Every year, thousands of Puerto Ricans anxiously await the arrival of Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián. Originally, it began as a way to commemorate the life of Saint Sebastian, a martyr who died in the name of Christianity. A local priest, Father Madrazo of the San José Church, initiated the tradition back in the 1950’s. The day of the festival, residents of San Sebastián Street (Old San Juan) would adorn their balconies with paper flowers, religious processions would take place and local artists would exhibit their latest paintings. The festivities would go on for two consecutive weekends.
Although times have changed the festival’s spirit of celebration remains intact. For four straight days, thousands of Puerto Ricans, from all over the island, flock to Old San Juan transforming the capital city into Puerto Rico’s party mecca. The smell of mouthwatering bacalaitos and alcapurrias invades Old San Juan’s streets and the sound of trumpets playing the plena fill the air with joyous melodies until the wee hours of the morning. Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián is a social and cultural gathering you have to see with your own eyes.
Although it might seem a bit overwhelming at first, knowing where to go and what to do will help you plan your days and maximize your time at the festival. Here’s a list of must-do things at Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián:
During the daytime
- Take part in the official kick-off ceremony of Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián. On Thursday, the first day of the festival, the Cabezudos and stilt performers dance through the streets of Old San Juan, officially inaugurating the festival.
- Visit the main Old San Juan plazas (Plaza de Armas, Plaza Colón, Cuartel de Ballajá). Here you will find one-of-a-kind authentic arts and crafts by artists from all over the island.
- Visit Don Pablo Bar and order the Papa Jac, the official drink of Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián. The commemorative cup makes a great souvenir.
- Dance the night away at the Plaza del Tótem nightly concerts. Each night, this plaza comes alive and moves to the rhythm of Puerto Rico’s top salsa, plena and merengue bands. Best of all, it’s free. Follow one of the many impromptu parrandas that spring up all over Old San Juan. You’ll hear them all around you, groups of 5 or 50, banging the panderos and singing Puerto Rico’s version of the Christmas carols. If you feel compelled to join them, here’s a list of songs and lyrics to the most popular parranda songs so you can sing your heart out with the locals.
- As always, don’t forget to have a delicious bacalaíto or pionono and wash it down with refreshing Puerto Rican rum and coke cocktail!
The 2012 edition of the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián begin on January 12 and end on January 15.