6 Puerto Rican Christmas Carols to Play This Noche Buena
There is nothing quite like Christmas in Puerto Rico. The teeny tiny Caribbean island is known for having the longest holiday season in the entire world, which lasts from the end of November all the way through the middle of January. Boricuas celebrate the season like no one else. We love any and every festive occasion because we treasure spending time with family and friends. We're also obsessed with good food and beautiful music.
A highlight of Puerto Rican Christmas festivities is the parrandas, which are basically nightly Christmas caroling parades that happen in individual neighborhoods all throughout the Christmas season, and the star of those parrandas are the Puerto Rican aguinaldos a.k.a. Christmas carols. While most mainland Americans are beyond familiar with the beloved tune "Feliz Navidad" by José Feliciano, it's far from the island's only original Christmas song.
Aguinaldos — the word means "gifts" — in and of themselves are a cultural tradition in Puerto Rico. In fact, they're a tradition that has actually turned into a form of resistance and a symbol of unity among Puerto Ricans. We own our Christmas traditions and largely put aside our differences to gather together and sing and dance joyfully to the songs we all remember from our childhoods. These nostalgic songs are like a yearly reminder that no matter what the government is or isn't doing or how abysmal and unbalanced the economy is, we are all Boricua.
Puerto Ricans refuse to let American and Euro-centric symbols of Christmas overshadow our own holiday traditions, and just like celebrating on Noche Buena with pernil, pitorro, arroz con gandules and coquito, aguinaldos have become a symbol of our shared heritage. Aguinaldos are still performed with traditional Puerto Rican instruments like cuatros, güiros and panderas. And while some are religious, many are performed in the criollo style, representing our diverse ancestry. Far from generic Christmas carols, aguinaldos often reference tenets of Puerto Rican culture and recall our vast and complicated history. Like so much Puerto Rican music, the songs are sung with pride and raw emotion. As we end each year and start one anew, aguinaldos remind us who we are, where we come from, and what truly matters in life.
This Noche Buena, we are blasting our favorite aguinaldos even more mindfully than ever before, because, well . . . there is just so much going on in the world that is uncertain, but what's not, is how strong and resilient we are as a people. To get in the Christmas spirit we recommend you play these Puerto Rican Christmas carols on repeat.
"El Coqui," performed here by Danny Rivera, is all about urging Boricuas to remember to preserve our traditions. It's fittingly named for one of the most ubiquitous symbols of the island — el coquí — a tiny frog native to the island, that for many represent the peace and connection we feel towards our country of origin, even when we are far away.
"El Arbolito," by the classic salsa band, El Gran Combo, will make you want to get up and dance from the very first note. An ode to the old-fashioned family Christmas — as imperfect as it may be — the song will fill you with nostalgia, and definitely give you all the warm and fuzzy feels. The lyrics are centered around the Christmas tree, giving credit to mamí for making it special every year, but also a reminder that even when our means are humble, we have much to be thankful for.
"Aires de Navidad"
For many of us, Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe, are the voices that filled our childhood homes, and the Christmas season just isn't complete without hearing them singing aguinaldos. Performed in the style of the jíbaro (a musical style that originated in the island's countryside), "Aires de Navidad" is punctuated with the traditional "le lo lai," call, and invokes both our Spanish and African roots, and encourages everyone to feel the joy of the season and spread it to everyone near and far.
This beautiful aguinaldo dates all the way back to the 1960s and is performed by Ramito, one of the most well-known jíbaro singers of Puerto Rico. It serves to remind us of all the amazing things that make up a true Puerto Rican Christmas, and what a special experience it is to celebrate with songs together. Ramito's music as a whole honors all of the beauty of Puerto Rico and its people and this Christmas song is no different.
"Pasteles y Lechon"
Of course! This song is seriously the most fun. It's all about food! Puerto Ricans are serious about cooking, eating, and drinking, especially during the holidays. And we don't want just any food, we want pasteles and lechon. We look forward to chowing down on these foods surrounded by family and friends all year long, so naturally, there's an aguinaldo devoted to them. Get in the kitchen cook some up and invite everyone over to eat and sing along. Don't forget the coquito and pitorro!
"De la Montaña Venimos"
"De la Montaña Venimos," is all about hospitality during the holidays. It begins with the lyrics, "we come from the mountain to invite you to eat...," quite plainly encompassing what this season should be all about: coming together, sharing what we have, and spending time together. That's it. It's that simple. ¡Feliz Navidad!