It is no secret that people in Puerto Rico know how to party, especially around the Christmas holidays. Announce that there will be a parade, music, dancing, libations, food — then add in local artisan crafts for sale — and it all adds up to one crazy celebration!
That is the San Sebastián Street Festival (Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián) in a nutshell. It has been an annual event on Calle San Sebastián in Old San Juan since 1970, and what started as community fund-raiser has become THE festival to go to. Loads of locals and tourists attend this 4-day event.
San Sebastián (Saint Sebastian) was a Christian who was martyred for his faith. There is a street on the north side of Old San Juan named in his honor.
The original “festival” (in the 1950′s) was organized by a priest at the San Jose Church, which is located on San Sebastián Street, to celebrate the feast day of San Sabastián. The annual feast-day festival lasted only a few years.
In 1970, the festival was restarted and it has been held annually ever since. It always occurs around San Sebastián’s feast day, which is January 20th. The festival is typically held on the third weekend of January, and runs from Thursday to Sunday. Double check exact dates before making vacation plans around these dates as things have been known to change from year to year.
San Se Today
The San Se Festival has evolved over time, though it still is full of tradition and Puerto Rican cultural heritage. Mostly, it is a great big party, with people enjoying every aspect of it. It is attended by hundreds of thousands of people, who are very much part of the entertainment scene. Folks lucky enough to have a birds-eye view line the colorful balconies along Calle San Sebastián, and on the rest of the parade route, watching and shouting to the throngs of people in the streets below. Everyone else hits the streets. It’s basically the Puerto Rican version of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, without the beads and breasts.
In 2017, the festival will be held from Thursday, January 19 through Sunday, January 22.
There are lots of live music shows, both traditional and contemporary. The musicians perform on 4 stages around the Old City , but the main stage is at the Plaza del Quinto Centenario. But also expect music/dance to happen randomly & spontaneously throughout the streets, where people join in the song and dance. There are plenty of dance performances, both folkloric and modern, by professionals and party-goers alike. And all along the parade routes you will find food, drink, and more than 500 artisans displaying/selling their works.
There will be some artisans along Calle San Sebastián, but the main artisan areas are Cuartel de Ballajá. You will find other artisan set-ups throughout the rest of Old San Juan, too.
Things are generally calm, and you will see lots of families, during the day. As the day turns into night, you will see more young people (and fewer families) who are enjoying the lifting of the ban on public drinking in the streets around the Calle San Sebastián area. The police do set up barricades at the limits to contain the on-street drinking.
On Thursday and Friday, the parades and music festivities start at about 5pm. But it goes all day and night on Saturday and Sunday. There is a curfew enforced (Thursday and Sunday at 12 midnight and Friday and Saturday 2 am) so that the people that live there can get some sleep.
Expect to see extra security around Old San Juan. Security cameras and Police dogs will be all over. You are not allowed to bring in weapons, drugs, liquids in bottles, noisemakers, coolers. Everyone must have a picture ID on them at all times. Children under 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult at all times and after 6:00 pm that “adult” accompanying the minors must be over 21 years old.