La parranda puertorriqueña: my favorite Puerto Rican Christmas tradition!

As many of you know, I was born, grew up and lived in the Enchanted Island of Puerto Rico until I was 18 years old. Thus, I know Puerto Rican Christmas very well. When thinking about our traditions, it was hard to choose which one to write about: How about explaining why the Puerto Rican Christmas goes from Thanksgiving Day all the way ’til the end of January? What about a photo essay of the delicious traditional food we eat during this season? How about listing and describing some of the many free festivals and concerts happening all over the island every single weekend? Or…tell them about the popular parranda puertorriqueña?! Well, there was the answer!

What is a parranda puertorriqueña?

In simple terms, the parranda puertorriqueña is the spiced-up, drunken cousin of the American Christmas carols. People gather with instruments and sing traditional Christmas songs as they go house by house until the “victims” open the door. Wait…why did I just say victims? Ahhh, there lies one of the big differences between the soso Christmas carols and the parranda puertorriqueña! 😉

parranda puertorriqueña, instruments

Some of the traditional instruments used in a parranda puertorriqueña: Cuatro (looks like a guitar, but has 5 sets of double strings; a plenero (looks like a drum in the photo); maracas (bottom left set); and a güiro (looks like wooden banana).

Assault!?

There is a reason why we Puerto Ricans also call the parranda puertorriqueña an ASALTO (literally meaning “assault”). Any time during the Christmas season (ahem, between Thanksgiving Day ’til the last week of January), an unsuspecting group of your friends could show up at your house in the middle of the night, usually the wee hours of 2-3 AM, and a particular night when they know you are asleep btw, screaming…

ASALTO!! (ASSAULT!) and start playing the pleneros, guiro, Spanish guitar and sometimes even trumpets and the cuatro puertorriqueño as loudly as possible, along with some off-sync singing of traditional songs, until you wake the heck up.

Heart attack to follow? Only if you are not used to the tradition! Puerto Ricans simply jump off the bed so excited (yet still with the heart beating at 475634785 mph) and dash to the front door to receive the friends that are delighting them with a parranda puertorriqueñaWhat about your neighbors!? you may ask. Well, typically they get so excited as well and come out to their balconies so they in order to enjoy it, too! 😀

parranda puertorriqueña instrument: The güiro

Güiro: Looks like a wooden banana, is hollow inside, has two holes behind it to hold it (similar to the holes in a bowling ball) and its front is full of horizontal dents throughout. For sound, a little piece of wood, with metal “fingers” attached, is used. It makes a rasping sound that perfectly complements any parranda puertorriqueña!

Once the people that perpetuated the “assault” walk into the “victims” house, they keep singing, playing their instruments, and even dancing while the “victims” (aka the hosts) start bringing out all the food and alcohol they got. Some of us Puerto Ricans call this “la comprita:” A set of groceries, finger food, rum, and other types of alcohol we always got stock up on the side of our pantry throughout the Christmas season in case we receive a parranda puertorriqueña. So if we are surprised and “assaulted” by our friends, we are ready! 😉

parranda puertorriqueña, congas

Other typical instruments found in a good parranda puertorriqueña are the congas (duo on the right)–and any piece of wood that can make a similar, complementing sound (left)! This photo was taken at a Christmas party back in my neighborhood in Gurabo, Puerto Rico!

Eat, drink, party — and repeat

But, what happens after all the food and alcohol runs out!? Ahh, everyone goes home? Umm, NOPE!! This is just the beginning! Typically, the “victims” aka “hosts” that were awoken join the parranda puertorriqueña as someone suggests the name and address of the next victim of the asalto. Then, off in a caravan once more!

Same parranda puertorriqueña from first video on this post (Christmas 2007), but after some other people joined! We were “assaulting” one of my neighbors 😀

And yes, it comes full circle again: Gather at the front door in silence, once everyone’s ready with the instruments they start off as loudly as possible again, singing and playing all those traditional instruments until Victim No.2 wakes up and gives the “assailants” some food and rum. This cycle continues as long as the group wishes, but it usually lasts well into the next morning, when around 10 AM someone knew of a party up in the mountains at the grandma’s house of someone else and the huge group of like 60+ people simply crash the party. When this happens during the holiday season, the people hosting the party are actually delighted to receive the party crashers aka assailants: So long you are singing and playing an instrument (you know, just give any sign that you were part of a parranda puertorriqueña all night long), you will be received warmly with, you guessed it, even more food and alcohol!! 😀

Ahh, just remembering the many parrandas puertorriqueñas I have been part of throughout the years makes me so homesick. Fortunately though, this tradition is migrating to several parts of the world, particularly the U.S., as we Puerto Ricans attempt to make Christmas our own no matter where we are. In fact, I just heard of a group called A Son De Plena based in Tampa, FL. Above, you can see them gathering for a parranda puertorriqueña to surprise their fellow Puerto Rican friends in town–or any other foreign friends that still know about the peculiar Christmas tradition. I’m so excited to join them on the weekend of Día de los Reyes Magos (January 6th) and introduce my gringo boyfriend to this lively Puerto Rican tradition!


A HILARIOUS short film summarizing this entire post perfectly – ENJOY! 😀

Ever been part of a parranda puertorriqueña? Comment below!

11 thoughts on “La parranda puertorriqueña: my favorite Puerto Rican Christmas tradition!

  1. Ah, what a great tradition! I love the idea of assaulting your friends and neighbors 😛 Since I’ve been abroad I’ve found North American holidays and traditions to be quite stale and conservative. I wish they would be more spiced up like this!

  2. Love the post, my hometown is filled with Puerto Ricans so I remember seeing this, and once or twice joining in. Although, it was more of a blend between American and Puerto Rican traditions.

    • I KNOWWW. It is my favorite tradition of our island! too much fun, even better to explain it to foreigners. They always crack up 😀

  3. Hi Latina abroad what is the name the second video on YouTube?? Would love to share this with friends

  4. I remember my grandmother telling me we had to make sure we had snacks and drinks in the house during this season. I loved it!! It was the only time I could be up at 2am without getting my tail beaten for being up so late. My mom lives in New York and a few years ago she didn’t get to spend Christmas in Puerto Rico..she was so sad. So I called this radio. Station in Florida who did Asaltos over the phone. I got to hear them as they called her and played music. She was so happy she began to cry. It gave her a little piece of the island.

    • it’s been years since I published this and I still laugh every single time I watch that video. In stitches!

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