Happily, it is Christmas time again. It has been eighteen months since my usual non-religious Australian Christmas was replaced by the Catholic Costa Rican Yuletide merriment. After a short career life of hustle bustle stress and worldly ambition, I finally left Australia for the beautiful west coast of Central America. After eighteen months, I wouldn’t say I am a full fledged ‘Tico’ (the name for Costa Ricans) but I’m working on it.
Moving to Costa Rica was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Costa Rica is, as I said before, a Catholic nation mostly. Sure there is a small population of non denominational natives but for the most part, the country is ruled by the Vatican City’s influence. Christmas is, perhaps, one of the most jovial times of year. Since most Ticos are deeply religious, their celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is monumental. Theirs is truly a celebration of life, family and gratitude.
Though I loved the beauty of the land and the ease of the people, it wasn’t until Christmas that I truly fell in love and called Costa Rica ‘home.’ Perhaps it is the painstaking detail given to the hand carved nativity scenes, called ‘portals’ in Costa Rica, sprinkled all over San Jose. Or it is the Ticos use of Baby Jesus as the giver of gifts instead of Santa Claus. Whatever it is, Christmas in San Jose can soften the hardest of hearts and the joy of the people can bring a tear to the eye of believers and non-believers.
Traditions in Common with the Rest of the World
Costa Rica shares in many of the world-wide customs such as tree decoration (the most breathtaking Christmas tree in all of San Jose is the famous tree in front of San Jose Children’s Hospital ). The decorations are quite unusual when seen by the foreign eye. The large evergreen is splashed in white paint and then children throw strips of boldly colored fabric or paper over the tree. The first time I saw such a tree, I truly thought some punk kids had come along and defaced the poor Christmas tree. Now that my eyes are slowly becoming ‘Tico eyes,’ I see that it is truly a beautiful form of decoration in its flamboyance and symbolism.
As much of the world watches more football at Christmas than any other time, Ticos watch bullfights at Christmas. The first bullfight I ever went to was during Christmas in San Jose. We sat right on the ground floor front row of the bullring. This is not advisable seating for tourists as I don’t think one’s travel insurance compared any rates or risks against that most blood-curdling scary beast, the bull.
Festival de la Luz
If you want to see a ‘city of lights,’ come to San Jose at the very start of the Christmas festivities. This festival marks the beginning of the holiday season. The city is absolutely covered in lights. I have never seen anything quite so magical in my life. My old Melbourne wishes it could sparkle like San Jose at this time of year.
As an Hispanic culture, the favorite foods of Ticos are Hispanic/Latin-American. Lucky for me, it is my absolute favorite cuisine. Who wouldn’t love a tortilla stuffed with cheese, refried beans, seasoned steak and topped with a tomatillo sauce? I’ll take that any day over boring dry turkey meat and canned cranberries. Yes, a true Costa Rican Christmas dinner is not complete without the delicious tamale.
The Closing Prayer
Ticos tend to take this holiday much more seriously than other non Catholic nations. The holiday is not over until January 6th, the day the three wise men came to baby Jesus Christ. The most peaceful day in Costa Rica is January 6th. This is the last day of the Christmas cheer, the day the wise men come to meet baby Jesus. The customary way to spend this day is to gather with family and friends and have a small feast. The most important part of the day/feast is the prayer that is given to baby Jesus. If you weren’t a believer before the holiday, I assure you that you will at least be a Jesus fan at the end of the holiday.
Author: Karen Petrussi.