In Costa Rica, Christmas is not white but windy. There’s no snow, but it’s the best time of the year, not only for the blue skies and cold nights, but also for the happiness that’s in the air. Once the dry season begins and vacations start, it can be said that Christmas is around the corner. The month of December is always full of festivities and get-togethers with family and friends, delicious food and traditions. Nice decorations are everywhere, from Christmas trees to lights in homes and streets.

A very popular Latin American custom during Christmas time is the “portal”, which is a nativity scene constructed of mosses, colored sawdust and figurines representing the birth of Jesus in the manger. The traditional figures are Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the three wise men, the ox and mule and shepherds. Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 (a “living” one) intending thereby to cultivate the worship of Christ.

Costa Rican portal nativity

The figure of Baby Jesus is placed on the “portal” at midnight on December 24th. That’s also when the adults open their gifts, but children do it on the 25th, as soon as they wake up. In Costa Rica Santa Claus isn’t the one who brings the Christmas gifts to the kids, they are brought by Baby Jesus while they are sleeping.

Another typical activity is the “posadas”, which take place during the nine days before Christmas. Originated in Spain and Mexico, the “posada” consists of a group of children and neighbors getting together at a different neighbor’s house each day to act out the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay where Jesus could be born. This is accompanied by Christmas carols and prayers, and candies for the children at the end. There are always four kids who dress up as Joseph, Mary, the Angel and the Star, and the rest as shepherds, which is why they are all called the “pastorcitos” (little shepherds).

Posada Costa Rica

For almost all Costa Rican families, a Christmas season without “tamales” is just not complete. This delicious typical dish is prepared exclusively in December to eat during the year-end parties and celebrations. The “tamal” is prepared with corn flour dough stuffed with rice, vegetables and pork, then wrapped in plantain leaves. Making “tamales” is generally an activity which involves the participation of all family members, who pass it on to future generations. The “tamales” are eaten at any time of the day, and during the season, invitations to eat them at friends’ and relatives’ homes are common.

Costa Rican Tamales

Once the popular festivals, parades, carnivals and parties in December are over, the closing ceremony to the Christmas season takes place in January. Neighbors then get together for the “Rosario del Niño”, a prayer for Baby Jesus, as a way to thank Him for everything received during the previous year.

Come back on Monday to read about Christmas in Romania, by Carmen.

Read more:
White Christmas? Christmas in the UK
Christmas around the world
Regained Christmas – Christmas in Romania

About the author

My name is Nuria Villalobos and I'm Costa Rican. I am a current professor of English as a Foreign Language at Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica, and a former ISEP (International Student Exchange Program) student in the United States. I speak Portuguese and I am currently studying the Teaching of Spanish as a Second Language. I'm passionate about languages, cultures, photography and meeting people from different places.