Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
I know I’m a little late, but at least I’m not as late as my Mom’s Christmas cards. 🙂
So, how does one celebrate the holidays in Puerto Rico?
I’m glad you asked!
Christmas in Puerto Rico is not a day; it’s a season. It may possibly be the world’s longest Christmas. Holiday events begin after Thanksgiving and continue on through January. Since the first week of December, Glenn and I have dealt with traffic along 102 (which normally doesn’t get much traffic) due to the festivities hosted at the park just 5 minutes down the road from us. I’m not exactly sure what it was called, but it seemed like a fair with food stalls, games, and a stage with live music every weekend. By the way, “Christmas music” in Puerto Rico is not equated to hymns and carols, but instead to lively, upbeat traditional music called “bomba” and “plena,” legacies of Puerto Rico’s African heritage. Instead of the quiet, calming Christmas carols that makes one feel cozy curled up in front of a roaring fire, Puerto Rican Christmas music will force you to dance. It is beyond your control.
Glenn and I really enjoyed Christmas here. We love the warm weather, music, warm weather, food, warm weather, and traditions. And did I mention the warm weather? (Hence the outdoor celebrations.) Glenn and I attended two Christmas parties, the first being a staff party for Glenn’s work and the other being a smaller gathering on Christmas Eve at the home of a friend that Glenn made at the gym. At both parties, we enjoyed Puerto Rican Christmas food: pasteles (sort of like tamales), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), a variety of meat and other side dishes, a sweet rice pudding for dessert, and coquito, a drink similar to eggnog that includes cinnamon and coconut. We were very fortunate to have been invited to two different parties.
On Friday the 19th, we had our friends Alejandro and Linda over to watch Christmas movies. Linda and I baked cookies (it was her first time doing so) and I made enough cookies to bring to the Christmas party on the 24th. Puerto Ricans know all the classic Christmas movies, but Christmas movies don’t play such a big role in their Christmas traditions like they do in the States. Also, baking Christmas cookies isn’t really a thing here, so it was fun for us to include our friends in our own traditions. I’m hoping we can do it again next year.
Glenn and I sort of celebrated Hanukkah; we lit the menorah on the sixth night, because that was all the candles I had. He wore his yamulke that he bought in Curaçao in 2011 at the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere in continuous use. Yes, there are synagogues in the Caribbean!
Sadly, I had to work all week and yes, even on Christmas Day. However, there were several lesson cancellations and I had enough time to make Glenn special Christmas pancakes with cinnamon and chocolate chips. We opened presents in the late morning, and then I taught all afternoon. Glenn made a five-course dinner: salad, soup, salsa chicken, steak, and chocolate for dessert, which had been presents sent to us by various family members. (Side note: While we LOVE receiving delicious treats in the mail, keep in mind that Puerto Rico is a tropical country and that chocolate will completely melt en route to us!)
One Puerto Rican Christmas tradition that we did not experience is when a group of people go over to a friend’s house and make lots of noise to wake him/her up. That person is obliged to let in their friends and serve some snacks, or an asopao (soup). In a way, I’m glad that we didn’t have an opportunity to experience this because I slept really well that night and felt great the next day.
The weekend after Christmas was nothing special. Glenn and I saw our friends Friday and Saturday nights, and I worked all weekend. It’s been great to have some actual free time in the evenings and I’ve been taking advantage of it by being lazy, watching movies, and getting back into the gym. Luckily, I happen to know a really good trainer who can help me get back into shape. 🙂
What was next? New Year’s Eve! New Year’s is the biggest holiday in Russia and I had very few lessons this week. In fact, for the first time ever, I had NO lessons on New Year’s Day and I have no lessons either this entire weekend! I would normally take advantage of such an opportunity, but teaching fewer lessons this month + our first car payment + next semester’s tuition and books + airfair to DC in May = no money whatsoever. Yes, unfortunately, I thought that this would be the first month where I’m not using my savings to keep us afloat, but that raisin in the sun quickly festered. The good news is that Glenn will be ordering the equipment for his studio next week and can hopefully get the studio up and running by the end of January! If all goes well, he’ll be making good money before my savings run out. (It’s a strange feeling to think that I was in Korea this time last year with $15,000 in savings!)
Oh, right… New Year’s Eve. It’s a big thing here, but most Puerto Ricans spend the holiday with their families, and so all of the restaurants and bars were closed (which is the opposite of back home in the States). Glenn and I were lucky enough to have two friends with no plans and so we spent the evening with them. Our friend, Sylmarian, lives 10 minutes away from us, just across the Mayagüez harbor. Her building is on a hill, and her apartment is on the third or fourth floor (I didn’t count exactly), and we had an incredible view of the harbor from up there. We could see across to our side of town, which was totally lit up since it was night, and for about 30 minutes starting at midnight, fireworks went off all along the strip across the harbor. Glenn tried to take some pictures and video, but they really didn’t do the view justice. By the way, people just buy their own fireworks here and set them off anytime, anywhere… even in the middle of the day when certain people are teaching lessons and the explosions set off their car alarm!
It was low-key but very nice. Glenn and I left and went back home around 12:20am, after all the shooting had subsided. Yes, the shooting. It’s tradition that people in the projects (who all own guns, just like any good American thug… or any good thug living in a US territory) shoot their guns at midnight, and they shoot them straight up towards the sky so that the bullets fall back down. Reportedly, many people get injured (or die) every year due to this. That’s why we were advised to be somewhere with a roof at midnight.
That brings us to today, January 2nd. I finish teaching at 5pm instead of my usual 8pm, and then I’m free as a bird until Monday. Although this is probably the only free weekend I’ll have for the next couple of years, we don’t have any plans.
Our friend Eileen, who we met in Korea and was one of the Edutainers (actors/singers) where we worked, is coming to visit from January 14th – 22nd. The next semester starts on January 20th, and this time, both of my classes will be online and I will not have to go to campus every other week. It’s ironic because now I actually have a car that works.
Happy New Year! 🙂