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Christmas Shopping in Puerto Rico

Five Souvenirs to Remind You of a Boricua Navidad

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A list of top holiday items to shop for this Christmas. The island has its own unique traditions and celebrations, as well as some typically Puerto Rican souvenirs and keepsakes to remind you of, or help you celebrate, a feliz navidad.

1. Santo, not Santa

Photo © Zain Deane
It's one of the most beautiful and distinctive souvenirs you'll find on the island: the hand-carved wooden figurines known as santos. The most popular santos are representations of The Three Wise Kings, or Los Reyes Magos. These are beautiful and spiritual keepsakes that can be found in households all over Puerto Rico. The artists who carve them are known as santeros, and are an integral part of the tradition. And their work ranges from small, simple pieces to beautifully intricate carvings. If I had to get only one souvenir from here this holiday season, it would be a santo.

Where to find it:
There is no shortage of shops selling santos, but a place that has a beautiful collection of truly artistic pieces is Siena Art Gallery.

2. Ornaments

Photo © Zain Deane
Chances are, most communities with an artistic bent in this hemisphere have probably produced at least a few custom Christmas ornaments, and this island is no different. With its deep Catholic roots, Puerto Rico has several places that sell ornaments. These run the gamut from handmade glass ornaments at Puerto Rican Arts & Crafts to artistic and unique creations, like the one pictured here, at one of my favorite little stores in San Juan, Mi Rincón (787-723-1412, 251 Cristo Street).

3. Coquito

Puerto Rican egg nog; what better way to toast the Christmas season? Or to remember it? The real question is, what makes coquito different from traditional egg nog? And the answer, as with so many good things in Puerto Rico, is rum and spices. No boricua Christmas festivity is complete without a bit of coquito, so this creamy grog is a perfect keepsake. If you want to go whole hog, pair it with a flan.

Where to find it:
Spicy Caribbee is centrally located on Cristo Street in Old San Juan, and has a wide range of local and regional treats along with coquito.

4. Aguinaldos

Puerto Rico has its own take on Christmas carols, and they're called aguinaldos. The carolers also go by another name: parrandas is the name of the groups that roam from house to house exchanging song for food and drink. Aguinaldos are also sung in churches. They're so popular that it won't be hard to get yourself a CD of Puerto Rico's most popular aguinaldos.

Where to find it:
Try the music selection at Cronopios, located at 255 San José Street in Old San Juan (787-724-1815).

5. Jewelry

Photo © Zain Deane
Let's face it; nothing quite says "Merry Christmas" (or merry anything, for that matter) to your loved one like a bit of bling. And Puerto Rico (San Juan in particular) is bling central. There are so many quality jewelers here that I wrote a whole article just about jewelry shopping in the capital city. You can bet they will have something special on display for the holiday season.

6. Puerto Rico, the Game!

This one you can get online. Here's a fun gift for those who know and love the island: Puerto Rico, the game! You can choose from one of several roles and your goal is to help Puerto Rico grow. You can be a settler, governor, trader, builder, ship captain or prospector, and compete against your fellows to achieve your character's goals.

The game received a five-star rating from boardgameratings.com, and won numerous awards, including Best Advanced Strategy Game in 2003 by Games Magazine.

And besides, how cool would it be to go back to the island where you spent your holiday as a master of its colonial fate?

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