Nostalgic but Fond Memories
Today I received a video through my Facebook Messenger. The video is about a Christmas tradition in Puerto Rico. This tradition is a “parranda.” It brought many memories from when I was young. It was also very nostalgic for us — my husband included. We enjoyed the full 7-minute video and reminisced about that time in our lives.
What is a Parranda?
A parranda is an old tradition celebrated in Puerto Rico where a group of people (which are called parranderos) — some with instruments like a cuatro, güiro, maracas, and any other instrument available, gather to bring music and songs to their neighbors or family in exchange for food and drinks. There are many popular songs in a parranderos repertoire. From what I heard in the video, most songs are the same as they were when we used to parrandear. Parrandas begin as early as the weekend following Thanksgiving and don’t end until the Octavitas, which is 8 days following the Three Kings Day on January 14.
How Does a Parranda Work?
Let me explain in detail what a parranda comprises. The parranderos decide who they will visit. These visits take place during the evening hours — mostly after 10:00 p.m. The homeowners normally are unaware of the parranderos visit. The parranderos approach the house quietly as to not awaken the homeowner. Once the parranderos situate themselves in front of the house, they unanimously shout out “ASALTO,” or “PARRANDA,” immediately followed by playing their instruments and singing. Note that shouting “Asalto,” even though it translates to assault, doesn’t really hold the same meaning. It’s more of a term for “Surprise.” The parranderos might spend about 5 minutes outside singing before they are let inside to allow enough time for the homeowners to put on some decent attire.
Oh, But the Neighbors!
I know what you’re thinking, “How inconsiderate to the neighbors!” But no, that’s not the case. It does not bother the neighbors. Neighbors actually enjoy listening and expect to hear parrandas in their neighborhoods. Oh sure, you might have some scrooges around, but I can’t recall one time where anyone was bothered by a parranda.
Once the parraderos are inside the house, they continue with their medleys. Please know that you do not need to be a singer, take part in any choir, or be a soprano to sing in a parranda. There are always a few talented singers that take lead. But it’s just an event to bring joy to others and have fun together. So no voice is too sharp, soft, or squeaky here. Although that’s not the case in the video. They all seem to know their notes.
Singing, Eating, and Drinking!
Anyway, while the parranderos delight the homeowners with their cheerful songs, the homeowners whisk out their stash of alcoholic drinks. Anything goes — whiskey, rum, wine, tequila, beer, pitorro (Puerto Rican moonshine), coquito (Puerto Rican Christmas drink) — whatever is available is perfectly fine. They also dish out some hors d’oeuvres. Sometimes there’s cooking involved — especially shrimp or chicken asopao’ (soup) or even Puerto Rican pasteles!
So Then What?
After a couple of hours of singing, drinking, and eating, it is time to go. But it doesn’t end there. Traditionally, the homeowner joins the parranderos and choose the next family or friend to visit. It continues this way throughout the night. What might have begun with six parranderos would sometimes end up being a group of 20 or more. And there was never a set time to stop.
Even Til the Break of Dawn
As a child, I remember a parranda that arrived around 4:30 a.m. Of course, my parents received them. It was such great fun that I recall the sun was already out by the time they left at about 6:00 a.m. I laugh now when I remember how my Mom made sure the house was spotless before we went to sleep Friday and Saturday nights for those 8–9 weeks (late November to mid-January) of the year. “You never know, there might be a parranda coming tonight,” she would say. And you always needed to make sure you had plenty of food supply and alcohol “just in case.”
Those Were Some Great Times
We partook in a fair share of these parrandas ourselves. Heck, I was a guitar player in my teen years, so definitely one of the leads — not a brilliant singer but a guitar player indeed. Those were some fun times. Ah yes, this video brought back many memories. Unfortunately, I hear the tradition is dwindling. But it’ll always hold a special place in my heart. I hope you enjoy the video below. WEEEEPA!
What Christmas tradition does your country have? Have you been to a parranda before? Share your thoughts.