There is nothing quite like Christmas in Puerto Rico. The teeny tiny Caribbean island is known for having the longest holiday season in the entire world, which lasts from the end of November all the way through the middle of January. Boricuas celebrate the season like no one else. We love any and every festive occasion because we treasure spending time with family and friends. We’re also obsessed with good food and beautiful music.
A highlight of Puerto Rican Christmas festivities is the parrandas, which are basically nightly Christmas caroling parades that happen in individual neighborhoods all throughout the Christmas season, and the star of those parrandas are the Puerto Rican aguinaldos a.k.a. Christmas carols. While most mainland Americans are beyond familiar with the beloved tune “Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano, it’s far from the island’s only original Christmas song.
Aguinaldos – the word means “gifts” – in and of themselves are a cultural tradition in Puerto Rico. In fact, they’re a tradition that has actually turned into a form of resistance and a symbol of unity among Puerto Ricans. We own our Christmas traditions and largely put aside our differences to gather together and sing and dance joyfully to the songs we all remember from our childhoods. These nostalgic songs are like a yearly reminder that no matter what the government is or isn’t doing or how abysmal and unbalanced the economy is, we are all Boricua.
Puerto Ricans refuse to let American and Euro-centric symbols of Christmas overshadow our own holiday traditions, and just like celebrating on Noche Buena with pernil, pitorro, arroz con gandules and coquito, aguinaldos have become a symbol of our shared heritage. Aguinaldos are still performed with traditional Puerto Rican instruments like cuatros, güiros and panderas. And while some are religious, many are performed in the criollo style, representing our diverse ancestry. Far from generic Christmas carols, aguinaldos often reference tenets of Puerto Rican culture and recall our vast and complicated history. Like so much Puerto Rican music, the songs are sung with pride and raw emotion. As we end each year and start one anew, aguinaldos remind us who we are, where we come from, and what truly matters in life.
This Noche Buena, we are blasting our favorite aguinaldos even more mindfully than ever before, because, well . . . there is just so much going on in the world that is uncertain, but what’s not, is how strong and resilient we are as a people. To get in the Christmas spirit we recommend you play these Puerto Rican Christmas carols on repeat.