It’s the third Wednesday in January, 75°F, and sunny under the sea blue island skies of San Juan, Puerto Rico. You stand in the midst of a crowded street. Some Cabezudos, people dressed as television personalities, politicians, and famous musicians, are trying to make their way past the people in front of you.
Close by, you notice a pink building where a man and woman are seen dancing on stilts high above the crowd beckoning you and other passerbyers over. Across, there sits a green building with musicians and their barril de bomba’s as they eye and take the lead of the stoic Bomba dancer in front, as she stomps, twirls, and shakes her own composition for those around her. Down a bit further is when you notice it, finally, at the yellow building stands a few vendors selling paintings and figurines. Inching closer all you hope is that they still have a few paintings of Jesus’ birth left, as you were too late last year to get one yourself.
According to the Grupo Editorial EPRL in the Encyclopedia of Puerto Rico, the festival [Fiesta de la Calle San Sebastián] was firstly organized by father Joseph Stalin, the priest of the San José Church in the 1950s with the purpose to commemorate the life of the Saint and to raise money to repair the church.
Every third week in January, from Wednesday to Sunday, Puerto Ricans take to the streets of Old San Juan to celebrate the fair as a way to mark the end of the Christmas holiday season. This holiday is also known to Boricuas as SanSe.
“It’s a little joke. Sanse is Puerto Rican slang for a West African faith based on forces of nature that is popular in the Caribbean. Trust me. It’s all good,” they said.
Puerto Rico ranks number one with the world’s longest Christmas Season, which begins on November 19th with Discovery Day, or the day Christopher Columbus Discovered the America’s. In fact, it was Puerto Rican natives/ Taino’s/ Boricuas that Columbus met when he landed in the America’s, and in recent years it has been debated whether to use the day as one of celebration or of mourning.
Then it is the major United States holiday, Thanksgiving, taking place on the 4th Thursday in November. This is, of course, celebrated due to Puerto Rico being an unincorporated territory of the U.S., and therefore taking part in all federal holidays. The next big day would be December 24th, Christmas Eve, where like in most Latin households, is when all of the Christmas celebration is done. In true Boricua fashion, this includes drinking Coquito, a popular rum and eggnog drink, and eating some Pernil, roasted pork shoulder. Of course Años Nuevo, New Year’s Eve, is recognized by implementing some common Latin practices by cleaning the home to start the new year positively, “some parts of the Island, people throw buckets out of their windows to drive away evil spirits away”, “if you are celebrating near the beach, is dropping backwards into the waves as the clock strikes 12 to keep the bad spirits at bay”, and “[a]nother tradition, that originated in
Spain, is to eat 12 grapes during the last 12 seconds of the ending year, and you must finish all of them by midnight” says Discover Puerto Rico.To bridge the gap, another popular Latin holiday is celebrated from January 6th to January 12th El Día de Los Reyes, or Three Kings Day. During this holiday, children are told to place a box full of freshly cut grass/ hay under their beds, or the tree, and place a note of something they want so the 3 wisemen can fulfill it. When they wake-up the following morning, a trail of hay, left by the camel carrying the wisemen, can be discovered leading from under the bed or tree to the front door. The next 8 days or, Las Octavitas, is observed as being more religious in nature, mostly consisting of 8 days of singing songs about Jesus and the Magi.
Finally, in the 3rd week of January, presently from January 18th to January 21st, the streets of Old San Juan are filled with impromptu-dancers parading around, craftsman and artisans selling goods on display, circus performers intermingling with the masses, musicians performing live for all to hear, and the colorful atmosphere orchestrated by locals to make it all that much more lively. Fiesta de la Calle San Sebastián really ends the Christmas season with more life and joy than once it started.