Loiza is a city that is located in the north-eastern part of Puerto Rico. Every year, in July, there is a festival held here. This festival is celebrated over a span of ten days and is dedicated to the patron saint James the Apostle who is also known as the city’s defender. This colourful and vibrant festival is known as Fiesta de Santiago Apostol.
This festival is a combination of local folklore and fascinating traditions. When at the festival, it is likely that you will see a statue of the saint carried to a myth cork tree that is believed to be where the patron saint was seen hundreds of years ago. You can expect to see parades being accompanied by bands blasting Puerto Rican music and crowds having a fantastic time.
The history and significance of the Fiesta de Santiago Apostol in Loiza
Now that we know that the celebrations happen every July, let us find out the real reason behind the festivities. Understanding the history of the festival will provide a better insight and help you appreciate it a little better.
Jumping in, the Fiesta of Saint James the Apostle is said to be a celebration of Afro-Puerto Rican culture. It is believed that in 1896, during the uprising of the Liberals, General Zelaya defeated his enemies in Nagarote. He had the help and protection of the patron saint. General Zelaya handed over the uniform of the soldiers, the epaulets of his rank, and the distinctive sabre of power and authority to Santiago Apóstol. After this, he named him Captain General.
In later years, specifically 1993, making replicas of indigenous articles such as this began to arise. The wood of the legendary tree was used to sculpt objects like a sculpture of Cacique Nagrandano, in natural size, and that of the Indita de Nagarote. They also made pre-Columbian vessels and weapons used during this time.
In colonial times, the colonizers believed that the apocalypse would begin once the whole world was baptized and after that, there would be heaven on Earth. To bring on the end of times they went about collecting souls. During those times, celebrating anything but Catholic traditions could bring on sadistic abuse and even murder. The African diaspora mixed with Indigenous one, found a smart way to hide their own culture within that of their colonizer’s.
In a nutshell, this festival celebrates the efforts that went into pushing back against the whims of the colonizers that invaded the lands.
In the fiesta, the colourful apparels donned by those in the parade is said to represent the uniforms that were handed to the patron saint as he was given authority. The scallop shell is also regarded as a symbol of Santiago. The scallop shell has many grooves that come together in a single focal point. These grooves represent the different paths to Santiago. Additionally, eating lots of oysters and scallops is said to ensure that the proceeding year is filled with wealth and good health.
How to plan a visit to the Fiesta de Santiago Apostol in Loiza
Since the festivities and processions, etc all take place in July, that is the best time to be there. The festival usually spans from 10th July to about 28th July, so make sure you are there if you want to catch the festivities.
Although you can opt to drive to the festival yourself, it might be quite crowded with little to no space to park. As such, it might be a better idea to rely on public transport or Ubers, etc to get you there. Alternatively, you can ride a bike there. Additionally, some good places nearby that you can stay at are Parroquia San Patricio, Plaza Publica, and Capilla Santiago Apostol.
Come along with your heart and mind ready to enjoy and have fun. There will be lots of dancing and lots of parades, so you might want to dress comfortably and carry ample water with you. There will be vendors selling delicious, locally prepared treats so there may be no need to fill your bag with food and snacks. Make sure you pack your picture or video taking device so you can capture every moment and share the memories you make that will last you a lifetime.
As afore mentioned, there will be a procession and food vendors. In addition to this, there will be an opportunity for you to learn the bomba. This is a dance where the dancer challenges the bomba musician to a duel by imposing the rhythm with his or her moves, and the musician must follow by replicating the dance on his or her drums. Furthermore, there are artisans that you can talk to, turban tying lessons, lessons on how to play La Pica ( a game of bets in which several rows of small wooden horses and their jockeys go around a circular table, and stop at any given place). The amenities are so many they are hard to count.
Things to do and see at the Fiesta de Santiago Apostol in Loiza
At the festival there will be vibrant parades a re-enactment of the battle between the forces of good and evil. Here, characters wear scary masks with horns made of wood and coconut. Spanish knights, also wearing masks and luxuriously decorated costumes, are called Los Caballeros.
Another attraction, as mentioned above, is the the traditional Bomba music and dance. There are also amusement rides you can have fun on, and more importantly, the famous procession.
To really enjoy the festivities and feel like a part of the culture, make sure you participate in as many of the available activities that you can.
Other cultural festivals in Puerto Rico to try
Puerto Rico is a cultural hub and has many other festivals that you can participate in. Here is a list of a few of them.
- Aibonito Flower Festival
- Ponce Carnival
- San Sebastián Street Festival
- Emancipation Day, and many others.
In conclusion, the Fiesta de Santiago Apostol is a wonderful cultural experience that you will surely enjoy. There are vibrant colours, delicious food, music that will have you swinging your hips, and so much more. Be sure to come to Puerto Rico to enjoy the various festivities, natural attractions, fun outdoor activities and fall in love with Puerto Rico.