents and doll too. She is called Madeline and was my favourite as a child! My mum preciously kept and I have passed it down to my daughter.
During the afternoon, we’ll visit friends for an afternoon coffee and rest after the super hectic day before.
But the party does end there! We will keep our tree up much longer!
What are you favourite holiday treats?
In our home our favourite holiday treats to enjoy all throughout the season are red velvet cupcakes and coquito, a mix of American and Puerto Rican influences. In my opinion the best red velvet cupcake recipe is from Martha Stewart, they have the perfect amount of sweet paired up with the cream cheese frosting, they are delicious.
For Coquito I have my own recipe which I will share below.
- 750 ml white rum
- 4 cans of condensed milk
- 4 cans of evaporated milk
- 1.75 cans of coconut cream
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 teaspoons powdered cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed.
- Using a funnel, pour the mixture into the empty bottles.
- Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
- Shake well and serve cold
To garnish: Sprinkle a touch of ground cinnamon over the drink
Glass type: Short
Last by not least could you please tell us about your recently launched brand?
Lúpili Design Shop was born out of a personal need to share beautiful lovingly made creations for babies, children and homes; for you or for someone special. Ever since childhood, I have always enjoyed creating and gifting, be it jewelry, pastel drawings, watercolor paintings, combining outfits and even baking (yes I had a baking shop in my early 20s which I had to leave to go to law school). After I became a mom, I realized that Spain lacks personalized textile options for children so I decided to take things into my own hands and opened my own embroidery design shop.
My wish is to allow my passion to bring joy to others through authentic, unique, one-of-a-kind items. My main goal is to make your very own dreams come true.
Follow Sofìa on Instagram : @sofisouf
Learn more about Christmas in Puerto Rico
Isabelita's checked dress is a Charlotte sy Dimby creation
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