The cool winds of December mark the beginning of Costa Rica’s holiday season – a wondrous month of festive celebrations, family gatherings and plenty of Christmas cheer. While holiday decorations often go up in November, the official start of the season is December 1st. Local traditions include a grand festival of lights, tasty holiday foods, horse parades and dazzling firework displays. Christmas is considered one of the most significant religious holidays in this Catholic nation, and is a special time to enjoy its many traditions.
School’s Out & Everyone is Shopping
In Costa Rica, school is out of session throughout December and January, allowing kids to enjoy their “summer break.” And every December, all Tico employees are given a government-mandated yearly bonus that is equivalent to one month’s salary. With extra money in their pockets, Costa Ricans take advantage of their vacation time to do some serious holiday shopping. Every store and street is adorned with twinkling lights and nativity scenes, and families often gather to prepare special Christmas meals.
Queque Navideño, Tamales & Rompope: Good Eats!
Forget your Aunt Betty’s dry fruit cake. The Christmas foods of Costa Rica are some of the most delicious you’ll ever taste, and queque navideño is a delicacy prepared with the culinary secrets of several generations. The dense cake is chock full of rum-soaked fruits and raisins, which only add to its appeal. Homemade tamales are another time-honored favorite. Each family has their own recipe, but they all include corn meal flour stuffed with savory meat, vegetables or cheese, all wrapped in banana leaves and steamed or boiled. And the holiday drink of choice is rompope – the Costa Rican version of eggnog that is also fortified with plenty of rum.
Festival de la Luz
Every year, more than a million spectators gather along San Jose’s Paseo Colon to enjoy the magical Lights Festival that kicks off the holiday season in Costa Rica. Typically held on the second Saturday of December, the festival includes a huge parade with elaborate floats, hundreds of thousands of lights, music, dancing and fireworks. You’ll see cheerleaders, marching bands and the country’s up and coming talent at this Christmas extravaganza that ushers in the holiday spirit.
Zapote Fiestas & Tope Nacional
Spanning nearly two weeks, the Zapote fiestas are famous for concerts, Tico-style bullfights (where the bull is teased and never harmed), carnival rides and plenty of family fun. The festivities start right after Christmas day, when Costa Ricans descend on the Zapote fairgrounds in San Jose for hours of entertainment and general merriment. Another highlight is the country’s national horse parade, or Tope Nacional, which is held in San Jose on December 26th. Thousands of cowboys bring their finest mounts to show off their horsemanship and fancy trotting skills. The four-mile parade takes over the downtown area and is one of the year’s most prized people-watching events.