Sunday night, I lay in bed at 11pm, having a stern talking with my brain, telling it to stop thinking about how great life was and to please let me sleep. My brain had been refusing to listen for the past hour, and I was a bit frustrated with it. And then my phone buzzed.
Normally when a friend asks “what are you doing?” at 11pm on a school night, I would be tempted to reply with “Sleeping. Go away.” or just not replying. And in fact, my answer Sunday night semi-resembled the former. However, my friend replied that he was going to parrandear, and asked if I wanted to come along.
Well…I wasn’t sleeping anyway, and the chance to experience a Puerto Rican cultural event really shouldn’t be passed up.
Parrandas are sort of a funny tradition. It’s basically really obnoxious caroling. You stand outside someone’s house in the middle of the night, and then loudly bang on drums and sing Christmas songs until the residents wake up, let you in, and share their food and drink with you while you keep them awake a while longer singing more songs.
On our way to Arroyo, my friend gave me a briefing on the drums that would be used. There’s la bomba, or bass drum—which we didn’t have last night. Then there are 2 hand drums—like tambourines, but without the jangles around the edges, more or less—the big one leads the rhythm, and the smaller complements it. The bongos fit in around the cracks, filling out the melody. My friend showed me the rhythms and how to strike each drum. After 11 years on the drumline, I probably should have been more excited about trying it out myself. But I was content just to learn and later watch, assured I wouldn’t have to play anything.
It was a little after midnight when we pulled up onto a quiet residential street and parked near a few cars that were already waiting. My friend passed around his drums and introduced la gringa to his high school classmates and their families—and everyone welcomed me with smiles. Then, the 10 or so of us crept quietly to the front door of a house lit up with Christmas lights, and on the count of three, everyone started singing the traditional “let us in!” song. I stood back and clapped along to the beat. After a moment, the lights came on inside, and the residents came out to greet us. After a few minutes of chatting, we all went inside and found seats in their family room. Refreshments were brought out, and we spent perhaps an hour and a half singing every parranda song they could think of at the tops of their lungs. I wish I knew the songs…singing along would have been a lot of fun! I still enjoyed myself clapping along, though.
Normally during a parranda, the party goes on, moving from one house to another. Since Sunday night was a school night and we were tired, however, we only went to the one house, then returned home.
My brain gave me no more trouble about whether it was ready to sleep after that. Spontaneity definitely does pay off once in a while. I’m glad I bothered to read that text message!