The popular culture of Puerto Rico is a fusion of customs that have resulted from the coexistence of the Taino, Spanish, and African cultures and more recently, the culture of the United States. Popular culture is comprised of a diversity of expressions and elements: folklore, Puerto Rican cooking, celebrations, pastimes, objects of daily use, and popular art and music. These cultural elements not only identify and distinguish a culture, but they are also vehicles for the transmission and preservation of a cultural heritage.
Many cultural expressions have been adopted and adapted to the island's environment. Some retained the mark of their origins, while others were reinterpreted and recreated, giving rise to new elements which have also evolved over time. The context of the Caribbean and the Americas has also been a source of particular experiences which have shaped our cultural warp and woof. All of these values, customs, beliefs and idiosyncrasies underlie the minor rites of daily life, the grander social rituals and traditions, and the artistic expressions of the Puerto Rican people.
Folklore specifically comprises cultural expressions that are rooted in the socio-cultural context and are commonly identified as being typical and traditional. These include folk dances and music, crafts, the rituals of daily life, and sayings that reflect the wisdom and candor of common people. Traditions and customs reaffirm and disseminate a particular worldview. Countless popular rituals evoke old traditions and historical memories. In Puerto Rico, many traditions are closely tied to the spiritual life of the people.
Many emblematic rituals are performed during the Christmas season, one of them being the celebration of Three Kings` Day. There is the gathering of grass for the Kings' camels, which are to visit children the night before, bringing those gifts. Vows are made to the Kings in which worshippers promise to make certain sacrifices for the granting of their petitions. In addition, a kind of carols called aguinaldos are sung in religious festivities and during caroling in groups called parrandas, in which visits are paid to people in their homes very early in the morning. Other traditions and customs are related to Christian celebrations and rites such as Lent, processions during Holy Week, and the Day of the Holy Innocents. The latter is celebrated with a festival of masks in the municipality of Hatillo.
Some celebrations are of pagan origin, such as the celebration of the Old Year, when young people dress up as old people and play pranks as part of bidding farewell to the old year. At midnight, there are rituals such as throwing down water from balconies and eating a dozen grapes to bring good luck for the new year.
Another element of folklore is the music of Puerto Rico, which is also derived from cultural syncretism. European, African, and Taino influences are present in all of its rhythms, and musical instruments endowing Puerto Rican music with a particular character and style. Traditionally, this folk music has been categorized as country music with European roots, including genres such as the seis, the Spanish couplet or copla, the guarachaguaracha: A fast-paced Cuban dance of Andalusian origin, in which the music has a 2/4 or 4/8 meter., the waltz, the mazurka, the polka, Christmas carols, children`s games and songs, and the Christmas aguinaldo, as well as Afro-Puerto Rican genres such as the bomba and plena.
These musical genres include particular instruments such as the cuatro, the tiple, the bordonúa, the tres, the bomba drum, the tambourine, the güiro, and the maracas, the latter being a kind of rattle of Taino origin. The music cadence and deals with the common themes of daily life, love, and religion.
The art of craft-making is also an important part of local folklore. Different kinds of crafts are created through a diversity of techniques and materials. Many of these traditions date from Spanish colonial times when isolation and poverty stimulated the ingenuity and creativity of the settlers and led to the manufacture of much-needed artifacts. Examples of these are the art of carving wood images of saints and artisanal toys; knitting and crocheting such as the creation of mundillo lace; musical instruments like the cuatro; kitchen instruments, such as the jataca; furnishings, such as hammocks, among others. Techniques were also refined to create true pieces of art and decoration.
Folklore also includes the popular sayings, jokes, riddles, legends, songs, and poetry -a treasure-trove of the wisdom and idiosyncrasies of the Puerto Rican people which is transmitted orally. There is a repertoire of children`s stories, poems, and songs that are taught to the young, such as Mambrú se fue a la guerra and Doña Ana no está aquí, and stories, like those based on the character of Juan Bobo and the legend of the devil`s sentry box.
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