San Sebastian Street Festival and its history

Rafaela Balladares is no longer with us. The precursor of the traditional San Sebastian Street Festival died in September of 2011. Ricardo Alegría, who died in the month of July of 2011, is no longer present for this celebration either. Ricardo, the great advocate of Puerto Rican culture, was who would encourage Rafaela to revive the San Sebastian Street Festival. And so it all began...

  The San Sebastian Street Festival has become a party of the entire colonial town, not only the street. Photo: Pamy Rojas

The San Sebastian Street Festival has become a party of the entire colonial town, not only the street. Photo: Pamy Rojas

Rafaela and Father Madrazo

In 1954, the parish priest of St. Joseph Church, Father Madrazo, organized a street party. This celebration ended when the father was transferred to another parish. By the early 70's, Rafaela returned from New York where she had lived, to settle in Puerto Rico, specifically on San Sebastian Street, Old San Juan.  Rafaela found not only the street where she lived, but most of the old city, in great decline. She then began working in various public schools as an art teacher, thus promoting Puerto Rican culture.

   
  
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     There are still places you can walk through to avoid the crowd.  The Caleta de las Monjas Street.  Photo: Pamy Rojas

There are still places you can walk through to avoid the crowd. The Caleta de las Monjas Street. Photo: Pamy Rojas

Ricardo Alegría

Rafaela communicated to Ricardo Alegría her concern about the state of their community and he recommended promoting this party, that father Madrazo had once developed. By the mid 70's, Rafaela initiated, along with other residents of San Sebastian Street, the first street festival.

    
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	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}    The crowd also crams the connecting streets. Cristo Street is considerably filled throughout the festival. Photo: Pamy Rojas      
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The crowd also crams the connecting streets. Cristo Street is considerably filled throughout the festival. Photo: Pamy Rojas

Street Festival

These initial festivals gathered around 100 people. A craft fair that brought together around 40 artisans was also organized. The celebration consisted of a procession departing from the Colegio de Párvulos (Parvulos Private School) and arriving at the San José Plaza. For ten days she celebrated with the other street residents who adorned their homes with flowers and other ornaments alluding to the event.

  The Cristo Chapel in Old San Juan. Photo: Pamy Rojas

The Cristo Chapel in Old San Juan. Photo: Pamy Rojas

The Legacy

More than forty years later, this festival manages to attract more than 400 thousand people in just four days of celebration. Over 300 artisans currently participate in the craft fair. In addition, as part of the entertainment, bands, orchestras and dancers perform. And of course, we can't forget the deep fried foods kiosks and the traditional shaved ice stands.

The legacy of two great collaborators remains in a cultural event that, thanks to the commitment of Rafaela, is now known as an international event.


Read more about Old San Juan in the stories section.


Conscious Travel Practices:

1. Drink in moderation.

2. Use the recycling containers.

3. Do not leave trash on the street.

4. Use well the public transport, with patience and courtesy.

5. Learn about the history of the San Sebastian Street Festival.