A set of brightly colored folk art figurines

Reasons to Celebrate: Holiday Festivals in Puerto Rico

Colorful lights streamed over town squares, live salsa music moving people to dance on the street, the smell of holiday food filling the air... that's just a taste of what you can enjoy when you visit Puerto Rico during the holiday season.

Boasting the longest holiday season in the world, Puerto Rico’s festivities begin with Thanksgiving (although Christmas decorations start appearing as early as September or October) and end in mid-January with las Octavitas, which extend the annual celebration for two weeks following Three Kings Day.

Town squares are decked out in colorful lights, while Christmas trees, Nativity scenes, and the Three Kings are around every corner. Parades are put on with elaborate floats and costumes, artisan markets pop up every weekend, and an array of typical dishes and drinks are prepared for merrymakers to enjoy.

Everyone can make their own version of a vejigante. Whether it is the traditional coconut and papier-mâché mask or a wooden sculpture, these bright-colored creatures are representative of Puerto Rico’s wide arts and crafts culture.

Calle Loíza Culinary Fest

San Juan | November 18, 2018

Loíza Street, in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, is a culinary Mecca spanning several blocks. Young entrepreneurs have opened up dozens of bars and restaurants serving classic Puerto Rican and Dominican food, authentic Mexican tacos, Argentine pizza, brunch (so much brunch), craft beers and cocktails. This annual festival brings all these gastronomic gems out into the street for a unique block party celebrating food, art, and music.

Hatillo Festival of Masks

Hatillo | December 27-28

One of the island's most popular festivals, the municipality of Hatillo, well-known for its dairy industry, celebrates the Day of the Holy Innocents on December 28th with a colorful festival that takes over the center of the town. During the festival, which was inaugurated in 1978, there is a parade and residents of the town wear elaborate masks and costumes, flanking large floats, as they make their way through the streets.

Fiesta de Reyes Isabelinos 

Isabela | January 5-6, 2019

Founded as a Spanish colony more than 500 years ago, Puerto Rico has kept many traditions from the Old World and particularly beloved is the celebration of Three Kings Day. The town of Isabela hosts a popular festival honoring the Three Magi that visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Actors recreate the arrival of the Wisemen, and the celebration includes folk music competitions, local Christmas music, puppet shows, craft markets and seasonal food and drinks.

Festival de la Novilla

San Sebastián | January 20, 2019

The Festival de la Novilla is a very traditional and lively event held in the town of San Sebastián, where a parade weaves through the town featuring floats depicting scenes of Puerto Rican country life throughout history. At the center of the celebration is a cow dressed in flowered wreaths that is raffled at the end of the festival, and the money raised is donated to a local charity.

Festive people celebrate in the streets of Old San Juan

Fiestas de la Calle de San Sebastián

San Juan | January 17-20, 2019

The unofficial close of the holiday season is celebrated over three days in Old San Juan. The Festival of Saint Sebastian takes over the Old City, with artisans in every plaza during the day, live music, costumed characters roaming the streets on stilts or wearing papier-mâché heads. The music plays into the evening when revelers fill up city streets with yardas (a drink served in a long plastic glass) in hand.

Keep an eye out for more events and festivals as they’re announced through social media. Several towns, including Ponce, San Sebastián and Vieques have their fiestas patronales (patron saint festivals) during December and January, which include concerts, delicious holiday food, and activities for the whole family. Fiestas patronales have their roots in Catholic tradition but over the years have evolved into huge parties celebrating the town’s culture and history to the beat of salsa and folk music.

 

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