Celebrating Christmas in Puerto Rico

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In Puerto Rico, the general consensus about the Christmas season is that it’s not so much a sprint as it is a marathon. The holidays begin as early as November and can continue well into mid-January. That kind of revelry far exceeds the 12 Days of Christmas and includes some wonderful island traditions. The Christmas season is full of family, traditions, and colorful celebrations, many of them religious. So if you want to get into the ​Christmas spirit, Puerto Rican style here's what you need to know about celebrations in Puerto Rico over Christmas and New Year's.

Attend a Misa de Aguinaldo
From December 15 - 24, churches conduct misas de aguinaldo, masses held each morning at dawn and feature the singing of aguinaldos, which are a folk genre of Christmas music sung in several Latin American countries, and of course, Puerto Rico.

Catch a Parranda
A parranda is the local version of carolers, who will travel around their neighborhood singing aguinaldos. Parrandas can be heard as early as late November and can usually still be found in early January.

Celebrate Nochebuena
Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas Day for most Puerto Ricans. This is when a typical Puerto Rican Christmas dinner is served, consisting of lechón (roast pork), pasteles (patties), and arroz con gandules (rice and beans). The traditional Christmas dessert is tembleque, which is a kind of custard made with coconut, cornstarch, vanilla, and cinnamon. Instead of eggnog, coquito, or coconut nog is served. After dinner, many Puerto Ricans attend a midnight mass known as the Misa de Gallo or “Rooster’s Mass,” where you might catch a live reenactment of the nativity scene.

Eat Your Grapes
New Year's Eve in Puerto Rico is appropriately called Año Viejo, or "Old Year," and it's a fun time to be outside; fireworks, honking cars, and the cacophony of celebration can be heard everywhere. At the stroke of midnight, local tradition demands that you eat 12 grapes for luck. You'll also find some people sprinkling sugar outside their house for good luck or throwing a bucket of water out the window to expel all the negatives of the old year and get ready for a fresh start. As for where to be when the clock strikes 12, head to the Puerto Rico Convention Center for a spectacular fireworks show.

Collect Grass for the Camels
Leading up to the last hurrah of the holidays, the night before Three Kings Day, Puerto Rican children collect grass and place it in a shoebox under their beds for the Three Kings' Camels. Similar to carrots left for reindeer tradition in the U.S., only the camels are given "treats," as the Kings aren't offered a plate of cookies or a glass of milk.

Celebrate Three Kings Day
The grand finale of the season for most of the island is celebrated on January 6th. This day is known as El Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos, or "Three Kings Day." Locals bid farewell to Christmas with a large celebration in San Juan, and children are invited to visit La Fortaleza, the governor's mansion, to receive gifts.