Puerto Rican girl’s Christmas takes center stage in new PBS show

A special episode of an animated series will celebrate Christmas through the eyes of a Puerto Rican girl from New York and introduce children to distinctive holiday traditions.

“Alma’s Way”, produced by Fred Rogers Productions and created by Sonia Manzano – known for her role as beloved María on “Sesame Street” – kicks off the special episode “Alma’s Nochebuena / Three Kings Day Do-Over” on Monday. (Nochebuena is Spanish for Christmas Eve.)

“It gives us the opportunity to show the younger generation, learning from the older generation,” said Manzano.

Sonia Manzano in the Bronx, where “Alma’s Way” takes place.David Gonzalez / Fred Rogers Productions

“Alma’s Way,” which debuted in October and features episodes in English and Spanish, follows Alma, a 6-year-old Puerto Rican girl, who lives with her family in the Bronx as she helps solve everyday problems. of its predominantly Latino neighborhood.

Influenced by her upbringing, Manzano brought her experience around Nochebuena to the stage. As a child, she remembers listening to albums containing aguinaldos, or Christmas carols, which are popular in Puerto Rico. One of the favorite traditions is going from house to house and serenading families, singing aguinaldos accompanied by traditional Puerto Rican instruments.

“It was important to me because I had never been to Puerto Rico,” said Manzano. “All the things they sang about kind of gave me little clues about what Puerto Rico was like.”

The special episode features an original composition by Fabiola Mendez, a Puerto Rican musician, who used the traditional cuatro, a small four-string guitar.

A preview of “Alma’s Nochebuena / Three Kings Day Do-Over,” a special episode of “Alma’s Way” which premieres Monday. Fred Rogers Productions

“These little touches in the show are what make it authentic,” Manzano said. Along with the original line-up, the special focuses on the family, a “cultural quality,” of so many Latinos, Manzano said.

Growing up in the Bronx meant having a cousin, or “primo,” who lived just a block or two away, and vacations for Manzano and many Latin American families involve large gatherings.

The Bronx is home to many Puerto Rican and Latin American families, and to keep it authentic, viewers will be able to see the iconic No.6 train pass through the neighborhood, giving the show “a very realistic touch,” Manzano said.

“‘Sesame Street’ was in the city but we never really said where it was exactly. It could have been El Barrio. It could have been Harlem,” Manzano said, describing other parts of the city. “But this show is set specifically in the Bronx.”

Each show has two short episodes.

In each, Alma has a ‘moment of reflection’, which aims to get young viewers to reflect on their own experiences and their relationship to their own lives, and how, at times, one has to adapt or pivot to changing circumstances. .

In “Three Kings Day Do-Over,” Alma spends the majority of her time focusing on getting the perfect gift for Junior, her younger brother, but later realizes that all she had to do was to spend time with him.

“It’s an old story. It’s an old story or to give it our own special twist. And I think that’s a very warm feeling. And that’s a great lesson,” Manzano said.

The Feast of the Three Kings, or Feast of the Epiphany, is celebrated across Latin America and Spain, with many children receiving gifts on January 6, the day that commemorates the Three Kings, according to the Bible, went to visit and bring gifts to the baby Jesus.

Since the start of the show, Manzano says she has received an excellent reception for her portrayal of Afro-Puerto Rican and Caribbean culture. The show features characters who often have different skin tones, which the creators were very deliberate about, she said.

The special is available on PBS stations; check local listings. All “Alma’s Way” episodes are available in English and Spanish. For a more interactive experience, families can learn how to make budín de pan (bread pudding), a Nochebuena tradition for many families.

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