If you celebrate Christmas in Costa Rica, you may miss snow and a few of your favorite family foods, but you will also discover a few things you probably hadn’t experienced in previous Christmas or holiday celebrations.
There are some very obvious signs that Christmas is on its way: the rain stops and the wind begins, stores (holes in the wall) selling Christmas paraphernalia appear overnight and FIREWORKS begin in earnest. No celebration in Costa Rica is complete without a few startling loud bangs and pops. Unfortunately, just outside my bedroom window is a telephone pole with a metal band around it near the bottom – the ideal height for children to mount fireworks, light them and run for cover. After the ensuing boom has startled people, cats, dogs and birds, the noise continues in a chorus of car alarms set off throughout the neighborhood.
Along with the “sounds” of Christmas, there are also sights and smells. Horse parades (which cover both sounds and smells!), tamale making (the traditional Christmas food), parades of lights, bull fights in Zapote (bulls are not speared or killed), increased traffic, longer bank lines and school children running about playing soccer in the streets (students in Costa Rica have their long break from December until February – like summer vacation “up North”). It is a time of increased activity and a sense of anticipation for everyone.
Speaking as a “transplant” from the US, there is one notable difference in the US and Costa Rica traditions: the Christmas Party. People living in the US often start marking up their calendars with party dates in early November. Oftentimes, people will attend more than one party per day during December, seeing many of the same people at each party. As Costa Ricans tend to celebrate with their family members, there aren’t as many parties. (An aside: When I FINALLY received my cédula giving me residency, I had a party and invited several friends – 30 or more showed up. Most of the attendees were Costa Rican. A few days later, one of the friends who had attended the party asked me who all the people were and how did I know them. They were floored that the guests were my friends. I then thought back to all the parties I’d been invited to at their home and at every one I was the only non-family member, as well as the only non-tico. As everyone has family nearby in Costa Rica, having circles of friends is not common.)
On New Year’s Eve, Costa Rica erupts in fireworks displays. If you are fortunate enough to be at a mirador (look-out) where you can enjoy a view of the Central Valley, you can see showers of light and color all across the landscape. About mid-January, life will return to normal as people working in the courts, registry, immigration, etc. will have returned to work and the tourists will have begun arriving en masse.
Another year will begin.
(This home in Alajuela has the perfect location for watching fireworks on New Year’s Eve.)