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Christmas traditions in Costa Rica

December 21, 2017

Costa Rica loves celebrating the Christmas season and the country has many important, and meaningful traditions. The 1st of December starts off the holidays as Christmas lights are hung, trees are are decorated and the family nativity scene is put together.


While Costa Rica won't see any snow or low temperatures, December brings sunny, breezy afternoons that are perfect for spending Christmas outdoors with friends and family. Students are out of school in December for their summer vacation so the whole family is ready to begin the celebrations!


Tree lighting ceremony

Ticos love their Christmas decorations, and especially when it comes to their Christmas trees. Bright colors and patterns are usually seen with flashing lights and ribbon wrapping around the tree. 


In every large town there is usually a city tree that will be lit at the beginning of December. Families make it a tradition to head to the town square and watch the lighting of the Christmas tree. Vendors selling religious items and food will fill the streets with live music often playing in the background. Its a special tradition for Tico families as its a great way to start celebration of the holiday season.


One of the most repeated and loved tradition in Costa Rica is cooking and eating tamales during the holidays. Tamales are a key part of Christmas dinner. They are made from corn flour and filled with various ingredients like potato, rice, vegetables, pork or chicken. They are then wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. A meal during the holidays isn't the same without tamales!


 Source: Jose Gregorio Soro


Rompope, Costa Rica's version of eggnog, is a popular drink during the Christmas season. You can purchase rompope in a carton, but many Ticos make it homemade and you can add rum to spice it up. Rompope is very common to be served at dinner on Christmas Eve. 

Christmas Eve dinner and midnight mass

On December 24, many Ticos will invite over family and friends to share a large, and tasty meal together. The meal is usually an elaborate display of local food and can include roast pork leg, tamales, rompope and pastries. Gifts are usually exchanged after dinner


Before midnight, Catholic families will then leave for church for Christmas Eve Mass which is for two hours. 

Nativity scenes

Religion is very important to Ticos, so Christmas tradition in Costa Rica is heavily focused on the Christ child and Holy family. Nativity scenes are found in almost every home alongside their decorated tree. 


The nativity scenes are often very large and detailed, and are essential to their traditions. On Christmas Eve, baby Jesus is placed in the manger before Christmas Eve mass. Many children in Costa Rica believe that baby Jesus is the one who brings gifts on Christmas Day, instead of Santa Claus. Children will often write letters to baby Jesus before Christmas asking for a gift they would like.

Watch the tope

After a day of relaxing and opening presents on Christmas, families will often head to the tope on December 26. The national horse parade, or tope, brings up to 3,000 horses and riders throughout Costa Rica to San Jose for a celebration. Thousands of spectators will take to the streets to watch the horses stroll through the city in a beautiful spectacle of Costa Rican tradition.


The riders will show off their riding styles, outfits, and saddles and will often let spectators ride their horse. Its a free and public event and one many locals look forward to every holiday season.



Feliz Navidad!

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