Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How is Christmas celebrated in Costa Rica

Costa Ricans have their own special way of celebrating Christmas or “Navidad”. Most of the traditions are based on popular religious beliefs, and many are similar to those of other Latin American countries. Of course, Costa Ricans always like to do things their way….the Tico way.

December is probably the most festive month of the year, as the Ticos look forward to vacation from work or school, eating traditional foods, meeting up with friends and family and, of course, “mucha fiesta”! Costa Ricans get together with their families to prepare for the birth of Baby Jesus and the New Year to come. Along with intense religious celebration in this predominantly Catholic country, there is another reason for an exciting atmosphere – money! Every working Tico is required by law to receive an “aguinaldo” from their employer, a Christmas bonus established by the government equal to one month’s salary. The streets become full of people spending their aguinaldo at the “chinamos”, small seasonal street vendors only around during the holiday season. Items for sale range from manger scenes called “Pasitos”, to decorations like lights and ornaments, to cheap toys for children. Also for sale in markets and street stalls are piles of gleaming apples and grapes. Visitors may wonder where all this fruit grows in Costa Rica during December. While many tropical fruits grow all year round, these are actually imported for the holiday season, as apples and grapes are a considered a special Christmas treat for Ticos.

December is also special in Costa Rica because the season changes from rainy to dry, and the days are cool and sunny. You can hear the Ticos say that it feels like Christmas or “pura Navidad” when the cool wind comes. The nights are clear and starry, and the air is crisp compared to the muggier months of the rainy season. Ticos celebrate Christmas by decorating a tree, usually a cypress, with a gold star on top and bright lights and ornaments, much like the U.S. Ticos generally prefer “louder” light decorations with plenty of odd flashing patterns. Every house in Costa Rica has a Christmas tree, specially cut to be big and round, and presents are placed underneath for adults to give to each other near midnight on “Noche Buena”, Christmas Eve. The gifts for children come on Christmas day. Instead of Santa coming to bring presents, Baby Jesus is credited with the wonderful gifts. However, as more and more foreigners influence Costa Rica, Santa is starting to make stops there! That being said, in Costa Rica you still ask the niños “What did the Baby bring you?”

Another very important tradition is “el portal”, the portrayal of the manger scene with Mary, Joseph, animals, the three Magic Kings, and all the shepherds and their sheep. Construction of each family’s portal is a well-planned event, usually culminating with inviting friends and family over to show off the decorations. Portals are filled with crafted wood, decorative papers of different colors, plant mosses, ramps to create different levels, multi-colored sawdust, glitter, and lighting.

On December 24th at midnight, not before, Baby Jesus is born and is placed in the portal where he stays until the three Magic Kings come to see him on January 6th. Ticos have a late night Christmas Eve dinner with a pork leg and tamales. Costa Rican tamales are made from corn flour and can contain potato puree, chorizo (a spicy pork sausage), a special achiote rice, shredded pork or chicken, and other vegetables wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. For a really fancy tamal, expect olives and capers in the mix. Eggnog, heavy with rum, is drunk, while people visit friends and family to give presents before midnight.

Then, the midnight mass or “Misa del Gallo” is attended. It’s a long service, and often Ticos are too tired to make it all the way through the two hour mass! With the Tico traditions of food, fun and family, Christmas is definitely the happiest time of the year

Thank you to for this great article on Tico Christmas traditions and you can read the full article here

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