Cultural Events and Traditions
Christmas Traditions in Costa Rica
Costa Rica, as many other countries around the world, has it’s own unique and special way to celebrate Christmas. As the last days of November pass by, the weather starts to change; it becomes drier, clearer and windy.
That’s when the Ticos begin with the Christmas decoration of their houses. As Christmas tree the Ticos prefer the cypress tree with its cypress scent. Decorated trees you will find in almost every place you go to from November onwards. The most important Christmas tree in Costa Rica is the one outside the Children’s National Hospital planted decades ago, which represents to all kids of the hospital hope for the coming year and thankfulness.
In San Jose the official holiday season starts with the Festival de la Luz, the Light Festival, with floats, dancing and musical groups from all over the country parading the two main streets at night. The groups are prized for best costumes, best dancers and best orchestra. This Carnival like festival ends with a firework.
In Costa Rica Santa Claus doesn’t bring the Christmas gifts to the kids, those are brought by Baby Jesus the night before Christmas called la ‘Noche Buena’ while they are sleeping.
An important date is the evening of the 24th December when the families get together for a special dinner traditionally based on pork leg and tamales. The base of tamales is corn or maize, both cultivated in Central America by the Indians long before the arrival of the Spaniards.
The tamal is made of corn or maize flour dough stuffed with rice, potatoes, vegetables and pork or chicken, wrapped in plantain or banana leaves and then boiled. Making tamales is a tradition that involves the participation of all family members. It is a slow, laborious process taught by Grandmothers and mothers to granddaughters and daughters.
On the 25th at night the religious families in Costa Rica go to the midnight mass called ‘La Misa del Gallo’.
The municipality of San Jose organizes lots of activities during the holiday season. The most popular, however, is the Bullfight in Zapote, a suburb of San Jose. The famous cattle ranches of the country provide the bulls for free and the bullfighters are normal people trying to ride the bull without any professional preparation.
The most popular part of the Tico bullfight is the run when dozens of young men race into the ring en masse with the intention of frightening the bull and provoking it to attack. The bulls never get hurt but occasionally one of the men is gored, a nightmare to the Red Cross Volunteers who are at standby for first aid.
The Christmas festivities end on 6th of January, the day the three wise men arrived at the cripple of Jesus, with the celebration of the Rosario, with prayers and serving coffee, tamales, rompope and all kinds of typical pastries and drinks.