FESTIVALS, FEASTS, FAMILY & FUN
Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
325Trip End Oct 31, 2013
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DECEMBER 2011 -JANUARY 2012
Arriving in Puerto Rico on Thursday November 24, with one hour of Thanksgiving Day remaining, we had missed the first of the big family celebrations but don't worry there were many more to come.
Puerto Ricans start celebrating Xmas early December with "parandas" which are groups of people making music and singing Christmas songs, starting out at about 11pm, visiting friends for drinks and snacks; these friends/family join the paranda, and dance and sing to the next house to wake up the occupants, have a drink and so this goes on until a big noisy and happy group reach the last house for breakfast. The music is made with maracas, pleneras, wind instruments, congas etc and has a African beat and definite Caribbean flavour- no “Away in the Manger” type hymns happen here.
The streets and houses are decorated with lights and Old San Juan and every little district have
fabulous music festivals in their plazas- we particularly enjoyed the one at Santurci where Frances taught Kath how to dance the “plena”; by the way she never got the salsa right but was able to wriggle around to join in.
The sheer pleasure of seeing the old, the young and everyone in between dancing and throwing themselves into the music is fabulous, and reminds us that in Australia this community involvement would be less common – perhaps a rock 'n roll band might encourage a wider group but not sure if the 80+ years would join in.
Puerto Rico is all about music, dancing and having a good time. The family involvement is paramount and all festivals involve family get-togethers.
Christmas Eve is the main family party and the menu is always roast pork, rice cooked with gandules (pigeon peas) and the very special “pastellis” which consist of ground green bananas, root vegetables and pumpkin made into a paste and wrapped around a delicious pork stew and finally packaged into a banana leaf and boiled for an hour. Coquito is a creamy cocktail made at home with spices, coconut milk, rum, and sweet condensed milk and there seems to be a competition between households for the most delicious concoction. Let’s not forget the desert “aroz con dulce” a rice pudding and “tembleque” –coconut custard which are sweet and tempting.
Our family fiesta was held in Maritza’s apartment and people exchanged presents and practised the bomba, a improvised musical verse with a repetitive chorus with some interesting rhythmic instruments brought along by the family accompanying the bomba . Kath made an effort to read her bit of the bomba in Spanish which was humorous for the others. A little dancing and continuous music was of course incorporated into the very late night.
We celebrated New Years Eve in Morovis at the house of Griselles family. Morovis is about 50 miles from Carolina and is considered to be in the “campo”, country and it did seem remote as we drove our way through narrow winding roads into the green and lush country side.
We loved the visit of the old man on the donkey that made his way amongst us, signifying the end of the old year and the paranda arrived with their fabulous music to herald the new year.
This was a happy night with guess what? -roast pork prepared by Danny, rice and gandules and “aroz con dulce”. We loved the Grey Goose vodka served with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice- the fruit was grown on the farm here! And dancing and more dancing until it was time to spare the neighbours and move out around 2am.
The food over these festivals is roast pork in many different dishes but the best is the pig on the spit over the hot coals and Danny, Sheila’s brother has mastered this culinary skill and produces a delicious tasty pork that everyone looks forward to.
The whole ritual of collecting the pig from the farm, marinating it and getting it onto the spit probably took Danny two days, with willing participation from Sheila and Frances. This ritual occurred for the wonderful Three King’s Day celebration; this holiday happens on January 6 and seems to be a particularly Puerto Rican event and it honours the arrival of the three wise men/kings at the the place of Jesus’ birth.
The kids put a little box of freshly mown grass (lawns look good on the day) under their beds the night before and the kings bring their camels to eat the grass and leave gifts for the children. A little trail of grass is left behind. Sweet!!
And of course its another good reason to have a feast and family get together. Frances had invited some friends from the USA to join her because Jenni had always wanted to take part in this special day and they were really impressed with the involvement of the extended family and the fun had by all. More gift giving, delicious barbecued pork,- thanks Danny- music and dancing!
Another wonderful festival was the San Sebastian festival that virtually closes down Old San Juan and gives over to music, festivities, fairs and food sharing.
Originally the festival was situated just in the street of San Juan but became so huge that it now takes over the complete old town. The police close the streets to traffic and people party from Thursday night to Sunday and the ban on drinking in the streets is lifted. Itinerant musicians wander the narrow streets and the sound of drums, loud trumpets adds to the excitement.
The local newspaper reported 40,000 people in town on the first night. Just wonderful to be a part of this raucous and happy event and we were there on Thursday night celebrating Danny’s birthday and then again on Saturday- we loved the art and crafts on display and of course we lingered at the different music venues and sampled the Puerto Rican food on offer.
So let me finish by saying that if you love a party come to Puerto Rico at Christmas time- the weather is kinder and the whole island relaxes and parties and everyone is included. Of course the island is busy with American tourists escaping freezing cold winters up north.
The resorts do good business, especially the ones on the beach. We joined Dannyand family for a three day stay at the Gran Melia, just before Christmas. It is on the Atlantic Ocean, the Rio Grande, and it was a good way to relax between all those celebrations.