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December 22, 2023 in Life in Costa Rica, Discover Costa Ballena, Discover Costa Ballena

Christmas in Costa Rica: A Celebration of Warmth and Community

As the holiday season unfolds in the picturesque town of Ojochal, nestled in the heart of Costa Rica's lush landscapes, there's a palpable sense of magic in the air. Against a backdrop of swaying palms and tropical beauty, the local community comes together to celebrate Christmas in a unique and heartwarming fashion. In Costa Rica, Christmas isn't just a day; it's an enchanting journey that spans weeks, characterized by vibrant traditions and spirited gatherings. This year, our little town of Ojochal experienced a momentous milestone with its very first Christmas parade, a testament to the town's tight-knit community spirit. But Ojochal's holiday festivities are just one piece of the larger tapestry that makes up "Christmas in Costa Rica." In this article, we'll embark on a delightful exploration of the diverse and vibrant holiday traditions that grace this beautiful country, from the highlands to the coastlines.

Festive Lights and Pura Vida Spirit

Costa Rica, known for its breathtaking natural beauty and welcoming culture, takes on a special glow during the holiday season. The traditions here are a delightful blend of rich customs and vibrant celebrations. "Christmas in Costa Rica" is not just an event; it's a spirited embrace of "Pura Vida," the country's signature way of life.

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Las Posadas (December 16-24)

Costa Rica kicks off the holiday season with Las Posadas, a nine-night celebration leading up to Christmas Eve. This cherished tradition reenacts Mary and Joseph's search for shelter in Bethlehem. Throughout the country, communities gather for nightly processions, complete with traditional carols, prayers, and festive feasts in this majority Catholic country. On December 24th, known as "Nochebuena," the culmination takes place with a midnight Mass, "La Misa del Gallo," bringing families together for a heartfelt celebration.

El Niño (Baby Jesus)

In Costa Rica, Santa Claus takes a back seat to "El Niño," or Baby Jesus, who brings gifts to children during the Christmas season. Families place presents around the Nativity scene for children to discover on Christmas morning, adding a special touch to the holiday festivities.

New Year's Eve (Nochevieja)

New Year's Eve, or Nochevieja, is another cherished celebration. Families gather for a festive dinner, reflecting on the year gone by and looking forward to the one ahead. As the clock strikes midnight, Costa Ricans partake in the tradition of eating 12 grapes, each symbolizing good luck for the twelve months of the new year. Fireworks and music fill the air, creating a joyful atmosphere that welcomes a fresh start. You can purchase fireworks from pop-up roadside stands around this time of year.

"La Fiesta de los Diablitos" (Boruca Indigenous Tradition)

In the Boruca indigenous community of southern Costa Rica, a unique New Year's tradition known as "La Fiesta de los Diablitos" takes place from December 31st to January 2nd. This cultural and spiritual event celebrates indigenous heritage and resistance, featuring elaborate masks, traditional costumes, dancing, and reenactments of historical battles.

Zapote Festival (San José)

In the capital city of San José, the Zapote Festival is a beloved amusement fair that runs from late December to early January. The festival boasts carnival rides, games, food stalls, and live music performances, drawing crowds from all around to celebrate the holiday season.

Costa Rica's unique blend of traditions and the warm "Pura Vida" spirit make Christmas and New Year's a truly magical time. From the northern highlands to the southern coast, the holiday season brings communities together in a spirit of joy, unity, and appreciation for the beauty of this remarkable country.

Traditional Holiday Dishes in Costa Rica

Costa Rican Christmas cuisine is a delightful fusion of traditional flavors, often featuring ingredients that reflect the country's rich agricultural heritage. These traditional dishes and drinks are an integral part of Costa Rican Christmas celebrations, bringing families and communities together to enjoy the rich flavors and festive spirit of the season.

Tamales are an iconic Costa Rican Christmas dish and a labor of love. They consist of masa (corn dough) filled with a variety of ingredients, including pork, chicken, vegetables, and sometimes rice. The masa is seasoned with achiote (annatto), which gives it a rich red color, and the tamale is wrapped in a banana leaf before being steamed or boiled. Tamales are often prepared in large quantities, making them a communal activity where family and friends come together to assemble and cook them. It's a tradition for many Costa Rican households to have a tamale-making day, known as "Tamalada," before Christmas.

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Arroz con Pollo is a popular Costa Rican rice and chicken dish enjoyed year-round but is often served during the Christmas season. It features chicken cooked with rice, vegetables, and a blend of spices. The dish is known for its rich and savory flavors, and each family may have its unique recipe. It's a comforting and hearty meal, perfect for gatherings during the holiday season.

Ensalada de Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve salad, is a vibrant and refreshing side dish that complements the heavier Christmas fare. This salad typically includes beets, potatoes, apples, and carrots, and may also feature cooked eggs. It's dressed with a tangy mayonnaise-based sauce and garnished with peas, red bell peppers, and sometimes beets, creating a colorful and festive dish.

Grilled meats, most often pork, are barbecued and enjoyed on Christmas among family and friends. Pork cutlets and sausage with some roast potatoes go well with the Christmas Eve salad and are easy to cook for large groups.

Traditional desserts like arroz con leche, tres leches,chorreadas, and local sweet treats feature strongly around the holidays, which tend to be occasions to enjoy a little indulgence.

Rompope, or Ponche de Huevo, is a sweet and creamy alcoholic beverage similar to eggnog, enjoyed during the Christmas season in Costa Rica. It's made with milk, sugar, egg yolks, and a touch of vanilla and cinnamon. Some variations also include rum or brandy. Rompope is typically served chilled in small glasses and is often homemade, with each family having its recipe.

North American Traditions in Costa Rica?

Many newcomers to Costa Rica inevitably ponder, "Can I have a Christmas tree in Costa Rica?" The answer, quite delightfully, is a resounding YES! While the evergreens here may not be the familiar North American variety, the mountains above our coastal destinations are home to locally-grown alternatives that add a touch of holiday charm to your Costa Rican home. These trees are meticulously cultivated specifically for the Christmas market, ensuring that your festive season is filled with the delightful scent of fresh evergreens, and they can typically be purchased at garden centers in the area in the month before Christmas. If convenience is your preference, plastic versions are also readily available, and with each passing year, our tranquil Southern Zone of Costa Rica boasts an expanding selection of ornaments and holiday decorations.

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In many North American towns, the sight of homes and lawns adorned with twinkling lights is a cherished tradition. In Costa Rica, where electricity bills tend to run slightly higher, this trend has been somewhat more reserved among the local population, who tend to keep light displays in the town centers (see Zacero's festival of lights for Costa Rica's premiere display). However, with an increasing number of foreigners calling these tropical lands home, the glow of stringed lights and illuminated decorations has begun to grace palm trees and haciendas. There are numerous local sources for acquiring these twinkling delights, and for those who prefer the convenience of online shopping, there's always Amazon to have your favorite lights and decorations conveniently delivered to your nearest post office.

As traditions evolve and cultures blend in this beautiful corner of the world, Costa Rica's holiday spirit continues to shine brightly. Whether you're drawn to the allure of a local evergreen or the twinkle of imported lights, the joy of the season is beautifully celebrated and warmly embraced throughout our vibrant community.

Christmas in Ojochal: Where Magic Meets Community

In the tranquil town of Ojochal, Costa Rica, a heartwarming Christmas celebration unfolds each year, usually on the weekend leading up to Christmas Day. This special event is a joint effort by the Jucaloa supermarket team and dedicated local residents. Weeks of fundraising activities, including supermarket donations, raffles, and charitable events, are all in pursuit of one noble goal: ensuring every child in the village receives a cherished Christmas gift.

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The festivities take place on the soccer field and in the Jucaloa supermarket's parking lot, transforming these spaces into a joy-filled wonderland. Families of all ages come together, with children enchanted by the holiday magic and adults basking in the sense of community. From bouncy castles and games to face painting and live music, there's entertainment for everyone.

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And, of course, no Christmas is complete without Santa Claus. In Ojochal, Santa arrives in style, pulled by a traditional ox cart, accompanied by his merry elves. He distributes carefully chosen presents, including toys and snack packs filled with drinks, cookies, and candy, making every child's day brighter.

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But the true heart of this celebration lies in its sense of togetherness. Ojochal residents unite, forming connections and creating lasting memories. Most attendees opt to park along the road or walk to the festivities, symbolizing the event's gratitude and generosity. It's a testament to the community spirit that defines this close-knit town.

This year, Ojochal marked a milestone with its inaugural Christmas parade, organized by dedicated mothers from Escuela Tortuga, the local public school. The parade on December 6th featured schools from the area, each adding their unique flair. As it wound through the main street, Calle Bosque, adorned with twinkling Christmas shapes, the town became a corridor of holiday wonder.

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The parade culminated at Escuela Tortuga, where the school grounds turned into a Christmas fair with games, music, and treats. Families and neighbors gathered, embodying the spirit of giving and togetherness.

The Christmas parade, with its relaxed and joyful atmosphere, exemplified Ojochal's embrace of the holiday season. It provided a delightful opportunity for all generations to come together, celebrate, and create cherished memories, highlighting the town's commitment to unity and goodwill during this special time.

In Ojochal, Christmas is not just a date; it's a season of enchantment, generosity, and community spirit. The town's festivities capture the essence of the holidays, echoing the broader Costa Rican celebration.

Watch our video of Ojochal's Festival of Lights HERE

Stay tuned for more as we delve deeper into the enchanting holiday traditions and experiences across Costa Rica, and how they add to the allure of life in this tropical paradise. Sign up to our weekly newsletter below!

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