It always seems like the Christmas holiday comes and goes too quickly. The festive cheer, holiday lights, and parties that we look forward to every year disappear almost with the snap of a finger.
Come winter, Puerto Rico celebrates Christmas from Thanksgiving Day through the second week of January. In the midst of this long season, joyous events exclusive to Puerto Rico occur, including the Three Kings Day celebration, parrandas, and a hop down a roasted pork route.
Only a two-hour flight from Miami, this is the only Caribbean island where no passport is necessary!
Traditional Holiday Cuisine
“No pork during Christmas is like no turkey during Thanksgiving”, says Jorge Collazo, a Puerto Rico native.
Lechonera, savory roasted pork prepared by rotating the meat over a fire pit, is at the top of everyone’s holiday shopping list during the Christmas season on the island. To experience this traditional dish, visit the Guavate Route in the town of Cayey, a traditional gastronomic pork route where the locals restaurant hop for miles, collecting drinks and food during the holiday season.The route comes alive with tents filled with arts and crafts, local produce along the roadsides, and live music bands.
PHOTOS: Christmas in Puerto Rico: Thanksgiving to mid-January
El Rancho Original, a popular restaurant along this route, serves succulent lechonera and other traditional foods like morcilla sausages, yellow rice with pigeon peas, batata (sweet potato), pasteles (hard banana), and yautias (a native vegetable). For diners that prefer white meat, maximum flavor is created by roasting the pig above the chickens and turkey to let the pork juice seep into them. Wipe your mouth, and wash it all down with Medalla, the locally brewed beer.
Sing A Christmas Carol
Caroling? Unfortunately, it’s not something you see much in the U.S. anymore.
Don’t worry. This joyous tradition is one of the biggest parts of the Christmas holiday in Puerto Rico. The parranda is the island’s take on caroling where groups of friends travel from house to house singing songs while playing traditional instruments like maracas, cuatros, congas and pleneras.
The San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is the premier location in San Juan to experience a parranda firsthand. The resort hosts mini parrandas along the pool conducted by the recreations team twice per day during the holidays.
“At the Marriott, we walk around the neighborhoods; we come back and there are refreshments and presents for the kids during the pre-Christmas celebration. Then, we light the Christmas lights,” says Hans-Georg Röhrbein, general manager of the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino.
The resort offers complimentary GoPro recorders, which guests can use to capture the festivities for a keepsake memory of the events.
Holiday Like a Local
In the remote area of Gurabo lies the peaceful Carraizo Lake surrounded by lush mountains. Here, the Paddle Paradise company hosts kayak, paddle board, and zipline excursions for locals and tourists alike.
According to Viviana Vargas, public relations officer at the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, “The holiday season is the busiest time for Puerto Rico, so the locals avoid the beaches and go to the lakes, farms, and countryside.”
Most of the lakes in Puerto Rico are man-made, but it doesn’t make them any less beautiful. Visit the Lago Dos Bocas near Arecibo, or the glowing lagoon in the Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve.
Celebrate Three Kings Day
As a child, Puerto Rican local Jorge Collazo traditionally left grass and water under his bed to feed the three wise men’s passing camels on the eve of El Día de Reyes (Three Kings Day). In the morning, Jorge woke up to gifts received from the passing trio.
On January 6th, Three Kings Day is celebrated to commemorate when the three wise men brought gifts to the Christ child. Traditionally, three local men dress up as kings and ride horses for two days, starting in the town of Juana Diaz and ending in Old San Juan. After arriving in San Juan, there is a big celebration, where the government and families give presents to children.
“The lines for gifts could go on for hours”, says José Morales, a certified tour guide.
Parades, puppet shows, troubadours, music and dancing take place all across the island. Locally designed handcrafts depicting the Three Kings can be purchased in Old San Juan in many of the souvenir shops.
Where to Stay:
The San Juan Marriott & Stellaris Casino offers parrandas and special treats like Puerto Rico’s version of eggnog (coquito) at the property’s casual dining restaurant, La Vista Latin Grill. The family-friendly property offers a beachfront location, with one large pool complex (including a swim up bar and spiral waterslide), an activity center with books, games, snacks, and complimentary GoPro devices. The property is a short distance from Old San Juan, where many of the holiday festivities take place. www.marriottsanjuan.com
Other Holiday Events:
• December 28: The Masks Festival in the town of Hatillo
• Second Week of January: San Sebastian Street Festival
• February 2nd: The Candelaria Festivities (Celebrations with bonfires to celebrate the “end” of the winter season)
• Mid-February: The Cold Festival in Adjuntas (Adjuntas is the coldest town during Puerto Rican “winters,” which reaches its peak during February)