Michael, or “Chava” as I know him, is one of my great friends from when we were missionaries in California. He is just about the coolest guy I know, and is just a fantastic human being. He’s also Costa Rican, and though he’s been living in the States for the past couple years he and his family keep the traditions alive and well. Chava was generous enough to tell of a few of the things that makes Costa Rica quite possibly the best place for Christmas in North America. For our 11th installment, I present: “12 Countries in 12 Days of Christmas”: Costa Rica.
What is a typical Christmas in Costa Rica like?
First of all, a typical Christmas is very different to a United States Christmas. For one, in Costa Rica at this time of the year it’s summer time, so a trip to the beach is always in the plans. School is over and summer starts. I haven’t been in Costa Rica for Christmas for a long time, but I can tell about some things that haven’t changed. Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas Day. Families gather together on Christmas Eve and have their big dinner on the 24th instead of the 25th. Kids open presents in the morning of the 25th or even at midnight! The 25th is used to show off what “Colacho” (thats what we call santa) has brought. Most people around the capital travel to “la sabana” (a big park) to use their new bikes and show off their new soccer cleats. And mostly we just spend time together.
Most people leave on the 25th to go to the beach. The 25th marks one of the longest traditions in Costa Rica, called “los toros”, which is a pretty much a big fair with a “redondel” (bull fighting ring like in Spain) where amateur bullfighters (it’s pretty much crazy young people) gather together to be chased by crazy mad bulls! There are several shows “en zapote” where this event takes place for a week and half starting on Christmas Day.
Houses are decorated more than in the US, or at least in Tennessee. Christmas is less materialistic and more focused on family. Most houses place “un pasito”, the nativity statues with Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.
What are some Christmas traditions in your own family?
In my family, we get together with the entire family on the 24th of December. We eat and dance and joke and play secret santa. We share how Jesus Christ has impacted our lives in the year. We open presents in the morning of the 25th, then go to la sabana and play soccer till we can’t take it anymore! Then at night we would gather again just for fun. My dad would hide the gifts on the roof and place them inside after we fell asleep. Gifts consisted of one thing for each kid—for me as long as I can remember it was a soccer ball (that’s what most kids ask for). He would then take us to la sabana to try the ball out.
What foods are a part of the holiday season?
Tamales. Arroz con pollo. Bigoron. Pollo con garbanzos. Fresco de frutas. Chicharrones carnitas.
What Christmas songs do Ticos listen to?
“YO NO OLVIDO EL AÑO VIEJO”, “Jugo de Piña” (El Super Show De Los Vasquez), “Campanas de Belen”, “Mira Como Beben los Peces en el Rio”, and “El Pastocillo de Belen. The two at the front are a must-have in every Christmas.
What symbol represents Christmas best in Costa Rica?
We really don’t have a symbol, but we call Santa “Colacho”! One thing we all say instead of saying “what did santa bring you?” is “Que le trajo el niño?” (“what did the child bring you?”), meaning Baby Jesus. When kids are misbehaving, we say, “El niño no le va traer nada!” (“The child wont bring you anything!”) In other words, we refer to santa as “El Niño”, which refers to Baby Jesus.