The History of Puerto Rico’s Parranda

Puerto Rico Parranda

Image courtesy of Nuestro Stories.

It’s 6:45 on a Monday morning in Old San Juan, and the early morning mass has just ended with parranda music. The singing of the churchgoers can be heard throughout la Calle de la Luna. 

It’s Navidades time, and Christmas is nothing without a full-fledged parranda. It’s reconnecting Puerto Rican traditions, which is so important, especially now that the island has been through tough times. 

The parranda is not caroling, though many non-Boricuas insist on comparing the two. It’s much more than that. Caroling is an oral tradition passed down by generations, and it commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ,

Parrandas signal the start of Christmas on the island 

The holiday begins at the end of November and ends at the end of January. It starts after Thanksgiving and is probably the longest Christmas in the world. 

Historically, the parrandas originated with jibaros and farm workers from Puerto Rico’s countryside and represented the reenactment of the biblical story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter. 

The parranda, formed by a musical group of friends and family called la trulla, arrives at your home at all hours of the night. And when I say at all hours, I mean at all hours. So I could be at 8 pm or 4 am. 

The trulla starts la parranda by singing one of the iconic songs called aguinaldos (which means gift) or villancicos — which are Christmas songs. The lyrics of this villancico below are iconic. If you are genuinely Puerto Rican, you grew up singing this song at Christmas. 

“Alegre vengo de la montaña,

de mi cabaña que alegre está

y a mis amigos les traigo flores

de las mejores de mi rosal

Desde la montaña

venimos aquí

para desearles, para desearles

un año feliz.

Alegre vengo de la montaña,

de mi cabaña que alegre está

y a mis amigos les traigo flores

de las mejores de mi rosal.”

It’s also essential to have the correct musical instruments for a parranda. These are tambourines (panderetas), maracas, Güiros (a notched hollowed-out gourd that produces music by dragging a wooden stick-like object, commonly known as a scrapper, or “pua”), guitar, a Puerto Rican guitar known as el cuatro and palitos.  

When the parranda (at times, it’s also called “un asalto Navideno” a Christmas assault) arrives at your home, you must open the door and give the trulla food and beverage (preferably alcohol and lots of it.) Then, you must join the trulla as they move the parranda to another home.

The house-to-house party can last until the early hours of the morning, and it is terrific. It’s difficult not to get swept up by the joy of the parranda. It’s music, food, alcohol, song, and the love of friends and family. 

¡Que empieze la parranda! Feliz Navidad les desea Nuestros Stories.

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By Susanne Ramírez de Arellano

Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is a writer and cultural critic who used to be a journalist, television producer, and news director. She lives between San Juan and New York and is, at present, making her first attempt at writing a novel.

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