Our First Easter In Puerto Rico:
Despite the fact that it seems that Puerto Ricans celebrate every holiday on the planet, many say that Easter is the biggest holiday in Puerto Rico, and they may be right. Not only is the Island’s population largely Christian, the Easter weekend signifies the kickoff of the “beach season” for the locals. What this means is that the Easter weekend is essentially a double-celebration (holiday and season kick-off).
You may be wondering what the heck beach season is on a tropical island… well, the local population largely thinks that the winter months are too cold for the beach (what!? 80 degree average is too cold? I know – right?) and then tend to stay away from the beach. I’ve had some locals tell me “it’s just too cold to swim” – that is really funny to me because the water temps are a constant 82 degrees here but I won’t argue. To make a long story short, Puerto Ricans love their beaches in the summer and starting on Easter weekend, they come out to play on the beach nearly every weekend.
Since, we had been living on the beach (and I mean right on the beach) for the past 3 months, we had been forewarned by others about this phenomenon and expected a lot of noise on Easter weekend. So, let me tell you about our first Easter in Puerto Rico…
I’ll start by telling you that the entire Holy Week, leading up to Easter is celebrated here but, in particular, Good Friday, Saturday, and Easter Sunday are huge celebrations in and of themselves. So, let me take these one at a time:
Easter in Puerto Rico: Good Friday
Practically everything was closed on Good Friday in Puerto Rico and everyone had a day off – stores, restaurants, businesses, government… everything – so you better had gotten your food the day before.
Early in the morning on Good Friday people started arriving at the beach to get their spot – both for parking and the perfect beach spot. This year, there were trolleys running from the Art and Culture Center (off the beach) which provided overflow parking by shuttling people to and from the beach all day long.
It reminded me a lot of Ann Arbor during a football weekend.
By noon, everything was hopping – lots and lots of people on the beach, both families and young individuals. They were all cooking out and partying – picture full size grills, beach volleyball, boogie boarders, surfers, ocean kayakers, and anything else you can think of that’s beach related. It all competed for space on the same strip of glistening sand.
There was a ton of police presence everywhere to keep order and in fact, I’d never seen such a well behaved beach party crowd before. Everything was very safe and carefully controlled, even the noise levels – loved it – much better than what we expected.
It was a nice surprise!
At 3PM, the local Roman Catholic Church did a procession around the town plaza and there was a Christ Crucifixion re-enactment – we missed it because we had to drive friends to the airport but we were told it was quite the thing to see.
I will not miss it next year!
One of our neighbors told us that she was at a restaurant and at 3PM everything suddenly stopped and even the wait staff left the building to watch the procession – cool, eh?
Afterwards, the partying on the beach resumed and continued into the night.
Easter in Puerto Rico: Saturday
Saturday was a shopping and beach day. Since everything was closed on Good Friday, everyone ran for the stores to replenish their food and booze supplies – holy moly! there were long lines in stores!
Again, there was a repeat of Friday’s beach activities. There were vendors selling food, drinks, ice cream, etc.. The surf shop in town set up surfing lessons and people lined up to take them. The ocean kayak, beach umbrella and chair, and jet ski rental stands were all doing great business.
And, of course, lots and lots of families were out, grilling, playing in the water, laughing and generally having a great time.
The entire Saturday (minus the early shopping) was spent on the beach by most. There was a distinct difference in crowd though, on Saturday the crowds seemed more family-centric and there were far fewer young people out drinking but far more kids building sand castles under the watchful eyes of their parents.
Again, there was lots of police presence, directing traffic, patrolling the beach on horseback and so on. There were several rescue stations set up on the beaches and even portable security towers (something I had never seen before).
Everyone behaved themselves and it seemed to me that everyone had a good time. It was a great day on the beach, and we enjoyed it right along with everyone. We went for a 4-hour beach walk and took time do so some swimming half way through – Ahhhhh, it’s nice to live on the beach.
Easter in Puerto Rico: Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday morning, marks the biggest holiday for the Christian faith, and it was no different in Puerto Rico. Even though it was all in Spanish, we decided to give mass a try at the local Catholic Church and so we went with a friend. I grew up Catholic in Poland, so knew what to expect, and I figured that, if nothing else, I could track the Spanish prayers because I knew them in English and Polish.
I cannot describe to you how glad I was we went! It was the most amazing Catholic mass I’d ever witnessed. The small church in the Plaza was completely full, as was the outside overflow (giant tent) where we had to sit because we showed up only 20 minutes early (everyone got there 1 hour early) and couldn’t get a spot in the main church building.
But truly, the biggest impact on me was the mass itself. It was like no Catholic mass I’d ever seen.
First we were greeted by the sounds of beautiful acoustic guitar, instead of the traditional organ music. Then, an all-girls band sang and provided all the music for the mass – simply angelic and beautiful.
The service was very progressive and causal – another thing I didn’t expect. I understood almost everything because the young priest talked slowly (and enunciated well), he was funny and charismatic – something new for me in a priest having grown up in a much more traditional church setting.
The thing that was perhaps most amazing to me was toward the end of the mass, when young girls all dressed in white (presumably to signify God’s virgins), filled every isle of the church and performed a beautiful dance to modern U.S. Christian rock music. They were amazingly beautiful and I could not imagine a better way to exult to God – I was speechless.
We sat outside, in the overflow and every once in a while, we would hear beautiful worship music from the Evangelical United Church next door, as well, the entire experience was surreal.
I loved the mass and can honestly say that it was the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. When I asked our friend afterwards, if that was just an Easter thing, he said “no, that’s pretty much how we do Catholic mass here in Puerto Rico” – unbelievable. I felt totally humbled, thankful, and privileged to be a part of this beautiful culture.
After the church services, many Puerto Ricans headed back to the beach for more family time. We chose to take our friend into our new mountain home and cooked dinner there. We enjoyed good food, good friends, and perfect weather – not to mention the beautiful views.
By about 7PM, when we returned, most of the beach activity ceased and everything was quiet again.
But what an amazing weekend! We loved our first Easter in Puerto Rico!