Is Asalto Navideño a Dying Tradition?

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This post is also available in: Español

The Puerto Rican tradition of “parrandas”, also known as an “asalto navideño” seems to be in steady decline.

Although there are pockets where the tradition is still alive, the general Puerto Rican population is seeing less “parrandas”.

Parrandas are Diminishing in Puerto Rico

As I was in Puerto Rico for the Thanksgiving holidays, a local radio station commented about the few “parrandas” they’ve heard lately. This in top of the fewer they’ve given or received in recent years.

In case you are not familiar with the Puerto Rican tradition of “parrandas”, it consists of friends getting together late at night and going to wake up other friends after midnight. The group may do a quick rehearsal before going out to the wake up their friends by singing popular Christmas songs.

The “asalto navideño” is a cultural dying Christmas tradition.
The “parrandas” are a beautiful Christmas tradition as they unite friends in bringing happiness to others.

The musical sophistication of “parrandas” varies greatly depending on the musical talents of the friends involved.

Some only have “panaderos”, also erroneously called “pleneras”, maracas, and “palitos”. The least musically gifted or less resourceful participate by clapping along and singing.

Others are more sophisticated and add guitars, “cuatro” (the typical Puerto Rican guitar), and I’ve seen some with an electric bass, keyboards, as well as wind instruments.

The “parrandas” are also known as “asalto navideño” as it’s customary to wake up the visiting house with a big group scream of “ASALTO” (or PARRANDA)!

The term may have something to do with the fact the the host who gets the “asalto”, opens their house to the group and offers them drinks and hand-food (“picadera”). The “parranda” will come in and use the living room to play, sing and dance while they enjoy the drinks and food.

It’s also customary for the last house of the night (or more accurately, the early morning) to be the only house notified in advance of the “asalto”/”parranda” so they are ready to provide a heavier eating dish, which could be an “asopao” (chicken stew with rice) or a heavy breakfast to counter the effects of the alcohol consumed through the night.

Reasons for the Decline in Parrandas

The “asalto navideño” was a beautiful tradition which brought family and friends together.
We should find ways to keep “parrandas” alive as they are a beautiful Christmas tradition. alive.

There could be multiple reasons for the decline in “parrandas”.

Perhaps the main reason is that Puerto Rico has now stricter laws for driving under the influence of alcohol. The Puerto Rican police regularly does road blocks to check drivers levels of alcohol, and that has discouraged the practice.

In addition, the increase in crime rates have made it harder to stay safe during the late night/early morning outing.

Finally, and related to the previous reason, many communities are now gated and therefore will require permission by the host, normally through a security guard, to enter.

These and other reasons have made the tradition of “parrandas” harder to maintain.

Can You Share Ideas How to Save Parrandas?

I would like to share some ideas on how this Christmas tradition could be saved. For that, I need you to share your ideas on how this could be done.

Please submit your comments below and I will collect them from the different social media sites and make them into a follow-up blog.

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7 Comments
  1. Sandra Garvin says

    How about driving around on a huge flatbed truck. The musicians can perform safely from the truck. You can set-up speakers too so they can be heard and add some lighting and decor. Think of it as a parade float. If enough people/groups do this, eventually you can have a contest/showdown. Contests are great for bringing attention to an event. I’m in NYC, so my experience with Parrandas is limited, however, I feel they should live on. Good luck with this.

  2. Sandra Garvin says

    P.S. When I see the words “Asalto Navideno,” I can’t help but think of the famed Willie Colon/Hector LaVoe Christmas album of the 70’s with that titled song–my absolute best album.

    1. Hector Aviles says

      There’s 2 of those Asalto Navideño albums, and I like both, but especially the 2nd album, when Willie Colon’s band, and Hector Lavoe in particular where at their peak.

  3. Anonymous says

    Maybe doing it early in the day and still having them know your coming, it sucks but its better to keep it alive, specially if you live in the states.

  4. Orlando says

    Nothing that is worth anything is quick if it’s to be long-lasting so here goes my ideas;

    Educating the youth about the richness of our culture and traditions and how they build community and add quality to life would be a good start. Building pride is important as the dominant culture of the mainland tends to suffocate and can be seen as “better than” by our youth. I would look at the public school system to see how Puerto Rican culture and traditions are taught and sustained.

    Next, I would put in place a government (Eg., governor) that promotes our culture and traditions instead of spending tax payer money on trying to get the Island to be another state because once that bridge is crossed there is no turning back on the loss of our traditions (Tejas, Nuevo Méjico, Alaska and Hawaii as examples, need I say more?)

    Radio stations can do more with building of traditions as well. Music is a good inroad for this purpose.

    In short, when the people value what took centuries to build, it’s hard to loose something so indispensable to the quality of life as traditions. (You can see this pride more so in the interior of the Island vs the more Americanized metropolitan area of the north.) But when you have a system (government) that makes people believe that even more assimilation is best (but at what price), that the “other” is “better than” the what is, then we have an inevitable decline of those values, traditions and customs. Therefore, no surprise the parrandas are dying out. So let’s change our focus on who we are as a people!

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