Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Costa Rica Christmas

Last December I blogged a bit about December in Costa Rica. I mentioned the aguinaldos and portales—both important parts of the Christmas tradition here. After a few questions from friends about other Tico holiday traditions, I thought a quick blog describing more of the season was in order.

Christmas decorating begins early for the Ticos. The local warehouse store puts its lights, ornaments and trees up for sale in August. (No kidding!) Christmas candy starts showing up about this time as well. By mid-November a lot of families have their trees, wreaths made of cypress leaves and coffee berries, and soon there are sparkling lights twinkling across the valley at night. This year the new section of the mall has a terrific tree three stories high, and just yesterday I saw Santa outside the local supermarket dancing the salsa with a pretty brunette elf.

One of the best aspects of Christmas is the ushering in of the dry season. Days are sunny but mild in the valley and at night the cool breezes blow into our bedrooms. We often walk at night under clear, star-studded skies. It’s wonderful!

Throughout December, the country celebrates with lots of parties (we had our big shindig again this year), carnivals, parades and—perhaps best known—the tope nacional. Celebrated in Costa Rica for hundreds of years, the tope is a parade of horses down the main streets of San Jose. People come from all over for the festivities which are also broadcast on national television. The riders are decked out in their best Tico regalia and the gorgeous horses prance proudly. In the San Jose tope, one may also see marching bands, traditional oxcarts, floats and clowns.

(I should note that topes are not just for Christmas. We saw a small tope with my parents in Quepos one spring.)

During the days leading up to Christmas, Ticos gather for posadas—neighbors meeting at each other’s homes to re-enact the travels of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. During the posadas there is song, prayer, and food—especially tamales and rompope (eggnog—heavy on the rum)! Fat, juicy grapes and shiny apples load the shelves at our local grocery store. They are popular imported foods for the holidays and are a special treat at Christmas.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We’ll go to a 6pm service at our church while most Ticos will attend the Catholic misa de gallo—midnight mass—and open their gifts. Either way, it’s bound to be a sunny, breezy, and beautiful Christmas here in the valley.

¡Feliz Navidad!

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