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Costa Ricans have their own special way of celebrating Christmas or “Navidad.” Most of the traditions have their origin on popular religious beliefs, and many are similar to those of other Latin American countries but with the very particular Costa Rican way.

We can certainly say that December is the most festive month of the year, as the Ticos look forward to vacation from work or school, eating traditional foods, sharing with family and friends.

Seasonal street vendors start offering their products this time of the year to the public especially now that people received their Christmas bonuses. Items for sale range from manger scenes called “Pasitos,” to decorations like lights and ornaments, to toys for children. You can also find street glossy apples and grapes.  You may wonder where all this fruit grows in Costa Rica during December. While many tropical fruits grow all year round, these are actually imported for the holiday season, as apples and grapes are considered a special Christmas treat for Ticos.

During this time of the year the houses get decorated usually with a cypress, with a gold star on top and bright lights and ornaments, much like the U.S. Ticos generally prefer very exuberant light decorations with plenty of flashing patterns. Every house in Costa Rica has a Christmas tree, specially cut to be big and round, and presents are placed underneath for adults to give to each other near midnight on “Noche Buena,” Christmas Eve. The gifts for children come on Christmas day. Instead of Santa coming to bring presents, Baby Jesus is credited with the wonderful gifts. However, as more and more foreigners influence Costa Rica, Santa is starting to make stops here!

Another very important tradition is “El Portal,” the representation of the manger scene with Mary, Joseph, animals, the three Magic Kings, and all the shepherds and their sheep. Construction of each family’s portal is a well-planned event. Friends and family get invited over to show off the decorations. Portals are filled with crafted wood, decorative papers of different colors and shapes, plant mosses, ramps to create different levels, multi-colored sawdust, glitter, and lighting. On December 24 at midnight, not before, Baby Jesus is born and is placed in the portal where he stays until the three Magic Kings come to see him on January 6.

Pork leg and tamales are part of the traditional Costa Rican Christmas dinner. Costa Rican tamales are made from corn flour and can contain potato puree, chorizo (a spicy pork sausage), a special rice, pork or chicken, and other vegetables wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. For really fancy tamales, olives and capers are added to the mix. Eggnog, heavy with rum, is drunk, while people visit friends and family to give presents before midnight. Then, the two-hour midnight mass or “Misa de Gallo” is attended.

This is absolutely the best time of the best and one of the most important times of the year in Costa Rica!!!!!!!!