Christmas Festivities in Costa Rica
La Navidad en Costa Rica (Christmas in Costa Rica), just like in every culturally Catholic country, is the best time of the year. While it is not your traditional white, and snowy Christmas, Costa Ricans celebrate Christmas in their own way. They put up the tree and tangle the little lights around it.
While 17% of Costa Ricans do not incline towards any religion, 52% of them declare themselves as Catholics and 22% as protestants, meaning that 74% of the population is Christian and probably celebrates Christmas religiously and not just culturally.
After they study all year long, Costa Ricans look forward to celebrating Christmas and kick-starting their vacations with this beautiful festivity. If you want to discover how Christmas is in Costa Rica, or you are wondering how do they celebrate Christmas in Costa Rica? Kick back, get a blanket, get cozy and get ready to start scrolling down.
FUN FACT: Costa Ricans call Santa Claus colacho. However, Baby Jesus is the one who delivers children the gift.
Christmas Traditions in Costa Rica
Christmas in Costa Rica is similar to Christmas in other Latin American countries in some ways, but not in others. In this section, we are going to cover those traditions that happen exclusively during Christmas in Costa Rica, check them out.
FUN FACT: Costa Rica is the only Confessional State—a State with an official religion, in the Americas. Their religion is Roman Catholicism.
In the second week of December, San José, the capital of Costa Rica, starts to prepare for the Christmas festivities. This is when el avenidazo begins. The San José City hall organizes el avenidazo and this is an activity where they organize a series of cultural activities for Costa Ricans to be a part of. There are concerts, plays, games and even circus shows that take place in San José’s Plaza de la Cultura (Culture’s Square.)
The Festival of the Lights – El Festival de la Luz
El festival de la luz (The festival of the lights) is what kickstarts Christmas in Costa Rica. As its name indicates, it is a festival filled with lights. Costa Ricans kickstart Christmas in Costa Rica officially, the second Saturday of December, and they have been doing so for the past 25 years.
Before the actual festival de la luz begins, Costa Ricans start preparing for it with the appetizer, un pasacalle (a passacaglia)—a small parade in the streets where there is live music, stilt men, masked people, bands, and more. This usually starts at 3:00 p.m.
Once the sun is about to set, at 6:00 p.m., el festival de la luz begins and San José, the capital of Costa Rica, is submerged in an ocean of light that comes out of the many different carts that Costa Rican companies prepare to entertain the people roaming in the streets. Live music and fireworks please the Costa Ricans’ ears as the Christmas environment starts cooking.
El festival de la luz travels around 2 mi (3.2 km) in the Costa Rican capital, and it is around six hours long since it finishes at midnight.
FUN FACT: El festival de la luz started in 1996 thanks to the San José city hall, which started a float parade that year. Since then, Costa Ricans have celebrated every year.
One of the warmest and coziest things about Christmas in Costa Rica are las posadas. This is a tradition that started in Mexico and Guatemala, and it expanded to the rest of Central America. Las posadas are unique events that bring communities closer.
From December 16th to December 24th some people celebrate las posadas. A posada is a Christmas tradition that remembers the path of Mary and Joseph the days before Baby Jesus was born, when they were looking for a place so Mary could give birth to Baby Jesus.
Similarly, people go to their neighbor’s or friend’s house to pedir posada (ask for a shelter or an inn) and then they sing villancicos (Christmas carols), this makes the host make them come in and they enjoy some hot punch and some traditional food together.
Setting Up the Christmas Tree and the Nativity Scene
An essential part of Christmas in Costa Rica is setting up el árbol de Navidad (the Christmas tree), but most importantly, colocar el portal navideño (setting up the Nativity scene.)
Many Latin American countries pay special attention to setting up the Nativity scene since Latinos are culturally Catholic people, which makes us focus on the Nativity scene especially. One important and special thing about the Costa Rican version of the Nativity scene is that Ticos (Costa Ricans) set up the whole scene, but they do not put Baby Jesus in el pesebre (the manger) until December 25th. As Christmas comes closer, Costa Ricans tend to put los reyes magos (the Wise Men) closer to the crib, and once Christmas passes they set them up looking away to symbolize that they are leaving.
Christmas Eve, Midnight Mass, and Christmas – La Nochebuena, la Misa de Gallo y Navidad.
One of the best parts about Christmas in Costa Rica is Christmas Eve. Costa Ricans usually invite family members home and have dinner together, similar to the celebration of el día de acción de gracias (Thanksgiving) in the U.S. Cousins, aunts, grandparents fill up the house, some of which haven’t seen each other in a year.
After eating, Costa Ricans attend la misa de gallo (literally the rooster’s mass) which starts at midnight and can last up to two hours.
Every Costa Rican family has different traditions, but in general, they go to sleep afterward and Christmas day in Costa Rica is a more relaxing day for Costa Rican families. Children play with the gifts that el niño Dios (Baby Jesus) brought them.
FUN FACT: St. Francis of Assisi set up the first Nativity scene in history, on Christmas Eve 1223 in Greccio, Italy.
Horse Parade – El Tope
After Christmas is over, on December 26th, Costa Ricans celebrate el tope, this is one of the most representative things about Christmas in Costa Rica. After waking up with a filled belly with Costa Rican dishes you open up your window and you find yourself in a Central American “wild west”.
Horse riders from all around el valle central (the central valley) ride proudly with their horse through the streets of San José in a well-organized parade in front of thousands of Costa Ricans who just want to keep on celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica.
FUN FACT: In 2018, more than 3000 horse riders paraded for Costa Ricans.
The Carnival – El Carnaval
If you thought that Christmas in Costa Rica was over after December 26th, you were wrong. On December 27th, Costa Ricans prepare el carnaval. Costa Ricans prepare comparsas (troupes), payasos (clowns), enmascarados (masked people), cimarronas (maroons), motocicletas (motorcycles) and carros antiguos (old cars) to dress San José up and keep on celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica.
Afterward, Costa Ricans might go to the beach and spend some days under the sun and prepare for New Year.
Palmares’ Festivities – Las Fiestas de Palmares
Christmas in Costa Rica is not over after New Year. On the second week of January, in the Palmares county—a place located 7.5 mi (12 km) away from San José, las fiestas cívicas de Palmares (The festivities of Palmares) start.
More than a million and a half people gather and prepare to start celebrating for around two weeks, Costa Ricans kickstart las fiestas de palmares with a soccer match that the minor league soccer players star. Afterward, a parade of lanterns passes by and illuminates the city greatly. Then Costa Ricans bring a lot of musicians to entertain people for around two weeks. The best ones attend on Sundays, and while being in las fiestas de palmares is free, some events that happen there, might need you to pay a fee to be there.
If you missed el tope, on December 26th, you have another opportunity to enjoy one on the second day of las fiestas de Palmares. The best part, though, is to participate in una corrida de toros a la tica (a Costa Rican bull run), because this event is not only for professional toreros but for anyone who is brave enough to face a bull.
The Child’s Prayer – El Rezo del Niño
Christmas in Costa Rica is officially over on February the 2nd—el día de Candelaria (Candlemas). This has a lot to do with the Catholic Christmas calendar. Some Costa Rican families gather and pray together to baby Jesus.
In rural Costa Rica, besides getting together, they play with fireworks and have musicians sing Christmas carols in front of el portal navideño one last time before December comes again. They also dress Baby Jesus up to celebrate the day Joseph and Mary presented Him in the temple.
Christmas Meals in Costa Rica
Christmas in Costa Rica is an amazing experience, but, what do Costa Ricans eat when they are celebrating it? In this section, we are going to check out the four most popular foods that Costa Ricans eat for Christmas.
Tamal is a familiar word in Latin America, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorians, Costa Ricans, and many more Latin Americans all the way to Argentina even prepare our own version of tamales.
Costa Ricans use dough that they fill up with pork, spice it up with pepper, and wrap everything in a banana leaf to keep the tamal warm.
Christmas in Costa Rica tastes like pierna de cerdo (pork leg.) While some Costa Ricans have adopted la tradición de comer pavo (the tradition of eating turkey), la pierna de cerdo is the meal that Costa Ricans enjoy the most at Christmas. They can serve it up with a kind of gravy and might accompany it with the traditional gallo pinto.
Christmas Cake – El Queque Navideño
After getting stuffed with pork leg or tamales, some Costa Ricans still have room for dessert, and that’s why they prepare their own version of Christmas Cake, which they have adopted from many countries such as Spain, England, Italy, and even Jamaica. There is not a traditional way to eat or prepare a Christmas Cake, but most of them have dried fruit and white frosting on top of them.
Eggnog – El Rompope
Christmas in Costa Rica, (or Christmas in general) could not be complete without a glass of rompope (eggnog). This is a punch made out of leche (milk), huevo (egg), and some spices such as canela (cinnamon). Costa Ricans like to drink it cold since December marks the beginning of el verano (summer) in Costa Rica.
Celebrate Christmas in Costa Rica!
Costa Rica is a wonderful place, not only at Christmas, but all year round. Costa Ricans have wonderful weather and if you arrive anywhere between December and May, you’re in for the Costa Rican summer, as they like to call it.
Costa Rica is blessed with wonderful places such as Guanacaste, hiking spots such as Chirripó hill, or 7 active volcanoes to check out, besides their amazing flora and fauna! If you are eager to spend Christmas in Costa Rica, or just some days full of adventure, sign up for a free Spanish class today and start opening the doors to Costa Rica and many other Spanish-speaking countries such as Guatemala, Uruguay, Cuba, or even Spain!
Speaking Spanish does not only open the doors for you to Latin America, Spain, and Equatorial Guinea but it also can help you out to earn a better paycheck at the end of the month to book tickets for all of these amazing Spanish-speaking destinations. And it opens up dialogue with more than 53,000,000 Spanish speakers in the U.S. so you can tell them ¡Feliz Navidad! (Merry Christmas!).
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