Photo: Katherine Morales

6 Core Differences Between Puerto Rican and American Christmas

Puerto Rico United States
by Adri Colom Dec 16, 2016

1. Where’s the snow at?

Any type of Christmas activity in the United States traditionally involves snow: building snowmen, having snowball fights, sledding, etc. Puerto Ricans replace these winter activities with going to the beach. If I’m being honest, I’d never owned a fur-coat jacket, pairs of waterproof boots, or any type of scarves until I left the island two years ago. Our houses don’t even have chimneys or fireplaces because warm temperature is something we try to avoid, not welcome. Puerto Ricans will most likely complain if weather drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Guilty.

2. Three Kings Day

On January 6th, Puerto Ricans are still celebrating the holidays. Trust me, it goes on forever. If you’re familiar with the Nativity Story, the three wise men followed the North Star and brought presents to Jesus after he was born. I’m pretty sure this is another tradition inherited from the Spaniards that became part of our own cultural holidays and traditions. Children receive three presents on the morning of, one from each of the three kings known as Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar. Similar to Santa’s milk and cookies, children leave grass and water outside for the camels the kings ride on.

3. Two servings of Christmas dinner won’t be enough.

Forget gingerbread lattes, hot chocolate, and eggnog, we drink coquito. Coquito is basically eggnog with a tropical coconut twist that makes all the difference in the world. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Puerto Ricans are huge coconut fans (hi, piña colada). Traditional Christmas desserts include tembleque and arroz con dulce, both variations of coconut puddings rather than the classic gingerbread cookies and candy canes. You can also count on replacing ham and roast beef with pasteles, arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), morcilla (blood sausage), and a pig on a stick roasting over a fire. It ain’t pretty.

4. The bearer of presents

As a predominantly Catholic nation, many Puerto Ricans believe in baby Jesus rather than Santa Claus. Kids grow up saying baby Jesus will be bringing them presents on the highly anticipated December 25th rather than putting out milk and cookies for Santa. Not sure which one is more believable: fat man with reindeer pulling his sleigh or a baby that can’t even walk.

5. What’s a New Year’s Kiss?

Partying and making out with someone when the clock strikes twelve seems to be tradition in the United States. Even though we’re US citizens, Puerto Ricans do not partake in all American holidays and traditions. For starters, holidays and special events are usually family exclusive. The closest thing I’ve received to a New Year’s kiss was having lipstick-stained cheeks from kissing my many aunts.

At some Puerto Rican New Year’s Eve parties I’ve attended, guests eat 12 grapes at midnight. For luck, of course. This is actually a Spanish tradition that we inherited from being a Spanish colony before being an American one.

6. ¡Asalto!

Asalto literally means ‘assault’ in English and it’s the go-to phrase when you’re in a parranda. Parrandas are kind of like Christmas Carols on steroids. I’m not joking. Frank Sinatra, the calmest music you’ll ever hear, isn’t really comparable to the music Puerto Ricans listen to during the holidays. Prepare to be woken up at 1 am by friends and family with the loudest, most fast-paced music you’ve heard. On top of that, you’ll be expected to pull an all-nighter by going door to door waking everyone up, drinking and eating (but mainly drinking) the night away.

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