In Costa Rica, Christmas is not white. There’s no snow, but it’s the best time of the year, not only for the blue skies, but also for the happiness that’s in the air. Once the dry season begins and vacations start, it can be said that Christmas is around the corner. The month of December is always full of festivities and get-togethers with family and friends, delicious food and traditions. Nice decorations are everywhere, from Christmas trees to lights in homes and streets.
As November comes, Christmas tunes hit the radio waves, families plan their nativity scenes and retail stores erect incredible decorations and lighting displays. But the country’s official traditions really begin in December, commencing with the annual Telethon, 48 hours of concerts organized to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital and the beautiful Festival de Luz. The Festival of Lights welcomes a long-awaited parade of intricately lit floats down the main street of San Jose, as well as concerts and fireworks.
Though the entire country puts on an elaborate affair, San Jose’s two-week long Fiestas de Zapote are the most popular. During daytime hours, carnival rides, bull fights and street food vendors take center stage. After the sun goes down, massive “megabars,” or portable dance halls, turn on their neon lights and pump up the volume for one of the country’s most raucous annual celebrations!
A very popular Latin American custom during Christmas time is the “portal”, which is a nativity scene constructed of mosses, colored sawdust and figurines representing the birth of Jesus in the manger. The traditional figures are Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the three wise men, the ox and mule and shepherds.
The figure of Baby Jesus is placed on the portal at midnight on December 24th. After dinner, children rush to the Christmas tree, where wrapped gifts are distributed among family members to be opened at midnight. In Costa Rica, Santa Claus isn’t the one who brings the Christmas gifts to the kids, they are brought by Baby Jesus!
Costa Rica’s holiday foods are one of the season’s most awaited traditions! For almost all Costa Rican families, a Christmas season without “tamales” is just not complete. This delicious typical dish is prepared exclusively in December to eat during the year-end parties and celebrations. The “tamal” is prepared with corn flour dough stuffed with rice, vegetables and pork, then wrapped in plantain leaves. Making tamales is an activity which involves the participation of all family members, who pass it on to future generations!
Once the popular festivals, street parades, carnivals and parties of December are over, the closing ceremony to the Christmas season takes place in January. Neighbors then get together for the Rosario del Niño, a prayer for Baby Jesus, as a way to thank Him for everything received during the previous year.
If you want to experience an incredible time of celebrations, lights and music and family togetherness in Costa Rica, visit us for Christmas!