Parrandas: A Puerto Rican Music Christmas Tradition

Puerto Rican culture shines brightest during the holiday season.  Lasting from the end of November through the end of January, there are many Christmas traditions that are unique to the island.  One of our favorite traditions is the Parranda.  Parrandas are the Puerto Rican version of caroling.  It is marked by singing traditional Puerto Rican music called  Aguinaldos (Christmas Songs) and using traditional instruments, including Guitars and Cuatros, tambourines, maracas, palitos, and guiros.

How does a Parranda Work?

A small group of people (parranderos) get the party started by surprising a friend at their house with music from Puerto Rico. Once the musicians have congregated on someone’s porch, they begin an as alto navideno, or a Christmas assault. This song awakens and greets the homeowner who must come to the door and let the musicians in. The musicians squeeze into the house and continue to perform aguinaldos.  They usually get started after 10pm so that one is awoken in surprise.  Then, as a group, they continue to the next house.  Each house visit grows bigger through the night as more neighbors join in. The parrenderos are usually plied with drinks and food, and perhaps a little homemade Coquito (Puerto Rico’s version of eggnog) and then on to the next house.  Usually, things wrap up around daybreak, with the last house usually providing something heartier like an asapao, or stew.

What is sung at a Parranda?

Music is a particularly important aspect of Christmas in Puerto Rico.  The Aguinaldo provides the basis for much of the music that accompanies the parranda.  Although the  word aguinaldo in Puerto Rican Spanish, means “gift,” it also refers to a Christmas song, especially if performed in a lively folk style. This use of the word equates the playing of Christmas songs with the giving of gifts.  And if sung well, it is indeed!

We have put together a small playlist on Caribbean Trading Company’s YouTube channel of Parrandas and Aguinaldos.  Click Here to see a parranda in action and enjoy the unique Puerto Rican music.

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Captain Tim
Captain Tim

Captain Tim is the founder of Caribbean Trading Company in Puerto Rico. Many years ago Captain Tim was a normal everyday guy who decided to do what so many people only dream about. He moved to the Caribbean. Traveling throughout the islands, he has the joy of sharing this lifestyle and its flavors with the world.

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