Walking into a department store in Costa Rica during the holiday season, you might wonder, “What do they sell when Christmas is over?” Places become saturated with every type of red-and-green or snow-white decoration imaginable. But only a few stores, and several farms, offer the Holy Grail of Christmas items: The Christmas tree.
At Muñoz y Nanne, a multistory department store and supermarket in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro, the sign that this place knows Christmas trees is easy to spot. It’s even easier to spot at night. A huge, glowing tree has lit up the store’s parking lot since mid-October. Shiny gold stars decorate the tree. A few reindeers wielding gifts stand guard, encircling the tree. Inside, clients must navigate past all the cheery Santa decorations – Santa skiing, Santa hanging with penguins, Santa waving to you next to an elaborate train set, etc. – to find the Christmas trees on the top floor.
The majestic-looking artificial trees come with lights. The cheapest start at ₡111,900 (about $220) and measure 1.8 meters in height. The biggest trees can cost more than double that, and reach closer to 2.5 meters. These trees are also much bulkier and have more branches. Inside the store are thousands of decorations to choose from, including smaller trees that cost only a few dollars. But the ones on display outside the store are your typical holiday fare.
“The trees that already have the lights on get the most attention because people don’t have to be putting on the lights themselves,” said Ana Molina, who works at Muñoz y Nanne.
She added that each tree is boxed up for safe transport home.
Universal, a department store chain with several locations in the Central Valley, provides more artificial flavor with its Christmas trees. The store has 33 different Christmas tree styles, varying in height and number of branches. The smallest stand at 1.2 meters and have 230 branches – think Charlie Brown. The largest tree, at 4.5 meters, towers over the rest, scraping the store’s ceiling. This alpha tree has a grand total of 5,207 branches, in case you were counting. At the Universal store in Multiplaza del Este mall in Curridabat, east of San José, the trees are found in the middle of store, like a miniature forest surrounded by Buzz Lightyear dolls, Wii video games and glittery Christmas ornaments.
Alongside the 33 standard choices, Universal also has a garish all-purple tree and an “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” snow-covered tree. But the most brilliant – and expensive – trees are found adjacent to the ceramic tree farm. Hefty, predecorated trees with grandiloquent names like “Infinite Serenity,” “Forest of Illusion” and “Venetian Carnival” can be bought for close to $1,000. Venetian Carnival is an homage to Mardi Gras, with masks and high-heel shoes hanging from the branches and ornamental balls dressing the tree in flamboyant flashes of garnet and gold. The elaborately decorated Forest of Illusion gives “Blue Christmas” a new meaning, with azure butterflies and sapphire-skinned fairies floating from the branches and sparkly blue flowers blooming from the branch tips.
For those longing for simpler days and old-fashioned ways of obtaining a tree, there are several tree farms around the Central Valley, particularly on the road to San Isidro de Heredia, north of San José (TT, Dec. 8, 2009). Road signs will point drivers in the right direction. Here, Ernesto Martínez has helped maintain a tree nursery for 15 years on the farm Vivero El Zamorano. Cypress trees 2 to 4 meters in height can be bought here and delivered. Poinsettias also are sold on the farm.
Choice never seems limited when it comes to Christmas and Christmas trees in Costa Rica. The options are out there, whether you want to go all out and create your own “Infinite Serenity” or, like Molina at Muñoz y Nanne, prefer something a little simpler.
“I like to have bows,” Molina said. “I like most the red and green colors. I don’t want the other colors. I want the traditional.”
O, Christmas Tree
Here’s a sampling of places offering artificial or real trees for Christmas:
Locations in Curridabat, Plaza Real Cariari, Terramall and Escazú, open Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., www.aliss costarica.com.
The department store has about a half-dozen artificial trees that look nice and sturdy and are undecorated. The smallest trees, 1.8 meters with 418 branches, start at ¢13,900 ($28). A robust 2.4-meter tree with 1,648 branches costs ¢79,900 ($160).
Munoz y Nanne
San Pedro, west of U Latina, open daily until 9 p.m., 2253-4646, www.munozynanne.com.
Offers 10 styles of artificial trees, all with lights; some include other decorations, too. The cheapest start at ¢111,900 ($220), while the most expensive go for ¢256,940 ($515). Smaller arbolitos (1 meter) cost about $5.
Locations in Multiplaza del Este, La Sabana, Plaza Real Cariari, Plaza Bratsi Heredia, Multicentro Desamparados and Liberia, Guanacaste, open daily (hours vary by store), 2222-2222, www.universal cr.com.
Plastic trees come in 33 different styles. The cheapest stands 1.2 meters high with 230 branches and costs ¢9,990 ($20). The biggest tree, at a towering 4.5 meters with 5,207 branches, costs ¢498,990 (nearly $1,000). The store also offers very elegant and very expensive predecorated trees that cost upward of ¢525,000 ($1,050).
Quinta San Luis
Guápiles highway, east side, just south of El Aposento restaurant, open daily, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 2268-6524, 8926-9440, 8314 3837.
Five-hectare farm with some 12,000 cypress trees. Two-meter trees start at ¢8,000 ($16).
Vivero El Zamorano
Road to San Isidro de Heredia, 200 meters west of Guápiles highway, open Monday to Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 2268-8257, www.viveroelzamorano.com.
Trees start at ¢20,000 ($40). Ernesto Martínez and son run the Christmas tree nursery and both speak English. Buying more than one tree can result in a discount of 10 to 50 percent. The farm also sells poinsettias for several thousand colones, depending on size. Trees can be delivered to the Escazú and La Sabana area.