For most people Christmas means spending happy moments with the entire family in front of the fireplace sipping eggnog with Frank Sinatra crooning “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” in the background; a traditional white Christmas. But you shouldn’t underestimate the spectacular Christmas experience offered by a tropical heaven like Costa Rica either.
You may not be able to enjoy playing in the snow in Costa Rica, but the white powder sand more than makes up for it. With a predominantly Christian population with a fierce festive spirit and people who are ready to party at the drop of a hat; the preparations for Christmas starts weeks in advance.
The month of December brings along lighted streets and people bustling with festive energy. Family get to together and vacation to the beach are two of the most popular ways among the locals to celebrate Christmas. The decorations start appearing in most shops from the last week of November, so you can imagine that by the second week of December you can feel the preparation for Christmas going ahead in full gear with practically every shop displaying its fair share of lights, Christmas trees, cypress tree wreath and stockings placed in anticipation of the arrival of baby Jesus. Santa is a fairly new commercial concept in Costa Rica because most local children are told that it is baby Jesus who gets the gifts for them on Christmas Eve. The traditional Christmas tree is either a small cypress tree or dried coffee branches. It is usually painted white and is decorated with brightly colored paper strips, colored balls, small figures and lace and of course the golden star which stands as a symbol for the Star of Bethlehem is placed on top.
You will also see many houses preparing the nativity scene with mosses, colored saw dust, grass, silver glitter, cypress twigs and figurines. This is the pride and joy of practically all homes and is called the portal. It is believed that people who don’t own their own home should sport a portal received as a gift so that they can be blessed with their own home in the future. The nativity scene comprises of figurines of Mary, Joseph, the three shepherds, the ox and the mule and other figurines of small farm animals, tiny toys, lights, etc. finally the figurine of baby Jesus is placed in the Nativity scene at midnight on Christmas. Families take great pride in decorating their portal just right and it is usually placed under the tree or on a table occupying a place of honor in the home.
Posadas is another traditional activity where people from a neighborhood get together at a different neighbor’s house each day to act out the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. This is usually done in the nine days that precede Christmas. There is also a lot of singing, snacks and praying. The 25th is of course the night for family dinners and traditional seasonal foods include pupusa (stuffed tortilla) tamal (stuffed corn flour dough with potatoes, pork and vegetables), grilled pork, sausages or chicken and vigoron (an assortment of vegetables like cabbage, tomato, yucca coupled with pork rind served on plantain leaf. Rompope is the local eggnog with an added dash of brandy or dark rum.
Other traditional events include the tico bull fights where the bulls are never hurt, but the fight manages to generate an adrenaline rush in the participants and several carnivals, parades, parties and religious processions. Christmas in Costa Rica is thoroughly enjoyable and an experience in itself.