Christmas Traditions in Costa Rica in Central America

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Want to know how the Costa Ricans celebrate their Christmas, then better read this:

In 1601, the governor of this nation in Central America  declared Christmas as a national holiday to the delight of their citizens.

Like other countries in the world, Costa Rica has their own unique Christmas traditions. The Costa Ricans or the “Ticos” start decorating their homes for Christmas as early as November, that’s about a month before Christmas Day!!!

The child Jesus is the center of the Christmas celebration in the country. Their version of the Nativity scene which is called “La Portal” or the manger is present in every home. La Portal is adorned with wood carvings of Mary, Joseph, the three kings, the shepherds and their sheep. A statue of the baby Jesus is only added to the manger on Christmas eve before the family left their home to attend the Misa del Gallo.

In other countries Santa Claus is a main figure but in Costa Rica, the gifts to the children are not brought by “Colacho” (Santa Claus), but by Niño Dios (Baby Jesus) while they are asleep on la “Noche Buena”, the night before Christmas.

Most families get together for Christmas dinner on the eve of December 24 after attending the Misa De Gallo (midnight mass). The whole family will feast on traditional Christmas fare which includes chicken, pork, apples, grapes and Costa Rican “tamales”.  Tamales is the most favorite Christmas food here and every home should have some come Christmas dinner.

A tamale is a Costa Rican specialty made up of corn flour dough filled with vegetables, rice and chicken or pork and then wrapped in banana leaves. The cooking of tamale is a family activity using recipe handed down from one generation to the next generation.

There are some activities that are popular in Costa Rica during the Christmas season. One, is “La Tica Bull Fights” in San Jose participated by young males, these young men are usually without professional bullfighting training. They will hop into the bullfight arena and incite the “toro” (bull) into charging. They do not intend to hurt the bull but just provoke it to attack.

Another awaited event is the night time parade illuminated by thousands of Christmas lights, the “Festival de la Luz” or the Light Festival which is a crowd favorite. This draws participants from all over the country competing for the best in costume, dancing and musical talent.


The Christmas celebration in Costa Rica ends with the Feast of Epiphany celebration on January 6 the following year. This is also known as the Feast of the Three  Kings.


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