There’s more to the fiesta than just the food.
The holidays are all about coming together as families and enjoying the spirit of the season. It is the time to relax and relish everything good in life, like music, food, dancing, beautiful scenery, the people’s laughter, and warmth.
In Puerto Rico, this season begins the day after Thanksgiving, when most families around the Island set up the trees. They continue well into mid-January with the closing of Las Octavitas. During this time, plenty of families and friends get together to spread love and cheer. What is really magical about Puerto Rico is that it travels beyond the Island and into the homes of anyone that wants to keep the espíritu navideño alive.
So, if you want to get into the holiday spirit, Puerto Rican style, here’s a breakdown of how to set up an authentic Christmas feast:
The food is the main event!
First thing, dinner is served on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas day!
That is if you’re going to do the holidays Puerto Rican style. The preparation for la cena de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve dinner) takes longer than your typical family sitting. Start the day early by prepping your lechón (the pork mounted on a stick outside) or your pernil (roasted pork leg or shoulder). Keep in mind that if you’re making a lechón, your preparation for the feast can start as early as 4:00 am, but you'll be making a Puerto Rican gastronomic legacy!
Cooking the meat slowly, roasted on a spit or fogón, is an opportunity to teach the children about the Island’s country-side traditions, and you can even dress them up as jibaritos as they take turns to turn the pig through the day. The lechón can take up to eight hours to cook, depending on the size.
As the day goes by, set up the tables with red and green decorations and fill your house with music and aguinaldos to set the mood as you cook the rest of your menu. Of course, arroz con gandules and pasteles are a must. Your house will be filled with savoring scents that’ll make your guests hungry the second they walk into the place. You can ask others to bring side dishes like guineítos en escabeche, ensalada de coditos, ensalada de papa, and desserts like tembleque and arroz con dulce.
After dinner, break out the coquito and a guitar and gather everyone around the tree to sing some authentic holiday songs like “Arbolito, arbolito,” “El Cardenalito,” and “De la montaña venimos.” This time can serve as a rehearsal for a parranda later on in the night.
After party parranda
¡Asalto! Surprise other friends and family members with a traditional Island carol.
Before and even well after Christmas, Puerto Ricans spread the Christmas cheer and spark the holiday fire with unforgettable parrandas or trullas navideñas. Grab your family and friends after dinner and turn them into parranderos. A parranda, which is the Puerto Rican version of Christmas Caroling, consists of small groups of people playing their instruments, such as guitars, güiros, maracas, tambourines, or panderos outside their friend’s house.
Keep the fiesta going, and ask your friends to join you as the group moves to the next home for another ¡asalto navideño! This way, the party doesn’t end until the early hours of the morning, where the last homeowner offers the parranderos something to eat, traditionally asopao.