Celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica
Hola otra vez!
I bet you are all excited for Winter Break and wishing for snow. Here in Costa Rica, all the wishing in the world wouldn’t bring snow, and roses are still blooming in my front yard!
In Nevada, we think of Christmas time as cold and snowy. Ticos know that Christmas is coming when it stops raining everyday and the weather becomes very windy. Although sun and wind don’t put me in the Christmas spirit, I still know Christmas is around the corner because just like in Carson City, many houses here have Christmas lights and Christmas trees.
People in Costa Rica love Christmas decorations, and even some of the buses have Christmas lights up. Last weekend, I visited Santa at the mall. I don’t know how he does it, but he appeared to be the same Santa that I have seen many a time in Nevada! He looked a little hot in his suit, but who can blame him? Costa Rican Christmases are quite hot!
The heat isn’t the thing making Christmas here different. Three or four days before Christmas, families here begin the holiday tradition of making tamales. Costa Rican tamales are not wrapped in cornhusks and are not the same as the tamales you may have tried in a Mexican restaurant. In Costa Rica, tamales are square and wrapped up in banana leaves with string. The tamales are heated up and served in the banana leaves, and when you unwrap them, you can use the banana leaf as a plate. Tamales are made out of mashed up corn with rice, a piece of pork, and a few carrots or other vegetables in the center. Families make the tamales before Christmas because on Christmas day, no one cooks.
Most families make hundreds, and all of them will be eaten in one day! People eat tamales and nothing else all day long on Christmas Day. When people come to your house to wish you a Merry Christmas, it is polite to offer them tamales, too. If you are a person with a big family, lots of friends and neighbors, or a big appetite, all those tamales can add up! The only other food item served on Christmas Day is queque navideno (Christmas cake). This cake is similar to a rum cake with fruit.
Although most Costa Ricans are Christians, some are not, and so not everyone here celebrates Christmas.
Another Christmas tradition here is to wear a new outfit. Usually, the new outfit is given to you for Christmas. Luckily, people here open gifts at midnight on Christmas Eve, so the outfit has been unwrapped and is ready for Christmas morning. If you were Christian and lived in Costa Rica, your parents would send you to bed at 7 or 8 on the night of Christmas Eve, and then a few minutes before midnight, your parents would come into your room and wake you up. While you were sleeping, Santa Claus would have brought you presents, but here, children believe that El Ni-o (Baby Jesus) brings them presents instead of Santa Claus. (Not to worry, though, because I bet that if you spent Christmas in Costa Rica, Santa would make a special trip to see you anyway.)
After your parents woke you up, your entire family would gather around the family’s nativity scene. When the clock struck midnight, someone in your family (maybe even you!) would place El Ni-o (Baby Jesus) in the manger of the nativity scene. Here, nativity scenes are called pasitos. The majority of Costa Ricans are Catholic, and pasitos are a big part of Christmas decorations in public places, too. You can see pasitos everywhere from outside office buildings to inside the lobbies of Costa Rica’s theaters. After putting baby Jesus in the pasito, you would open up your presents, and then your entire family would eat a huge dinner.
In Costa Rica, opening presents does not take a very long time because people usually only receive one present. Many families here do not have enough money to buy gifts for each other. Also, because there is not enough money, oftentimes the gifts that families do buy have to be practical. Instead of toys, most kids in Costa Rica receive things that they will need during the year, like clothes. Since families don’t have much money, gifts here are not the most important part of Christmas.
Here, families spend Christmas together and often go on an activity like a trip to the park or perhaps to a waterfall or even to the beach. I will spend Christmas with the family at my new site. On Dec. 15, I am moving to Hone Creek, a little community very near the Caribbean coast and Panama. In the meantime, I hope you had or will have very Happy Holidays!