Christmas is a time of joy, celebration, and cherished traditions, and nowhere is this more evident than in Costa Rica. This Central American paradise offers a unique blend of cultural influences that shape its vibrant Christmas festivities.
From the bustling city streets adorned with twinkling lights to the captivating nativity scenes found in every home, Costa Ricans know how to make the most of this magical season.
In this article, we invite you to discover the captivating Christmas traditions and events that are an integral part of the Costa Rican culture. Whether you are a local or a visitor, these customs will warm your heart and create lasting memories.
How do They Celebrate Christmas in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a primarily Catholic nation and Costa Rican citizens observe Christmas with exuberance. Christmas in Costa Rica is a vibrant time: a celebration of the season, of lights and music, and of course, of family togetherness.
Costa Rica citizens often decorate Christmas wreaths of cypress trimmed with red coffee berries, ribbons, ornaments, and lights.
As with many Catholic nations, nativity scenes with figurines of Mary, Joseph, the wise men, and the animals of the manger are a standard Christmas decoration, called “Portals.” Offerings such as fruits and little toys are placed before the nativity scene.
Las Posadas: Reenacting the Journey of Mary and Joseph
One of the most significant Christmas traditions in Costa Rica is Las Posadas.
Las Posadas is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem.
Typically celebrated during the nine nights leading up to Christmas Eve, Las Posadas involves a procession of participants carrying statues of Mary and Joseph, accompanied by carol singing and prayers.
The procession moves from house to house, symbolizing the couple’s search for shelter.
At each stop, the participants are initially denied entry until they finally find a home that welcomes them. This tradition not only commemorates the birth of Jesus but also emphasizes the importance of hospitality and compassion.
Festival de la Luz: A Spectacular Christmas Parade
The Festival de la Luz (Festival of Light) is a dazzling Christmas parade that illuminates the streets of San José, the capital city of Costa Rica. Held annually in December, this vibrant event marks the official start of the holiday season.
Colorful floats, marching bands, dancers, and acrobats take to the streets, captivating spectators with their joyful performances.
The highlight of the parade is the grand finale, featuring a magnificent fireworks display that lights up the night sky. The Festival de la Luz is a must-see for locals and tourists alike, as it brings together people from all walks of life to celebrate the spirit of Christmas.
Nacimiento: The Art of Nativity Scenes
The Nacimiento, or nativity scene, is an essential element of Christmas decorations in Costa Rica.
Families across the country meticulously create intricate scenes that depict the birth of Jesus. These elaborate displays often include figurines, miniature landscapes, and buildings, showcasing the creativity and craftsmanship of the locals.
Nacimientos are traditionally placed under the Christmas tree or as a central piece in the home.
The figurines are added gradually throughout the season, with the baby Jesus being placed on Christmas Eve. The Nacimiento serves as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas and is a cherished tradition that brings families together.
Misa de Gallo: Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
Everyone puts on their best clothes on Christmas Eve and goes to Midnight Mass, called the ‘Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster).
After Midnight Mass the main Christmas meal is eaten. The meal includes typically chicken and pork tamales wrapped in plantain leaves as well as pastries and other Costa Rican desserts like Tres Leches Cake. To drink, there is a lot of eggnog and rum punch!
Also on Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes out for Niño Dios, the Baby Jesus, to fill although he is gradually being displaced by the more commercial Santa Claus (called San Nicolás or Colacho).
Attending the Misa de Gallo, or Midnight Mass, is a deeply rooted Christmas tradition in Costa Rica. Families gather in churches across the country to celebrate the birth of Jesus at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve.
The Mass is a solemn and joyful occasion, filled with prayers, carols, and readings from the Bible. After the Mass, families return home to enjoy a festive meal together, often featuring traditional dishes like tamales and roasted pork.
The Misa de Gallo brings a sense of unity and spiritual connection during this special time of the year.
Tope Nacional de Caballos
The Christmas season continues through the rest of December with fiestas, parades, rodeos, choral and dance festivals, street fairs, and bull runs.
The highlights of these fiestas include a horseback parade, known as the El Tope, on December 26, and another parade called Carnaval Nacional featuring dance ensembles and floats along the main streets on December 27.
It all comes to an end on the sixth of January when the three wise men are said to have greeted baby Jesus.