Puerto Rico

Traditions and customs of Puerto Rico

What traditions and customs are there in Puerto Rico?

From the Puerto Rican island, the customs and traditions of Puerto Rico.


Food in daily life

Food preferences were determined by the island’s cultural diversity and predominantly rural lifestyle. Taíno and African influences are seen in the use of tropical fruits and vegetables, seafood, condiments, and legumes and cereals (the ubiquitous rice and beans).

The Spanish brought culinary techniques and wheat products and introduced pigs and cattle. The tropical climate required the importation of canned food; dried cod was for a long time one of the mainstays of the diet. Candied fruits and those preserved in syrup are also traditional. Rum and coffee are the preferred drinks.

Traditionally, meals were made according to Spanish customs: a continental breakfast, a large midday meal, and a modest dinner. Many people now eat a big breakfast, a fast food lunch, and a big dinner. Puerto Ricans tolerate fast food, but prefer native food and home cooking.

There are fast food outlets that serve rice and beans, and other local dishes. The island has restaurants and places to eat across the economic and gastronomic spectrum; San Juan, in particular, offers international options.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Although American holidays are legally celebrated, the foods associated with them are prepared according to local tastes and culinary techniques. Therefore, Thanksgiving turkey is made with adobo, a local mix of seasonings.

The traditional festival menu includes roast pork or suckling pig, pastels (plantains or yucca tamales) and rice with pigeon peas; the typical desserts are the rice with sweet, the bienmesabe and the tembleque. Coquito is a popular coconut and rum drink.


Puerto Ricans consider family life as a central cultural value; family and relatives are seen as the most enduring and reliable support network. Despite the high divorce rate and the rise of serial monogamy, most people prefer marriage to cohabitation, although female virginity is not as important as it once was.

Today, courtship is based on group or individual dates rather than escorted outings. Wedding ceremonies can be religious or secular, but preferably include receptions for family and friends. Although remaining single is becoming more acceptable, marriage is an important indicator of adulthood.


Respect and education are essential components of social interaction. Indirection is also an important strategy. People believe that bluntness is rude and use a variety of euphemisms and hedges to avoid it. Close friends are allowed to be direct, but maintain the limits of respect. Puerto Ricans prefer people who are publicly expressive but not excessively so.

Friends often greet each other by kissing, and engaging in lively conversation is considered a social asset. Although the social consumption of alcohol is approved, drunkenness is not.

Relaxation is a form of indirect teasing that is similar to teasing. It is used to indirectly criticize others, convey problematic aspects of their behavior, emphasize nonsense, and impart potentially negative information.


Religious beliefs

The Yankee occupation brought the Protestant missions to a predominantly Catholic society. An estimated 30 percent of the population is now Protestant. All major denominations are represented, and there is a synagogue in San Juan, but no mosque. The revival is very popular.

The Catholic Church had a lot of power under Spain, but Catholics are prone to a kind of populist religion that distrusts the established church and its hierarchy. Many people are not observant, but consider themselves devout because they pray, are faithful, treat others compassionately, and communicate directly with God.

African slaves introduced witchcraft. In the 19th century, European spiritualism became popular. It is the most important alternative practice and coexists with established religions.

Many people consider both ways to be equally legitimate and practice both. Spiritual mediums are predominantly women who conduct divinations and seances in their homes; many have become successful and even wealthy.

Cuban immigrants brought Santeria, a mixture of Yoruba and Catholic religions. Spiritualism and Santeria have merged into Santerismo. Both posit a spiritual world, worship a hierarchy of saints and guiding deities from the sacred and secular worlds, and practice divination.

Religious professionals

Most religious life in Puerto Rico is enacted in terms of a populist style, in the case of established religions, and includes espiritismo and santería as culturally specific belief systems that coexist with mainstream religious practices.

Secular celebrations

People celebrate the holidays of the United States and Puerto Rico. The main local holidays include New Year’s Eve (January 1), Three Kings Day (January 6), Hostos Day (January 11), Constitution Day (July 25), Discovery Day (November 19) and Christmas Day (December 25).

Easter Thursday and Friday are observed. The cities and towns celebrate the patron saint’s day, generally with carnivals, processions, masses, dances and concerts. These celebrations are of a local nature, except for the eve of the patron saint of the island, San Juan (June 23).

The government sponsors civic and military parades on holidays such as July 4 and Constitution Day. Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Three Kings are the highlights of a Christmas party season that runs from mid-December to mid-January. Holy Week brings religious processions.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The arts are important as expressions of cultural nationalism. The government has contributed to its institutionalization through the creation of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, which sponsors and finances artistic activities and programs.

Although the institute has been criticized for fostering an essentialist notion of national identity and for favoring “high” culture, it has been instrumental in recovering the artistic past and fostering new artistic productions.

Local artists have access to support from US institutions. Universities and colleges are also sources of jobs, support and facilities. There are museums in Ponce and San Juan and art galleries throughout the island. A performing arts center in Santurce has facilities for theater, concerts, opera, and dance.


Puerto Rican literature is often dated to the 19th century publication of El Gíbaro, a collection of pieces on the island’s traditions, because the book represents the first self-conscious expression of a native culture. Literary production is diverse, valued locally and recognized internationally. Puerto Rican authors work in all genres and styles.

Graphic arts

The production of graphic arts is diverse and prolific. The pictorial tradition dates back to the 18th century with José Campeche, specialized in religious painting and portraiture and recognized as the first artist on the island. Francisco Oller’s Impressionist work can be found in the museums of Paris. 20th century artists have been particularly successful in print media.

Performing arts

The music ranges from popular and folk genres to classical works. Salsa, the island’s most recent contribution to world music, has its roots in African rhythms. Puerto Rico has classical composers and performers and has been home to the Casals International Festival since the 1950s.

There are established ballet companies and groups that perform modern, folk and jazz dance. Efforts to establish movie production companies have failed.

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