Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmastide in Costa Rica

The people in our adopted country prepare for Christmas for months, quite literally, and finally the real season has arrived. We’ve learned that December in the valley is often beautiful, hectic, and hazardous.

Rainy season has been hanging in there by a thread, but the downpours have disappeared and we’ve had plenty of sunny, warm, and—most importantly to me at this point—dry weather. The flowering trees are bursting with color, and the bougainvillea is bright with flashy purples, reds, and pinks.

Ticos across the country each receive an aguinaldo—a government-mandated bonus worth one-month salary given each December to all employees. When the aguinaldos are paid, traffic both on the roads and in the shops is at a frenzy because everyone has money to spend. Unfortunately crime is also on the rise because thieves know there is more cash for the taking. I’ve read and heard stories of several people being held at gunpoint for their money; we are very careful with our purchases and walking to our cars during December.

On a cheerier note, things are festive in the valley. I enjoyed a few trips with the girls to the mall to hear the Christmas music (mainly in English) and see the beautifully decorated trees and stores. Many places throughout the country have portales—nativity scenes—including a large portal at nearby Multiplaza. The Baby Jesus is left out of the manger until midnight on Christmas Eve. Instead of Santa, most Tico children are told the Baby Jesus brings their gifts as they sleep.

We kept many of our own American traditions here. The girls and I made dozens of cookies while we listened to our favorite Christmas music, and they had holiday concerts at school. Erin loves playing the flute and had her first band concert, while Lauren’s class put a holiday show including bells, recorders (yep, third grade!), singing, dancing, and even joke telling. There were many parties too, and it was fun to be at CDS to see how excited the kids were on the last day of classes.

A few weeks ago our neighbor was hosting a large open house for coworkers on a Sunday afternoon, and Dan had a sit-down dinner party for 12 coworkers the following evening. My terrific friends Joelle (who was also hosting the open house) and Angie and I gathered at Joelle’s house around the corner and spent an entire day baking cookies, cutting vegetables, putting together marinades and dips, and musing about which holiday decorations we could share to make our homes look festive. With a fantastic combined effort, both parties went smoothly. Whew!

A week before the holiday we went to a drama at our church about Papa Panov, based on a short story by Tolstoy. I really enjoyed myself.

Finally Christmas Eve day arrived and everyone was off school and work—vacation! I spent most of the day in the kitchen and had a great helper (Dan!) in making the homemade cinnamon rolls to eat the following morning after gift-opening. Because I couldn’t get the ingredients for the recipe I normally use, we tried a Cinnabon copycat recipe this year and wow! The rolls were huge and amazing—they really did taste like Cinnabon and it was hard to eat even one because they were so large. We got 11 rolls from the recipe and they lasted for days. It was fun rolling the dough with Dan and cutting them together.

We went to Christmas Eve service at our church, International Baptist Church. I was overcome with emotion—it was a traditional service with a children’s story, plenty of singing of the old Christmas songs, a lovely message from our pastor, and a beautiful candlelit rendition of Silent Night at the end. It was joyous and peaceful and hopeful all at once, and I reflected on how incredible it was to sit in a congregation of Christians from all around the world to celebrate the birth of our Savior—who I am so comforted to know is with me wherever I go on this earth.

We drove home and opened the windows to the house, turned on the Christmas lights adorning our two balconies, and got into our pajamas. Fireworks had already been exploding around the valley nearly non-stop for hours and hours—the Costa Ricans love fireworks!—and continued on through the night. The Costa Rican adults open their gifts on Christmas Eve and often stay up all night with friends and family, eating tamales wrapped in banana leaves—the one food all Costa Ricans we’ve talked to could agree is truly a Christmas tradition.

That said, this non-Tico family had no plans to stay up until dawn, though sleeping was sometimes challenging with the cracks and booms breaking through times of silence. Dan and I watched Christmas Vacation and took care of a few other things before bed, and soon it was a bright, sunny Christmas Day. We opened presents (our big gift to the family being a trip in January to Florida—can hardly wait to touchdown in the US for a while!) and just relaxed and played the rest of the day. It was a quiet Christmas here that we’ll all remember for its uniqueness.

¡Feliz Navidad!

1 comment:

Justine said...

Sounds like the holidays were just perfect for you and the family. Mmmm... those cinnamon buns sound soooooooo good!

Justine :o )