“La Navidad Boricua” (A Puerto Rican Christmas) is known around the globe for having a long Christmas season, celebrating different services, holidays, and festivals. This holiday season begins after Thanksgiving, celebrating Las Misas de Aguinaldo on the 12 days before Christmas, Christmas Eve or Nochebuena on the 24th, Christmas on the 25th, New Years Eve and New Years Day, Epiphany (Three Kings Day) on January 6th, finally ending 16 days after Three Kings Day with the ”octavas and octavitas” and the Festival of San Sebastian from January 17-20th.
After hurricane Maria and Irma devastated the island last year, the majority of Puerto Rico was unable to celebrate this holiday season with the same joyous spirit they are known for around the world. Without electricity and the ability to decorate their houses with luminous Christmas decorations, without access to different meat and food items typically prepared during holiday feasts, without family members who returned to the States after the storm, and without forms of communication or transportation – you can imagine how hard it would be to celebrate when overwhelmed by the sadness, loss of life, and destruction brought by the storms. This year however, Puerto Ricans started to get in to the holiday spirit as soon as Halloween, excited this year to get back to celebrating the holiday season in the typical festive Puerto Rican way. A work colleague told me in October that, “This Christmas will be like no other because this holiday season we can hang our lights and decorations, we can eat the typical foods, we can truly celebrate”.
The Misas de Aguinaldo (Series of Masses held at dawn which also means a musical offering) are a Puerto Rican cultural tradition, which documented evidence proves began in Puerto Rico as far back as 1654. Though originally these series of masses began as a Catholic tradition, they are now embedded as a socio-cultural religious experience for all Christians in Puerto Rico. This Holy Eucharistic Service is celebrated as early as 5am in different churches and denominations all over the island.
The Episcopal Church in Puerto Rico has adopted this unique Puerto Rican tradition with nine Misas de Aguinaldo (services) which begin on December 14th and end at the Cathedral on the 22nd. The Bishop of Puerto Rico, The Rt. Rev. Rafael Morales, travels to different churches all over the island to invite all Episcopalians to participate in the special tradition. These services and celebrations begin at 6am in darkness and throughout the mass the sun rises filling the church with the light that a new days brings – a symbol of the light that the birth of Christ brings into our lives every year. After the service, we gather as a community to share a warm breakfast prepared by amazing volunteers (some waking up at 3am to prepare). Working with the Department for Communications and Digital Evangelism, I attended the majority of these services, using facebook live to share these celebrations with the entire diocese and those watching around the world.
- December 14: San Lucas Evangelista and Hospital in Ponce, PR.
- December 15: La Misión Episcopal Santa Cecilia in Guanica, PR.
- December 17: La Misión Episcopal San Matias in Lares, PR.
- December 18: Parroquia Episcopal La Ascensión in Morovis, PR.
- December 19: La Parroquia Episcopal San José in Caimito, PR.
- December 20: Iglesia Episcopal Todos Los Santos- All Saint Episcopal Church (fully bilingual congregation) in Vieques, PR.
- December 21: The chapel at the Diocesan Center and Offices in Trujillo Alto, PR- which was followed by our Christmas Office party.
- December 22: La Catedral Episcopal San Juan Bautista – The John the Baptist Episcopal Cathedral in San Juan, PR.
Video of the Christmas Eve service at La Catedral Episcopal San Juan Bautista – The John the Baptist Episcopal Cathedral in San Juan, PR. Never truly feels like Christmas until I hear the singing of “Silent Night”, in this case “Noche de Paz”, filling the worship space with beautiful peace and harmony – a symbol of the birth of Christ.
Though I have missed my family, friends, and New England Christmas traditions, I feel incredibly blessed to have this opportunity to experience a Boricua Christmas with new friends. It is true, there is no Christmas like a Puerto Rican Christmas!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May God bless you this Christmas, New Years, and always! ¡Que Dios les bendiga y les guarde esta Navidad, Año Nuevo, y siempre!
Thank you for reading, for your love, support, and prayers. This experience would not be possible without you!
Follow the links to learn more about Christmas in Puerto Rico and the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico. There is still more to celebrate this holiday season so stay tuned for more updates.
If you would like to donate to my year as a YASC (Young Adult Service Corps) missionary, click here.