In the northern coastal town of Hatillo on the 27th and 28th of December, festivities commemorate the religious day of the “Slaughter of the Holy Innocents,” a tradition brought from Spain. The costumes and masks represent the soldiers whom King Herod ordered to kill all first-born male babies in an attempt to prevent the coming of Christ. The festival celebrates the Messiah’s escape from death. In Hatillo, people favor masks made of wire mesh painted to resemble the faces of the soldiers. The masks are topped with a Napoleonic hat covered with colored ribbons. The costumes are made of bright metallic fabrics and soldiers carry crowns and cardboard swords.
Traditionally young people dressed as centurions (Roman soldiers) go from house to house looking for children. They are given coins, beverages, or candy and if they are invited in, they sing carols about Herod and the Holy Innocents. This tradition clearly reflects the traditions brought to Puerto Rico from the Canary Islands by Spanish immigrants.
The Make-a-Mask Video contains actual footage of the carnival celebrations in Hatillo and, along with The Vejigante and the Folk Festivals of Puerto Rico Activity Book, more information on the two other folk festivals celebrated annually on the island.
From The Vejigante and the Folk Festivals of Puerto Rico, © Exit Studio 1995