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A Costa Rican Christmas

Posted by Katie on December 11, 2017
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Your kids have time off school for the winter holidays, and you’ll probably get to squeeze in some vacation days at the end of the year as well. No time is better than right now to take a tropical getaway. Costa Rica may not be the typical backdrop for a family Christmas, but you’ve still got months of ice and wind ahead of you, so take advantage of this opportunity to thaw out and get some real relaxation. More families than ever are deciding to ditch the snow and celebrate a family Christmas in Costa Rica. This Central American country is well known for their ability to celebrate and enjoy life, so with the right plans you’ll get both the family time you need and will learn of new traditions to bring back home with you.

Christmas may be a family holiday, but that doesn’t stop Costa Rica from celebrating as a community. There will be endless celebrations, festivities, and community events to join while the country celebrates its vacations. Leave your sweaters at home and go buy a holiday bikini – you’ll be spending this Christmas beach-side.

Join in the Festivities

Costa Rica is a widely Catholic country, so Christmas is celebrated in full glory. During December and even into January, the majority of large cities will be hosting at least one major festival. You’ll have light shows to watch, musical performances to hear, and a lot of parties to join.

The best example of a Christmas holiday would be the Fiestas Zapote, often called the San Jose Fair. This community celebration starts on Christmas day and reaches into the first week of January. The marketplace of Zapote will take on extra blocks of length, totally transformed to offer snack foods, fair rides, local artesanal crafts, and firework displays in honor of the New Year. The favorite meal of meat-on-a-stick is reason enough to join the party, but the real pull to this celebration is the country’s largest, most anticipated rodeo. The most athletic bulls of the country take on the most practiced Costa Rican cowboys, and the result is a fun, bloodless celebration. Locals of all ages and backgrounds flood the Zapote downtown area, and a massive stadium is constructed to allow thousands of viewers for the bull rides. The area will be festively lit and live music will be available on every corner.

Other cities will celebrate similar festivals, and they’ll be easy to find. Harder to find are Christmas performances. Keep an ear to the ground for news of a theater Christmas Carol performance, such as the one performed in Jaco yearly. You’ll also hear news of traditional dance exhibitions and local food tastings. Most of Costa Rica will be celebrating their longest vacation period of the year in December and January, so parties and performances will be plenty.

Make Christmas Day Tropical

The weeks leading up to Christmas and the days following it are festive and bright, but the 24th and 25th are typically reserved for the family. Local families will celebrate a midnight Catholic Mass then head home for a home-cooked meal, presents, and quiet family time. While the rest of the month won’t show any lull in festivities or tourism options, these two days will be much quieter. This is the perfect opportunity to plan some family time of your own. Take your travel group to the beach. You’ll rarely get the opportunity to celebrate Christmas from a hammock with an iced piña colada in hand. Many visiting families make an entire celebration of this. They’ll book a beach-front hotel for the night of the 24th and spend their Christmas dressed in bathing suits, exchanging presents on the beach. You’ll have all the relaxation and meditation time your family could want and your winter holiday photos in the tropics will be the envy of all your friends back home.

Learn Traditions to Bring Home with You

Costa Ricans truly know how to celebrate and have fun, so while you’re celebrating your holidays in the tropics, it would be a good idea to bring some traditions back with you. Find a restaurant hosting an elaborate Christmas Eve (or “La Noche Buena”) feast. You’ll try pork legs, tamales, eggnog with rum, and a variety of candies and desserts. The tamales are an especially essential part of a Costa Rican Christmas, and you’ll eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while you have the chance. You’ll need to write down the complicated names of your favorite dishes so you can look for recipes later on. Ask on any local Facebook forum for traditional meal venues.

Look into a nativity reenactment in your city. You’ll find ornate, hand-made nativity scenes and may run into a reenactment or two. Costumed children will knock on doors and perform a nativity dialogue for the hosting families. They’ll bring musical instruments and songs along with them.

However you combine Christmas festivities, tropical relaxation, and local tradition during your Costa Rican vacation, we know that this will be a Christmas to remember.