Parranda: A Puerto Rican Holiday Tradition

{Photo credit: JavierD.O1996}

Editor’s note: During the next few weeks, we’re going to be doing things a bit differently here as Ana and I concentrate in meeting the deadline for the forthcoming SpanglishBaby book. We hope you bear with us.

Because we’ve been around for almost three years (wow! when did that happen?), we’ll be sharing some classic posts from when it all got started. This post was originally published on February 6, 2009.

It’s 2:30 in the madrugada and the rooster won’t stop crowing. I thought this only happened at the break of dawn! What is going on? It was okay the first few days, but after all the late nights celebrating Año Nuevo and the first days of 2009 and just life in general – as they do on this beautiful island on a regular basis – I want to kill the stupid rooster.

But then, I remember how Vanessa’s face lit up when she first heard it the morning after our first night in her father’s homeland, Puerto Rico. “Mami, cucha! Ki-ki-ki!” she instructed me to listen unable to contain her excitement. For the first time in her short life, she was hearing the sound of a real rooster just outside her bedroom window. Later on, after she got dressed, we went outside to take a look at the culprit and we were all surprised to see not only one, but two roosters, a bunch of hens, and about ten tiny chickies.

My husband’s family lives in the northwest part of the island and even though we’re staying in a a recently constructed community, it’s still el campo. So – to my daughter’s delight – our next door neighbor is somehow allowed to raise farm birds. And even though I’m annoyed (to put it lightly) with their crowing at ungodly hours, I have to admit nothing makes my heart sing more than not having to explain to my daughter what it means to grow up in el campo.

A celebration like no other

The night before Reyes Magos – one of the biggest celebrations of Epiphany in any Spanish-speaking country I’ve ever had the fortune to experience – we were awoken in the middle of the night by a parranda at a neighbor’s house. This is basically when a group of friends armed with maracas, cuatros, güiros, palitos – among other instruments –quietly gathers in front of a friend or family member’s house late at night and when everyone’s setup, they start singing and playing typical música navideña de Puerto Rico, waking up the household members to the sound of music, loud music. This goes on for a while and then the group and the members of the house move on to another house and so on until the group is small no more and they reach the last house around 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.

The night in question, we were all startled by the festive music. Vanessa woke up and asked: “Qué eso?” To which her father responded: “Una parranda!” And she immediately started dancing! What can I say, she has it in her blood… Anyhow, a few minutes later and because I had never heard or seen a live parranda – and since you only live this particular life once and we were already awake – we decided to check it out. So, in the middle of the night and in our pj’s, we got in the car and took Vanessa to experience her first parranda. When we got there, my husband explained that it was probably the last house because of the amount of people and the smell of asopao – a type of delicious chicken soup that has to be served by the last house to receive the parranda.

We weren’t there long – and I don’t know how much of it Vanessa will actually remember – but I’m glad we did it. It is so much better to teach our kids about our culture through actual experiences.

What do you know about parrandas? Have you ever participated in one?

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