Parrandas: A Puerto Rican Tradition

There’s always something to look forward to every year, and one of those things is the time where family, friends, and lovers come together to share a wonderful time with each other during the winter holiday season.

Here in Puerto Rico, the Christmas spirit can be seen and felt right when the calendar hits November. Little by little, decorations are put up and everyone prepares first and foremost for Thanksgiving Day, or as we know it here: Día de Acción de Gracias. Then, preparations continue for las Navidades.

One of the biggest traditions in Puerto Rican culture is what we call parrandas.

Parrandas are similar to what Christmas caroling is in the United States, but at the same time they’re a bit different considering the cultural aspects of it all. Parrandas have existed since the 19th century, developing even more throughout the years to become what we know them to be in the present day. The parrandas, also known as trullas navideñas, began with songs that were sung in the center of the island, the mountainous area. The country people were known as jíbaros and, for that matter, their music was known as música jíbara; it was a mixture of Spanish-style couplets and Creole lyrics. By the end of the 19th century, and in part of the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico, musica negroide (coastal music) such as the bomba and plena were integrated into the celebrations regularly, all forming the parranda songs that we know today.

The instruments in each parranda are essential to its sound. The most common instruments found are the maracas, a kind of rattle of Indian origin; the güiro; the tiple, a five-stringed guitar; and the cuatro, an instrument similar to the guitar that has five double strings instead. Other instruments include the violin, guitars, flutes, and even percussion instruments such as los palitos made of wood, bongos, and the pandereta, also known as a tambourine.

Parrandas in the earlier days were usually celebrated at night and were unannounced, which meant that during Christmas time, you could receive a bunch of people at your door playing instruments and singing songs at the top of their lungs while you were sleeping. In the modern day, parrandas now are normally scheduled, letting the house’s owners know at what day and time more or less the parranderos (people giving the parrandas) will come by to be able to prepare food and drinks to receive them all.

Coming from a very parrandera family myself, it’s definitely one of the things I look forward to every year. My big family is in itself a big group of musicians, and we’re really well-known in our hometowns due to the fantastic parrandas we bring to each house. My dad with the violin, my uncles with the flute and cuatro, my mom, sister, aunts, and cousins with the guitars, and me with the pandereta, dancing along with all of them in fun little choreographies. Each year we encounter even more and new people in each parranda, some of them also musicians, that join us in the songs with their saxophones, bass, melodicas, or any instrument at all, celebrating the liveliest of festivities from all year round: Las Navidades.

 

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