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In the United States and Puerto Rico, the Thanksgiving holiday marks the beginning of the Christmas season.
[Note: I updated this 2010 blog to be more current with 2019]
In Puerto Rico, this will go on until mid-January with the “Octavitas“, which should really be called the “Octavas”, and then after a brief break, put the cherry on top with the “Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian” to close January.
Note: here’s a link to a blog on the history of the “Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian“.
The Puerto Rican rhythm of “Plena” is one of our favorite rhythms used during the Christmas season. Because of this, most plena bands have released Christmas albums. The group Plenealo has been consistently releasing albums almost yearly, timing their release for late November when the demand for their music is higher.
Singer-songwriter José Nogueras has made a living out of producing holiday albums. Noguera’s albums use more of a contemporary form of folk-based music, which includes the “cuatro” and guitars along with a wind section and catchy lyrics. The occasional “plena” is always in the mix. One of his albums, “Vale la Plena“, is totally dedicated to the rhythm.
Plena and Christmas Music
“Plena” is a happy rhythm that calls for celebration, which fits perfectly with the Christmas season. It is fairly easy to execute and lends itself to creating catchy song lyrics. The use of “plena“, therefore, enables a rich stream of new songs for “Navidad“.
Willie Colón and Hector Lavoe had great success combining Salsa with Puerto Rican folk music. In doing so, they brought us two “Asalto Navideño” albums. These are now considered classic Christmas recordings. I tend to play these albums just after Thanksgiving, as a way to welcome the Christmas season.
Note: you can read more about the Asalto Navideño albums in “Christmas Latin Music begins with Asalto Navideño“.
José Nogueras, Vicente Caratini, La Tuna de Cayey, and other groups released holiday albums almost every year. José Nogueras is still at it. We continue to enjoy a steady stream of new Christmas recordings, with newer groups like Los Cantores de Bayamon and Victoria Sanabria releasing almost every year. We also have many artists who occasionally release Christmas albums, which keeps the Christmas playlist always replenished with new holiday music.
So I feel we are fortunate that our Latin music allows us to enjoy both old and new music every Christmas season. Puerto Rican “plena” really makes for a great musical experience during the holiday season.
Local folk music is also played more during the holidays in other Latin American countries. This is a good way to keep our musical roots alive, even if just once a year.
Note: you can read more about the origins of Plena in the blog series the “Renaissance of Bomba & Plena“.
Note: you can read more about the Puerto Rican “Aguinaldo” in “Latin Music History: The Aguinaldo Tradition“.