Carols by a Cellphone’s Glow: See How Puerto Rico Is Celebrating Christmas

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A group of friends in Guaynabo, P.R., were singing by the light of their cellphones.

Days before Christmas, and three months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, parts of Puerto Rico are still without water, and over a million people are in the dark. Hundreds of residents remain in shelters, unable to return home. Schools that have been able to resume classes are still without power.

But in towns around the island, residents are trying to keep holiday traditions alive, despite the circumstances. The group in Guaynabo had arrived at the home of Juan Pablo González for a parranda, a Puerto Rican Christmas tradition that brings friends together to sing carols, usually in the middle of the night. Mr. González’s home was still without power, so people used cellphones and flashlights to see one another and read song lyrics.

“I couldn’t allow the pessimism that is everywhere, that is covering us, to also wither the culture, the traditions,” said Lorraine Martínez, one of the singers. “We bring our happiness.”

In Old San Juan, Marta Cirino performed Christmas songs with Caiko y Los del Soberao, an Afro-Puerto Rican music group. The neighborhood is usually crowded with tourists, but on a recent night, it was full of locals who sang and danced to the music.

“At the beginning, I thought there was not going to be Christmas,” said Franklin Lanzó, the musical director of the group, who lost his home during the storm. “But these are things that happen, and I was not going to stop for it.”

The Eugenio María de Hostos School in Canóvanas has been used as a shelter for weeks, and is currently home to 94 people. Mildred Rodriguez, a resident at the shelter, brought an artificial Christmas tree salvaged from the debris at her home, and decorated it with what she could find

“We are not going to have a Christmas, at least me,” said Ana J. Almarante Vázquez, a resident at the shelter. “I am far away from my family, I don’t have anyone else here. What good time am I going to have?”

Workers cleaned and decorated the Escuela del Pueblo Trabajador, a Montessori institution near Trujillo Alto. The school decided to continue a decades-long tradition and hold a holiday celebration for the children after parents asked for it. The area has been without power since Hurricane Irma made landfall a few weeks before Maria swept over the island, but the school reopened in early October.

In previous years, only one Puerto Rican flag would hang near the Three Kings altar at the school, but this year dozens of flags were integrated in the decoration. The academic director of the school, Marlyn Souffront, wanted to focus on reaffirming the island’s cultural identity.

“People are depressed and have suffered all their losses, and need a moment and a space where they could celebrate,” Ms. Souffront said. “So we decided we were going to do it.”

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