From the Left



Puerto Rico: The Holiday Island with the World's Longest Christmas Season, Part II

Luis Martinez-Fernandez on

After nearly four centuries of colonial rule under Catholic Spain, in 1899 Puerto Rico became a U.S. colony, a transition that opened the floodgates to efforts to "Americanize" the population, the most ambitious -- and most disastrous -- of which was the temporary imposition of English as the language of school instruction.

Ever since, Puerto Rico's relation with the United States has oscillated between the political poles of independence and statehood; so have the island's politicians and voters.

Unfortunately, almost every issue gets politicized along party lines. The holiday calendar and the way state officials celebrate certain holidays are not immune to partisanship.

Take, for example, last week's official New Year's celebration, the dramatic midnight raising of a glowing star (as opposed to a dropping ball) culminating in a display of fireworks. Video of the spectacle makes evident the use of pro-statehood imagery -- watch and judge for yourself. Rather than the star of Bethlehem, spectators saw a rising American flag star (symbolizing the desire to turn Puerto Rico into the 51st state) surrounded by sparkles forming the shape of coconut-tree leaves. The coconut tree is the pro-statehood New Progressive Party's emblem.

Puerto Rico's political code of 1902 established the island's official holiday calendar, which as would be expected was a politically and culturally hybrid list. It removed most Spanish Catholic holidays, Corpus Christi Day, for example; retained New Year's Day, Good Friday, and Christmas Day; and added four other federal holidays: George Washington's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day. Two other territorial holidays completed the nine-holiday calendar: March 22 (Spanish abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico) and July 25 (Day of the U.S. invasion in 1898).

Every new federal holiday is observed on the island, which has added several days of its own. I'll take a holiday any day of the week but find it odd that Puerto Ricans observe both the Discovery of America (Oct. 12) and the Discovery of Puerto Rico (Nov. 19); the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico (March 22) and Juneteenth. Yes, the Commonwealth's holiday calendar reflects its political schizophrenia.

During the 20th century, the government of Puerto Rico added numerous holidays, all political in nature, four of them commemorating the birthdays of political leaders who championed one of the three political status formulas: Eugenio Maria de Hostos and Jose de Diego (independence), Munoz Rivera (autonomy), and Jose Celso Barbosa (statehood); and starting in 1952, on July 25, the commemoration of the Commonwealth's Constitution.

In 2016, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the pro-Commonwealth Popular Democratic Party, who months earlier had declared Puerto Rico's $72 billion debt "not payable," signed into law a bill that slashed the number of official holidays from 20 (21 on election years) to 16 (15). "We cannot take Puerto Rico out of its economic morass," the governor said, "sunbathing at the beach." The birthdays of the aforementioned politicians were now bunched together on the third Monday of January, with the birthdays of five new -- let's call them "notables" -- once again, representing each of the political status options. Previously known as "Presidents' Day," henceforward it would be "Presidents' and Puerto Rican Patriots' Day." For the sake of gender balance, 10 Puerto Rican women have been added to the pantheon of patriots.

In blatantly partisan fashion, Garcia Padilla's successor, Ricardo Rossello, of the New Progressive Party, eliminated the Commonwealth Constitution Day and added (on March 2) U.S. Citizenship Day. In 2021, his pro-statehood successor, Pedro Pierluisi, reestablished Commonwealth Constitution Day and the birthday of pro-statehood leader Barbosa.


When the Popular Democratic Party regains power, we can expect Barbosa to be thrown back into the generic Patriots' Day.


As I write these words -- it's Jan. 7, the day after Three Kings Day -- the Christmas season is over. In the Protestant tradition it actually ended on Jan. 1. On the next day, many of my neighbors began to haul their Christmas trees to the curb for collection. When it comes to holidays, this Protestant writer embraces his ancestral Catholicism.

On many-holidayed Puerto Rico, the Christmas season started early and will not be over until Jan. 24. As the popular Christmas song "Lechon (roasted pork), Lechon, Lechon" goes: "As November comes to an end, I am already well prepared... and following January 6, we continue the tradition and the octavitas begin." Felicidades!

It is only 10 days before the next holiday (beach day), Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Another 15 holidays will be observed during the rest of 2022.


Luis Martinez-Fernandez is author of "Revolutionary Cuba: A History" and "Key to the New World: A History of Early Colonial Cuba." Readers can reach him at To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.

Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.



Kirk Walters Tim Campbell Joel Pett Mike Lester Steve Benson Dick Wright