San Guivin is “Puerto Rico’s favorite saint”, or so the joke goes. We celebrate this “saint” by gathering around with family, eating pavochón with a side of arroz con gandules, morcilla, pasteles, potato salad and anything else that makes it to the table. Before eating, people give thanks for the good things that have happened throughout the year. The meal ends with a nice dessert, flan being the one of choice in a lot of Boricua households. In recent years, this celebration is followed by a day of extreme shopping, where people gather in lines and fight over, mostly, electronics and toys on sale.
San Guivin is our adapted version of Thanksgiving. For many schoolchildren in the island, celebration starts a day prior to Thanksgiving break with the ‘Maraton del Pavo’ (the turkey marathon). The winner of this race gets a frozen turkey, the next two a frozen whole chicken, and from fourth to tenth place, a live chick. How this part of the celebration came to be? It is unknown, but it seems to point to a charitable custom that stuck thereafter.
This North American holiday is also known to Puerto Ricans as El Dia del Pavo (Turkey Day), or, as El Dia de Accion de Gracias, a more proper translation. In Canada and the US, Thanksgiving is inspired by the Pilgrims’ arrival the northern continent and it was first celebrated in the 1600s. In Puerto Rico there were no Pilgrims. In fact, while Pilgrims were settling in North America, cities were already up and running on the island as well as in a lot of countries in Latin America. The celebration of Thanksgiving is part of the cultural influence of the US, just like Christmas replaced the more traditional Three Kings Day, especially in San Juan. We have adapted the holiday through the dishes, seasoning the turkey with our spices (sometimes stuffing it with mofongo), and adding our own dishes, such as the rice with pigeon peas (gandules) and the pasteles, the two dishes we continue to eat through December and the start of January. And, of course, we are not the only ones adding a cultural twist to this “American” holiday,
San Guivin is a delicious holiday. While ever more distanced from its Puritan roots, the celebration has changed to a wonderful excuse to get together, eat, and then eat some more…
Happy San Guivin’ and buen provecho!
Post written with Omar A. Dauhajre