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Puerto Rican holiday celebrations extend to mid-January 

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After New Year’s Day, many Connecticut residents focus on the lull in holidays heading into the coldest part of winter. But in Puerto Rico, known for having the longest holiday season in the world,  the festivities keep going through January with Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián marking the unofficial end to the holiday season.   

Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián

Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, also known as “Sanse,” begins mid-January. This four-day celebration, meant to commemorate the saint, was canceled this year due to COVID.  Typically, the celebration is one of the biggest of the year. 

The tradition began in the 1950s when Father Juan Manuel Madrazo, the priest of the San José Church, wanted to praise St. Sebastian and maintain the church. After the father was no longer in church, the tradition stopped. In the 1970s, Rafaela Balladares de Brito had the idea to bring back the celebration. 

Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian features Cabezudos, costumed figures with oversized heads. In the 1950s  Father Madrazo got his inspiration from Spain when he saw Cabezudos and incorporated it into the festival. Cabezudos often portray popular and political figures. 

The festival has a procession with an image of the saint. Cultural dances such as Bomba and Plena are performed and people decorate their balconies. Artisans also sell their work. 

“During the day, this is an amazing opportunity for tourists to go and see the music. It is rich in culture and music,” said Evelyn Robles-Rivas, supervisor of languages and community partnerships for the Meriden Public Schools. 

At night the festival continues with musical acts and performances. 

“Las Fiestas was an amazing place to go to. It was a great opportunity to go and enjoy the music and artwork,” Robles-Rivas said. 

Las Octavitas 

While Las Octavitas were meant to commemorate each of the Three Kings, the tradition continues as an extension of Christmas with parrandas and parties that extend for eight days.  

“During my years in college, I remember celebrating Las Octavitas. I had family that played the instruments and we would do parrandas,” Robles-Rivas said. 

Robles-Rivas said while the holiday is still celebrated, the festivities are not as extensive as they were years ago. 

“The history of Las Octavitas began when people wanted to extend Christmas time,” she said. 

Anabel Beltran Roman, executive director of Casa Boricua de Meriden, shared her fondest memory celebrating Las Octavitas with her family. 

“I remember going with my parents to parrandas at a friend's home,” she said. “I was so young I mostly played with children. I do remember the adults singing aguinaldos and dancing to the music. I would sing along sometimes.”

jdiaz@record-journal.com203-317-2386Twitter: @jarelizz


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