Family’s celebration honors Puerto Rican heritage

Published 10:41 am Friday, December 25, 2015

By Dixon Stone

The Vicksburg Post


The holidays bring a focus to family, friends and traditions.

Every family celebrates differently — each with its own spin, religious customs and unconventional style.

This rings especially true for Vicksburg’s Vivian Velazquez and her family, who combine American traditions with a Puerto Rican flair to celebrate this time of year in a fashion that is anything but conventional.

“With decorations, we basically do the same things like in the United States,” said Velazquez. “We do the Christmas tree, nativity scene, and the lights.”

They also celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as most families do.

“Family and friends are a big thing, as with everyone else of course. On Christmas Eve, we go to mass as the family gets together, and we have the big meal after mass. On Christmas morning, we do have the tradition of Santa Claus, since Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, so we basically do the same thing, and the children will get the presents from Santa Claus.”

The food spread at the Velazquez home will most likely differ from that of most families’ traditional Christmas feast, though.

“We do the hog or as most people call it ‘the big pig.’ If we have a large gathering, the family will get together, go outside, and roast the whole thing. We also have a lot of traditional Puerto Rican and family recipes with a variety of rice and vegetables. We will make the flan as a dessert as well.”

But the Velazquez’s Christmas season lasts much longer than most families.

“We actually celebrate from the middle of December until the beginning of January.”

Special emphasis is placed on Epiphany in the Hispanic culture, which is celebrated on Jan. 6.

“Not only do we celebrate Santa Claus, as people do in the United States, but we also celebrate the Three Wise Men bringing the baby Jesus presents, which is known here as Epiphany. The three wise men are the ones that bring presents to the children in Spanish-speaking countries, especially in Puerto Rico.”

This celebration of the three wise men comes along with a series of traditions for Puerto Rican children.

“So we write a letter to the three wise men, and on Jan. 5,  we put a shoebox out with hay or grass and a bowl with water to ‘feed’ the wise men’s camels. They will bring presents to everyone, especially the children. So it’s like a Christmas day again — the tradition of the family getting together, the special church service and the food — but it is on Jan. 6.”

For most Spanish-speaking countries, school stays out for the first two weeks of January in order to celebrate the holiday, but the Velazquez family has to make the best of the time they are given out of school here and find a way accommodate the holiday.

“Here, with my husband and children, we still celebrate Epiphany. We do the presents and everything.”

Velazquez laughed as she reminisced on her children asking about the holiday when they were younger.

“My children would ask why other children would not get the presents from the three wise men and we would, and I would tell them ‘Well, it is because we are special, we are Hispanic. So we have that special holiday.’ ”

The Velazquezes, as well as other local Puerto Rican families, also celebrate traditional ‘parrandas,’ which are parties throughout their extended Christmas season at family and friends’ homes.

“You always have to be prepared throughout the Christmas season,” Velazquez said. “A parranda is a surprise party for the host. In a parranda, people come after 9 p.m. usually during the weekend in the middle of December through Jan. 7. People will usually come and knock on your door, and you will be greeted by a group of friends with musical instruments in front of your house. They start singing and then you open the door, and let them inside your house, where they continue singing and dancing.”

The host then prepares food for them and they spend a few hours celebrating together.

“The host and their family will then usually join the group, and go to multiple houses and do the same thing.”

The Puerto Rican and Hispanic culture in Vicksburg has grown substantially throughout the years, Velazquez said.

“The Puerto Rican group in Vicksburg has really gotten bigger. They are so many more Hispanic families here now than when my husband and I came here a long time ago. So now, yes, we do get together. We will get together on Christmas Eve to celebrate. We will also have a New Years Eve party, and, yes, we have done the parrandas.”