The Vibrant Hatillo Masks Festival

Puerto Rico is a beautiful country with a rich, fascinating cultural heritage. Just about every town and village has a festival or tradition that makes it unique. The lovely town of Hatillo, situated on the north coast of Puerto Rico bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is no exception. On the 28th of December each year everyone in the town joins in the celebration of a tradition known as the Masks (Máscaras) Festival.

This tradition of the Hatillo Masks Festival dates back to when the town was founded in 1823. The settlers from the Canary Islands brought this tradition with them to Puerto Rico. The reason for the Masks Festival is to remember the first Christian martyrs or Holy Innocents (Santos Inocentes). This is based on the Bible book of Matthew where it is recorded that many baby boys under the age of three years were murdered as commanded by King Herod in his quest to kill the baby Jesus.

The inhabitants of Hatillo see this as a very special day in which masked men and women of all ages wear colorful costumes, covered from head to toe, and accompanied by traditional music, they parade through the streets of Hatillo as well as nearby towns of Arecibo, Camuy and other villages. The masked performers represent King Herod’s soldiers and they run or ride through the towns from early in the morning looking for the children. This parade continues for the entire day with participants having fun, joking and enjoying one another’s company, good food and dancing. The procession finally ends at the Hatillo town centre. This is also a time to celebrate that they are proud “Islenos” – descendants of settlers from the Canary Islands.

Apart from the traditions of the town of Hatillo which attracts visitors, there are many places of interest to see. These include Parque de las Cavernas – a park built around a large network of limestone caves and underground waterways which is one of the most visited natural attractions in Puerto Rico.

As a major tourist destination there are many reasons to travel to Puerto Rico. If you visit there in December, be sure to include the town of Hatillo in your travels and join in the unusual Masks Festival.