Festivals and public holidays
One of Puerto Rico’s greatest attractions is its range and depth of festivals. Traditional festivals are thoroughly grounded in the island’s Spanish heritage, with African and Taíno elements added over the years to create a truly criollo mix. These include the fiestas patronales or fiestas del pueblo observed by each of the 78 municipalities to honour patron saints – the main ones are listed below and in relevant chapters. Public holidays are marked with a (P) and include all US federal holidays, when government-run offices and attractions, as well as banks, will be closed. Shops and other businesses tend to close only on New Year’s Day, Three Kings’ Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. However, even if it’s not an official holiday, any of the festivals listed here can mean closures and time changes, so plan ahead.
Día de Año Nuevo/New Year’s Day January 1 (P). Usually celebrated with fireworks displays.
Día de los Tres Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) January 6 (P). This is the day children receive gifts (in addition to Christmas Day).
Natalicio de Eugenio María de Hostos Second Monday in January (P). Commemorates the famous independence advocate, born in Mayagüez on January 11, 1839.
Martin Luther King’s Birthday Third Monday in January (P). US federal holiday to honour the African-American civil rights leader gunned down in 1968.
Carnaval de Ponce Week before Ash Wednesday. This traditional pre-Lenten carnival is one of the most important festivals in Puerto Rico.
Día de los Presidentes (Presidents’ Day) Third Monday in February (P). Another US holiday, originally commemorating George Washington’s birthday on February 22, and associated locally with the birth of Luis Muñoz Marín on February 18, 1898.
Día de la Abolición de la Esclavitud (Emancipation Day) March 22 (P). Commemorates the abolition of slavery in 1873.
Viernes Santo (Good Friday) and Domingo de la Resurrección (Easter), the first Sunday after the first full moon between March 22 and April 25. Both (P). Holy Week (santa semana) is the most important Catholic festival and consequently the busiest holiday in Puerto Rico.
Natalicio de José de Diego Third Monday in April (P). Celebrates the birth of José de Diego on April 16, 1867, the beloved poet and political leader.
Día de las Madres (Mothers’ Day) Second Sunday in May (P). Major celebration in Puerto Rico, with restaurants and beaches swamped.
Memorial Day Last Monday in May (P). Federal holiday to commemorate the men and women who have died serving in the US military.
Día de los Padres (Fathers’ Day) Third Sunday in June (P). Almost as big as Mothers’ Day.
Día de San Juan Bautista June 24. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Puerto Rico and the capital, and the biggest festivities take place in San Juan.
US Independence Day July 4 (P). Major federal holiday.
Natalicio de Luis Muñoz Rivera Third Monday in July (P). Celebrates the birthday of Luis Muñoz Rivera on July 15, 1859, in Barranquitas.
Día de la Constitución del Estado Libre Asociado (Constitution Day) July 25 (P). Commemorates the signing of the 1952 constitution of Puerto Rico.
Natalicio de José Celso Barbosa July 27 (P). Commemorates the birth of the celebrated doctor and Republican Party founder in 1857.
Fiestas Tradicionales de Santiago Apóstol Last week in July. The most vigorous celebration of St James’ Day (July 25) takes place in Loíza.
Día del Trabajo (Labor Day) first Monday in September (P). US tradition that started in the 1880s as a holiday for workers.
Día del Descubrimiento de América (Columbus Day) second Monday in October (P). Commemorates the arrival of Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492. Celebrated with pride in Puerto Rico, but not in other parts of Latin America, where it’s known as Día de la Raza (Day of the People).
Día del Veterano (Veteran’s Day) November 11 (P). Federal holiday that honours military veterans, held on the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.
Día del Descubrimiento de Puerto Rico (Discovery of Puerto Rico Day) November 19 (P). Remembers the “discovery” of the island by Columbus in 1493.
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November (P). US federal holiday to commemorate the Pilgrim Fathers’ survival in 1623.
Encendido Navideño December 1. Marks the beginning of the Christmas season, with celebrations to light Christmas trees.
Las Mañanitas Ponce, December 12. Major religious procession to honour the patron saint of the city, Nuestra Señora de la Guadalupe.
Navidad Christmas Day, December 25 (P). Puerto Rican Christmas dinner (usually featuring lechón, roast pork) is typically served on Christmas Eve, followed by Midnight Mass – presents are exchanged on Christmas Day.
Festival de las Máscaras (Mask Festival) Hatillo, December 26–28. Originally commemorating King Herod’s attempt to kill baby Jesus by ordering the murder of all firstborn sons. The men of the town wear florid masks and costumes to collect money (with as many pranks as possible) for local churches or charities.
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