Inflatable Santa Clauses and snowmen grin broadly outside shops. Inside, shelves brim with holiday ornaments, colorful ribbons, ceramic Jesus statuettes and nativity snow globes.
Christmas arrives early in Costa Rica. And each year it seems to come earlier.
Viviana Madrigal, owner of Feria Navideña (named Artesanal del Sol the rest of the year) near Plaza del Sol in Curridabat, east of San José, and three of her staff are busy cutting and packing 85 holiday ribbons for a customer who is buying them to decorate a local church.
For Madrigal, Christmas never ends. As soon as one holiday season wraps up, she begins preparing for the next one. Attending January and February trade shows are essential so she can purchase the year’s Christmas decorations. Her orders arrive at the store in June, and by mid-August, holiday items have replaced the national artisan products that typically stock the shelves.
According to Madrigal, trends originate in Europe, so Costa Rica receives the decorations that were popular in Europe and the United States the previous year. “The colors this season are pink, fuchsia, turquoise and lime green,” Madrigal said. “Many Costa Ricans are traditional, so I always buy the traditional colors too; but it was impossible to find Christmas green this year. It just wasn’t available.”
Five years ago, the Christmas season didn’t begin for Madrigal until October. But success is about marketing and publicity. Although sales surge between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15, “by having holiday decorations displayed early, people can start thinking about what they need and know where to buy it,” Madrigal said.
Shoppers like Margarita Gamboa of San José do just that. Although Gamboa says she typically doesn’t begin buying for the holidays until November, she likes to look around in October to get an idea of what’s out there. “I like to have my house decorated for Christmas by the beginning of December,” Gamboa said.
And shopper Carolina Solís is constantly perusing stores – Cemaco, shops in Multiplaza Escazú Mall, San José’s Mercado Central, among others – in search of items to add to the portal (nativity scene) she’s created in her house in Heredia, north of San José. For Solís, the most important part of Christmas is her portal, although with elephants and lions from Africa and animals from the Americas, Australia, India and Europe, hers is a bit more than a depiction of a simple stable in Bethlehem.
Cemaco, in the Zapote district of southeastern San José, held a press conference on Oct. 19 to unveil eight Christmas themes the store is promoting for the 2011 holiday season. The festive event featured holiday songs, pastries and a moderator decked out from head to toe in sequins. Even the air conditioning was turned on full blast to provide guests with that winter wonderland feeling.
Each holiday theme features a unique set of colors, textures and objects. From traditional to family to modern, Cemaco designers scoured the globe to find styles and trends that had something for everyone, except perhaps Scrooge.
According to Cemaco Marketing Director Joana Meltzer, traditional themes tend to sell the best. “Christmas Happiness,” “Family Time” and “The Lodge” are expected to be the most popular of the store’s themes.
Cemaco’s Christmas season begins with a sale of last year’s holiday inventory at the beginning of October, followed by a display of the current line in mid-October. “We like to exhibit Christmas decorations early to give people enough time to buy everything that they need to celebrate the holidays,” Meltzer said.
Although shopper Irene Rojas of San José had no intention of buying any Christmas paraphernalia while she was in Cemaco killing time before picking up her kids, she ended up buying two Christmas hens to add to a hen collection in her kitchen, and a random red-and-white holiday figurine that caught her eye. Rojas said she’s a last-minute shopper.
Like Cemaco, Muñoz & Nanne in San Pedro, east of San José, also begins selling decorations at the beginning of October. According to Muñoz & Nanne Manager Alexa Muñoz, garden items, bedding and all-occasion decorations and gifts are exchanged for Christmas decor in the fall. And although the peak of the season is not until December, Muñoz said people slowly begin to buy lights, wreaths and other holiday decorations once they are displayed in the store.
Meltzer said that Cemaco’s sales increase at the end of October and the beginning of November and then again in December, which Meltzer said is the month when people shop for gifts.
“Christmas is a commercial holiday,” Madrigal said. “People begin thinking about Christmas after Mother’s Day on Aug. 15, so that’s when the stores focus on Christmas.”
Despite economic woes, Madrigal dismisses the economy’s negative effect on Christmas sales. “Sales increase every year. Sales have already been much better this year than last year,” she said. “Thank God.”