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Christmas season in the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Metropolitan Area

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    From the December 2004 edition of the Puerto Rican tourist magazine ¡Qué Pasa! : Holiday Season in the Metro Area By: Luisa Forrest The heart of the San
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2005
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      From the December 2004 edition of the Puerto Rican tourist
      magazine "¡Qué Pasa!":

      Holiday Season in the Metro Area
      By: Luisa Forrest

      The heart of the San Juan Metropolitan Area is the walled historic
      district of Old San Juan. For centuries, it alone encompassed the
      Island's capital city. By the 1800s it was a very crowded
      and the city began to move east, to Puerta de Tierra and Isla Grande.
      Soon residents established upscale communities in the coastal Condado
      and inland Miramar districts. The city continued to grow, absorbing
      small communities in Santurce and Ocean Park to the east; and,
      inland, in Hato Rey, today's financial district; Río Piedras,
      home of
      the University of Puerto Rico; and Puerto Nuevo. By the 1900s, urban
      expansion reached the independent towns and cities surrounding the
      capital: Carolina and its coastal suburb of Isla Verde to the east;
      Trujillo Alto and Guaynabo to the south; and Cataño and Bayamón
      the west. Now all these cities, towns and districts make up the metro
      area and house more than half of the Island's population.

      Anyone who thinks San Juan's holiday season begins in the middle
      December just hasn't spent time in the city. Puerto Ricans have
      embraced Thanksgiving and all its trimmings as their own, especially
      so as the day now marks the official start of holiday revelry.
      Suddenly, lights blink on everywhere, billions of lights,
      illuminating the colonial buildings of Old San Juan, the streets of
      Condado, the tall buildings of Hato Rey. Large outdoor trees are lit
      with much fanfare; perhaps best known is the ceremony that takes
      place along Paseo La Princesa in Old San Juan in the early days of
      December. Even before the start of December, many families have
      already bought their own Christmas fir, in the festive optimism that
      the tree will survive the Island's 80-degree heat until the
      end, well into January.

      With temperatures in the 80s, winter wonderlands are forgotten as
      beachlovers catch rays on the beaches in Condado, Ocean Park and Isla
      Verde. Long strips of off-white sand are wedged between resort hotels
      and the warm waters of the tropical Atlantic. Calm waters usually
      prevail at the two balnearios, or public bathing beaches, located
      like bookends at the western (Escambrón Beach) and eastern
      Beach) ends of the main tourism district. Balnearios, with
      lifeguards, changing and shower rooms, snack stands and ample
      parking, are ideal for families. The Condado Lagoon, just east of San
      Juan Bay, attracts windsurfers, kayakers and joggers. On the bay side
      of the lagoon, hundreds of recreational boats are docked in the Club
      Náutico marina, and several can be chartered for deep-sea fishing
      adventures (see the Metro directory for listings).

      On the first two Sundays of December, the 5th and the 12th, the
      Bacardi Rum Plant in Cataño opens its gates for the Bacardi Crafts
      Fair, the largest and liveliest crafts fair on the Island. More than
      100 artisans show their wares, and there are musical troubadour
      contests, mechanical rides, shows, and food and drink served from
      kiosks run by non-profit organizations. This has become the place to
      buy holiday gifts.

      When not hosting the crafts fair, the Bacardi Rum Plant, largest in
      the world, opens its gates to visitors on a daily basis. Its new
      museum, Casa Bacardi, re-creates the history of the Bacardi family
      and the production of Bacardi rum through interactive exhibits that
      include a planetarium theater, re-created factory, and art deco bar.
      Visitors can sample a rum drink at a large open-air pavilion while
      viewing the Old San Juan skyline.

      From December 9 to 12, the town of Trujillo Alto has its own holiday
      festivities in the Festival del Macabeo, macabeo being a local
      fritter made from bananas. In addition to fritters, there are
      artisans, singing troubadours, and musical shows. When in Trujillo
      Alto, also visit the rural home of the Island's first elected
      governor, Luis Muñoz Marín. The home, open to the public, is
      surrounded by gardens and contains the library of the Muñoz

      If you prefer classical Christmas music to popular festivities, then
      visit the Luis A. Ferré Center for the Performing Arts in Santurce
      from the 9th through the 13th, when Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico
      presents the Nutcracker Suite Ballet, a beautiful performance that
      has become an Island tradition. The Ferré Center presents a number
      holiday-related concerts and shows.

      For artistic decorations and holiday-themed exhibitions, spend an
      afternoon at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in its stately
      neoclassical building on De Diego Avenue in Santurce. The museum
      houses the largest and finest collection of Puerto Rican art on the
      Island, spanning more than four centuries. Portraits and landscapes;
      realist and abstract works; paintings and graphics – all give
      artistic glimpses of the Puerto Rican experience. The experience
      continues in a tranquil five-acre sculpture garden behind the museum.
      The museum also features changing exhibits, a theater, shop, and
      upscale restaurant.

      For most sanjuaneros, the holidays are a time to dress up and step
      out. Stepping out can mean a family gathering, a business party, a
      religious celebration, or a night at local restaurants, clubs and
      hotels. Many of the family gatherings occur on Christmas Eve, while
      New Year's Eve revelers tend to congregate at the restaurants,
      and hotels.

      After so much wining and dining, there is nothing better than a long
      walk, and the Botanical Gardens in Río Piedras are especially nice
      the cooler winter months. Hundreds of species of trees and shrubs
      from all over the subtropical and tropical world are spread out over
      75 landscaped acres. Paths meander along streams and around ponds,
      connecting the various exhibits – collections of heliconia and
      a bamboo chapel and sculpture gardens; and trees dangling everything
      from nutmeg to "cannonballs." An extensive herbarium and
      pavilion are also available through prior arrangement.

      The biggest day for children on Puerto Rico's holiday calendar is
      Three Kings Day on January 6, and many activities are scheduled on or
      around that day. For several years, the Puerto Rico Symphony
      Orchestra has prepared a special Three Kings Orchestra Concert for
      Children, offered on January 5 free of charge to children and their
      friends and families at the Ferré Center in Santurce. Throughout
      holiday season, the nuns at Las Siervas de María Convent adjoining
      Fortaleza at the end of Fortaleza Street open their doors to those
      who want to view their Nativity, a huge display that takes up an
      entire room and fuses local details with the biblical events of the
      Christmas story. Viewing the Nativity makes a good reason to get a
      glimpse of this peaceful convent, devoted to convalescents. But a
      word to the wise: don't go there on Three Kings Day itself, for
      tens of thousands of children line Fortaleza Street, waiting to
      receive a gift from the governor. This old city celebration is
      enormous and spills down to activities presented along Paseo La
      Princesa during the day.

      Just when do the holidays end? Traditionally, eight days after Three
      Kings Day there is another mini celebration known as the Octavas,
      and, eight days after that, the Octavitas. Yet most holiday revelers
      concede the grand finale of the season occurs January 13 through 16,
      when the San Sebastián Street Festival moves into gear in Old San
      Juan. Begun decades ago as a neighborhood gathering with religious
      processions, crafts and music, it has grown into an immensely popular
      event with shows, food and drink, graphic arts, and throngs of
      fairgoers of all ages. And across the city, in Bayamón, in a
      park known as Bosque Ecuestre, the Three Kings make their final
      appearance at the Kings Cup International Equestrian Jumping
      Competition, held from January 12 through 14 and 16.

      Grass in Shoeboxes: Puerto Rico's Three Kings Day In Puerto Rican
      Christmas festivities of old, Santa Claus was little more than an
      interesting interloper, and Christmas Day was a religious holiday
      like any other. `Twas the night before Three Kings Day that
      electrified children, for Three Kings Day on January 6 was the
      primary gift-giving day of the season. The night before, the children
      would go out into the yard and collect grass, which they put in a
      shoebox and placed under their beds. The grass was for the Kings
      camels. During the night the Kings would arrive at the house, take
      the grass and replace it with gifts, in the same way the Kings took
      gifts to the Baby Jesus.

      Today, Santa has eclipsed much of the excitement of waiting for the
      Three Kings, who now share the gift-giving moments with the jolly old
      man, but Three Kings Day remains an important Island holiday.
      Children receive gifts, and most cities and many neighborhoods hold
      special festivities geared toward them, with puppet shows, theater,
      music, games and other youthful activities.

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