Photo: Children and parents parade at the Longwood Parranda on Dec. 3.

A musical two-car float drifted down Longwood’s streets Friday, accompanied by Christmas songs in English and Spanish and toy giveaways, as Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education celebrated its third Parranda celebration.  A Christmas tree lighting on Padre Gigante Plaza topped off the event.

Parranda is a Puerto Rican tradition during the holiday season where friends and families gather in front of a house with instruments to play and sing folkloric music.  This year’s event engaged about 1,200 people, according to Francesca Garcia, marketing coordinator for Casita Maria, located in Hunts Point.

“Casita Maria was founded in 1934 in El Barrio to serve newly arrived Puerto Rican families moving to the South Bronx,” said Gail Heidel, interim co-executive director at Casita Maria. “So today’s event is a way for us to continue supporting and celebrating the culture of this traditionally Puerto Rican neighborhood.”

Inspired by Puerto Rican trap singer Bad Bunny and his NYC concert on the back of a truck during the pandemic, Casita Maria combined that idea with a traditional Parranda.  Bobby Sanabria and Los Apaches del la Plena band provided the music, on panderos, maracas and guiros, and capped the evening with Jose Feliciano’s class Christmas song, Feliz Navidad,

The musical float wound its way north via Southern Boulevard, Westchester Avenue, West Farms Road and 167th Street before returning to the plaza named after the late Father Louis Gigante, who passed away in October at the age of 90. 

The procession stopped at the Urban Health Plan offices on Southern Boulevard, where a long line of local residents and their children awaited a scheduled toy giveaway. At the plaza, toys provided by Casita Maria were distributed and a choir of elementary and middle school students in the after-school program at Casita Maria did the countdown for the Christmas tree lighting.

“The gift giveaway is the best thing right now for the kids because it’s right after school. They [have] been learning all day. This is their surprise,” said Jermin Costor, South Bronx resident who came with his two children.

Shantal Floey, a nurse, agreed. “I think it’s good for the community, for the children [to] see the Christmas tree parade and characters and feel the joy of Christmas knowing that all the kids have been through the pandemic.”

Several South Bronx organizations first launched the event in 2020 and continue to be involved.  They include the South East Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO), which owns the plaza; Bronx Community Board 2, which made its Christmas tree lighting part of the Parranda celebration; and Hunts Point Community Partnership, which provided the toys that were distributed at the offices of Urban Health.   

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