For many Puerto Ricans, the third week of January is still Christmas and it is exactly the point where all the holiday feasts get to an end. During that third weekend of January, takes place the traditional Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastin (Street Festival) which celebrates the saint and also a series of traditions in the old city. When in history was the moment these feasts became so important for Puerto Ricans? Let?s go back in time to understand a little bit of the context of these celebrations.
When did all start?
Rafaela Balladares, organizer of the celebration since the decade of the 70’s
During the decade of the 50?s, Father Juan Manuel Madrazo, the priest of the San Jos Church started to organize the festivities to commemorate the life of the saint and to raise money to repair the church. When the father was removed from the church, the festivities went into a hiatus until the 70?s. It was the historian and anthropologist Ricardo Alegra who proposed to Rafaela Balladares de Brito, a resident of the San Sebastin Street to revive the tradition.
The First Years
Picture by Sonando en Puerto Rico
During the first years of the festival, it was common that at 6am they would play a reveille across the street to announce the celebration which included a tambourine, a drum, a clarinet, a trumpet and a trombone. People in the street decorated their balconies and artists worked on different paintings to be exposed during the celebrations. There was a procession with the image of the Saint on the street on which the Pleneros and the Cabezudos joined afterwards.
Cabezudos being part of the procession
Originally, the festivities only lasted during daytime and they were celebrated on two different weekends. For years, it was questioned if the feast was worth it. It wasn?t until the decade of the 90?s and 00?s when the festivity took another vibe and, beyond the religious importance, it became a massive festival.
The Festival Nowadays
The Festival is celebrated before January 20th, and that weekend, the whole city transform itself with the festival vibes. Many liquor brands offer special promotions during the festival and a musical line up is set in different stages around the city. Inside the Cuartel de Ballaj most artisans sell their stuff while in the streets, people sing different chants and dances along with the pleneros.
Most of its original traditions of the morning are still observed by the residents of Old San Juan, who participate in the procession that ends up in the San Juan Cathedral. The busiest times of the festival tend to be during the night time when most of the musical acts and celebrations take place.
Why you should visit Puerto Rico during the Festivals?
Definitely, las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastin is one of the biggest festivities in the island. If you are a lover of festivals and want to experience Carnivals in Rio, Venice or Mardi Gras, las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastin should also be in your bucket list. During these days, Puerto Ricans offer their best party vibes that include most of our traditions like bomba and plena dancing around the streets. If you are a Salsa lover, there will be plenty of places where you can dance. Exploring the Old San Juan in the middle of these festivities will make of this experience a whole new different one.