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Get Your Parranda On!

Photograph by Monica Olivera

You've probably heard of Navidad and maybe even Las Posadas, but do you know about the tradition of La Parranda? It's best described as the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling… with a twist!

A parranda is when a group of friends surprises someone late at night by singing outside their home. The singers are referred to as "parranderos" and they dress up like jíbaros, the mountain-dwellers who are considered the heart of Puerto Rico. They usually wear simple work clothes and a straw hat called a "pava."

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Many of the parranderos also carry and play traditional musical instruments, such as guitarras (guitars), tamboriles (drums), the cuatro (Puerto Rico's national instrument that is part of the lute family), and güiro maracas (a type of percussion instrument).

The parranda, which is sometimes called an "asalto," starts pretty late at night because the goal is to surprise your friends with the singing and awaken them from sleep. But usually, the latter are given plenty of warning ahead of time so they're ready for the group to arrive. The parranderos gather to sing at the first house around 10 p.m., or after bedtime, and begin singing aguinaldos (traditional Puerto Rican Christmas carols) outside their friends' home.

When the homeowners wake up, they invite the parranderos into their home and serve food and refreshments, such as pasteles, tembleque and coquito. After about an hour, the parranderos — and frequently the homeowners — will leave for the next house and begin the process all over again, carrying on into the wee hours of the night.

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Here are four resources that you can use to introduce and explore la parranda with your children.

1. Read "Mimi's Parranda"
Every year, Mimi's family goes to Puerto Rico for the holidays. Her favorite part is the annual parranda. But this year, she's so disappointed to learn they won't be traveling after all! She's so sad that on the day of her class party, she decides to just stay home in bed. And then she hears music...

This book is a must-read to introduce your kids to this Puerto Rican tradition.

2. Host your own parranda
Scholastic has a page on their site dedicated to an activity kids can do at home with friends. This one sounds like so much fun, we want to do it ourselves as adults!

3. Sing aguinaldos and play music
First take a moment to learn the history of aguinaldos. Then download your own album or listen to some popular songs. Learn more about the musical instruments typically used during a parranda.

4. Make tembleque
Tembleque is a Puerto Rican coconut pudding to die for that is especially popular during the holidays. Check out Modern Mami's simple tembleque recipe to make your own!

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