“I remember growing up in Puerto Rico and always looking forward La Noche de San Juan Bautista, or the annual night the patron saint of Puerto Rico was celebrated. The festival began on the night before June 23 and people came to the beaches to party with food and music. The ritual would begin at midnight by people building bonfires and jumping into the ocean to cleanse their spirits for the next year. The waters were supposedly sacred and blessed with magical healing powers that night, though I didn’t really believe in much of what other people told me. We were supposed to swim into the water at least 7 times to be cleansed, while others did 12. Others took the ritual more seriously, sometimes taking three turns then jumping into the water backwards upon each swim. I always loved the ocean and took this as an opportunity to enjoy the warm waters under the night sky without my parents having to worry about where I might be.”
When I come home for the weekend, I often get the chance to talk with our housekeeper who tells me about her history and many of her stories. She grew up in Puerto Rico and is full of both funny and suspenseful stories from her youth in a small townoutside of San Juan. When I told her that I was in the process of collecting stories for my folklore project, she was more than happy to share with me some of her memories. Due to her love of the ocean, this ritual she did with her parents was one of the first that came to mind. I could tell that though she seemed to dismiss the notion of the “blessed waters,” she really missed her family and friends back home and the traditions they partook in. She spoke longingly about the kinds of foods they ate and how the ritual was passed down from generations. She learned all about the celebration from her parents and its meaning, telling me that the ritual had been performed yearly since the end of Spanish Colonization. Though many in the city didn’t celebrate it, it was still a big deal to people in outlying areas and was a huge communal celebration.
I enjoyed hearing about this ritual because here in America, I feel that ritual is not necessarily a large part of our identity, with maybe an exception to Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Everyone does have their own personal rituals for one event or another, but they are not apart of a greater communal tradition that have been passed down over generations. It’s very interesting to hear about how something such as the notion of healing waters has been passed down reverently from generation to generation and largely believed and participated in by most of a community.