Parrandas and Aguinaldos – Celebrating the Holidays, Puerto Rican Style!

Have you ever been to Puerto Rico at this time of year?  If so, you know how festive the holidays are on this fun-loving island. Puerto Ricans really know how to party! Celebrations for the Navidad season start late in November, continue through Christmas and Los Reyes Magos, and wrap up in mid-January with eight final days of celebration called las octavitas. This is why they proudly claim to have the longest holiday season in the world. 

It’s a season of fiestas with special meals, seasonal music, and many gifts.  As in many Latin countries, children receive gifts from Santa on Noche Buena (December 24) and then get more gifts from Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings) on the night of January 5. But there’s one type of “gift” that is quite unique and very typical of Puerto Rico.  That’s the musical gift called the aguinaldo.  

The word aguinaldo has various meanings in Spanish. In Mexico, it’s a cash Christmas bonus paid by employers, but in Puerto Rican Spanish (as well as in Venezuela, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago) it’s a lively style of folk music played as a gift for loved ones in the Christmas season.  

Agüinaldos are sung at a moving street party called a parranda. The Puerto Rican version (la parranda puertorriqueña) is truly an event and is a major part of the holiday celebrations. Think of caroling in the U.S., but take it WAY up a notch!  Small groups of people (called parranderos) take their voices and instruments to the road and surprise their friends or family with a musical gift – usually starting after 10:00 at night!  

¡Sorpresa! The Party is Here!

The opening song is known as a “Christmas Assault” (asalto navideño) as it jolts the residents awake. This is a gift that keeps on giving, as neighbors are often woken up as well!  It’s hard to contain the sounds of the voices, guitars, tambourines, maracas, palitos, and güiros (Latin/Caribbean percussion instruments).  Listen here for a sample!  

The unsuspecting hosts invite the parranderos inside and the singing continues. They all share food and drinks (like the Puerto Rican eggnog drink called coquito) and then the group (along with the newly awakened residents) moves on together to the next house.  This can continue all night, with the group growing ever larger and livelier until they all enjoy a final meal (often a hearty stew or asopao) at the last house in the early hours of the morning.  

“Where is all this food and drink coming from?” you might ask. The parranda puertorriqueña is such a big part of the holidays that Puerto Ricans stay prepared for guests (invited or not!).  They stock up on snacks, rum, and other holiday delights just in case they are “assaulted” by a parranda

If you’ve ever experienced parrandas and aguinaldos, we’d love to hear about the fun!  Please share in the comments below.  

For more Latin holiday traditions, check out this post and for favorite recipes from Spanish Schoolhouse staff, click here! ¡Feliz Navidad!

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