SAN JUAN– Palm trees sway in the warm Caribbean breeze. A youngster dashes down the beach, dipping her toes in the surf while her parents stroll hand in hand.
The sound of Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” floats through the balmy air. The tantalizing aroma of gingerbread scents the breeze drifting from the open door of a resort.
It’s Christmas in Puerto Rico where the festivities linger long after the traditional Dec. 25th celebration. “In Puerto Rico, Christmas actually lasts six weeks,” said Kathleen Krumhansl, deputy director for Puerto Rico Tourism. Revelry start on the day after Thanksgiving and last until Jan. 14.
“We like to celebrate here in Puerto Rico and we make it last as long as we can,” Kathleen said with a laugh. “Then we start thinking about next Christmas.”
When our cruise ship Eurodam pulls into San Juan, passengers are offered a myriad of excursion choices. Some opt for city tours, a hike in the El Yungue Rain Forest, a chance to be Tarzan on the adventurous La Marquesa Canopy Tour, a cruise through the unusual bioluminescent bay and much more.
My sister Elaine and I decided to walk the city, partly to work off some of the calories of that delicious Eurodam cuisine.
Although snowy landscapes, crisp wintry weather, snuggly coats, mittens and warm hats are visions many people associate with Christmas, the tropical island of Puerto Rico is a favorite holiday destination for a growing number of celebrants. In fact, Forbes Magazine named San Juan as one of the world’s top Christmas destinations.
To make Puerto Rico even more enticing for a winter vacation, the island with the dazzling white beaches, rich history, scenic golf courses, top resorts, fun shopping and multi-cultural cuisine is easy to access. Known as the gateway to the Caribbean, Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the United States in 1952.
That means you don’t need a passport to visit, the currency is the U.S. dollar and English is spoken almost everywhere on the island.
For our December cruise stop, we see homes, businesses and streets lavishly decorated with lighted trees, garland and poinsettias galore – on a beautifully sunny day with balmy temps around 80 degrees. Just like at home, Puerto Rican children wait for Santa to visit on Christmas Eve to leave gifts under the tree.
But Puerto Rican youngsters also get a second round of presents on Jan. 6, (Epiphany) marking the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem following the star to worship the newborn Jesus. On the eve of Three Kings Day, children gather a shoebox full of hay for the camels that the Magi ride. Somehow, the cut grass or hay magically disappears over night and the Three Kings leave gifts behind under children’s beds.
A charming Puerto Rican custom is the group caroling called parranda where friends gather together to share the gift of music. Guitars, tambourines, horns, keyboards and whatever else can be carried provide the accompaniment for singers and dancers as they travel from home to home or placed to place.
Sometimes the goal is to surprise a friend by quietly gathering by the front door of a home then breaking into music. Of course, the group gets bigger and bigger as more people join in.
I think I glimpsed some Eurodam passengers singing along with the carolers. But now it is time to head back to the ship. Dinner will soon be served. Ah, what a life!
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch