My husband moved to Puerto Rico first. He took a job at the University of Puerto Rico in August of 1986 and found an apartment for us to live in. My son and I stayed behind in New York so I could finish a job I had at Teachers College and so we could gradually pack up the house and arrange for the move. The process was pretty exhausting since we had tons of books, and I also had to arrange for shipping the car. (More about that later.)
Finally in mid-December of 1986, my son and I moved to Puerto Rico and joined my husband in our new apartment. The adventure had begun!
Unfortunately, the adventure was a bumpy one. Our apartment (a fourth floor walk-up near the university) had been previously used by an artist who had dropped paint all over the floors. There were leaks in the ceiling, broken tiles in the bathroom, no screens in the windows, and no electricity in most of the rooms. The furniture took several weeks to arrive, and the car even longer because of the Christmas season.
In Puerto Rico, Christmas celebrations begin immediately after Thanksgiving Day when the Christmas tree is set up in most homes. Decorations pop up everywhere, as do the parties. As Christmas approaches, some people (particularly in the countryside) participate in parrandas which are somewhat like old-fashioned U.S. caroling parties but much more boisterous and lively with percussion instruments like the guiro (a grooved gourd that is scraped with a metal fork), thepandareta (tambourine), the clave (a wooden cylinder on a handle that is hit with a small mallet), and sometimes bongos or other small drums.
If a parranda arrives at your house, you are supposed to invite the people in and serve them little treats and a creamy eggnog made with coconut milk called coquito. People sing aguinaldos (carols) as well as plenas(traditional folk songs with a complex rhyme and rhythmic structure).
Puerto Rican Christmas foods include: lechon (roast pork), turkey (with Caribbean seasonings and plantain or meat stuffing), pasteles (ground yucca or plantain made into a bundle with bits of pork, chicken, or other meats, olives and sometimes raisins in the center, all wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled until firm), flan (egg custard which is available in vanilla, cream cheese, sweet potato, and other flavors), and turron (almond nougat candy available in many different flavors and textures).
While all of this was delicious, needless to say, it was quite different from what I was accustomed to in New York, and I remember that I spent many evenings feeling very depressed and missing the sounds and tastes of my childhood Christmases. (I do not recommend moving to a new culture at Christmas time.)
Our move was further complicated by the extended nature of the Christmas season in Puerto Rico. As I said, it all kicks off with Thanksgiving. Then there's Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), Navidad (Christmas Day), la Despedida del Ano (New Year's Eve), followed by el Dia de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day), topped off with 8 more days of celebrating referred to as Las Octavitas. As a result, it is very difficult to get business accomplished between Thanksgiving and mid-January on the island.