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The perfect Costa Rican Christmas in 10 easy steps

December 24, 2018

In Costa Rica, we don’t have sleigh rides or the white Christmases of movie fame – but we do have celebrations filled with delicious food and drinks, emblematic San José sights and ceremonies, the preparation of enormous nativity scenes, the fiestas de Zapote and, most important of all, spending time with your loved ones.

The Tico Times gathered a list of steps we consider essential for a traditional Costa Rican Christmas. What did we miss? Please share!

10. Drink (or make) some rompope.

Christmas is not the same without the rompope, the traditional Christmas drink known in many English-speaking countries as eggnog. You can buy rompope in a carton, but there’s nothing like homemade. Here’s a link to our favorite recipes for your holiday celebrations (our Tico Times taste-test winner and runner-up).

9. Unwrap some tamales.

A Costa Rican Christmas must have tamales on the menu. Corn dough prepared with corn flour, pork lard and various spices surrounds varied fillings that can include pork or chicken, chickpeas, sweet peppers and olives, all assembled in clean banana leaves that are later steamed in a pot. Watch our mouthwatering video showing how they are prepared.

8. View the lights outside the Children’s Museum…

The Children’s Museum, housed in a former penitentiary in north-central San José, is a must-visit for little ones year-round, but the illumination of its façade is a beloved holiday highlight. This year’s lighting required 4,000 light bulbs that bring this museum’s vivacity and brilliance to life.

Children's Museum
The Children's Museum in San José lights up every year its façade. Alberto Font/The Tico Times

7. …and the Children’s Hospital.

The National Children’s Hospital’s gigantic tree is decorated each year with an amazingly varied assortment of bright lightbulbs to bring the Christmas spirit to the children inside. Located in front of the hospital in downtown San José, the colossus is illuminated by a whopping 22,000 lights! Each year it brightens up children’s moods, but also the hearts of all those who pass it on busy Paseo Colón.

Children's Hospital Tree
The lighting of the Children's Hospital is a tradition carried out every December in San José. Alberto Font/The Tico Times

6. Shop at a chinamo.

Costa Rica’s chinamos, or shopping stalls, are the traditional place to buy the figures used to decorate your Nativity scenes. Here we’ve prepared a guide to traditional chinamos.

nativity scenes
The chinamos sell all sorts of figures for your portales. Zach Dyer/The Tico Times

5. Enjoy some Nativity scenes.

Once you have bought your essential figures for the Nativity scene or portal, you can set about creating your own. Traditional portales in Costa Rica gather our natural landscapes, flora and fauna. However, we also found a non-traditional portal that unites scenes from around the world in one San José home. Take a look here.

This is a traditional nativity scene from the province of Limón, Costa Rica. Alberto Font/The Tico Times

4. Take in the Festival de la Luz.

All right, this one has already passed, but if you missed it this year, be sure to add it to your 2019 Christmas list: the holidays in Costa Rica just wouldn’t be the same without the lovely and vivacious Light Festival that takes place each December on the streets of San José. The Municipality of San José always organizes the festival, and for one night the city becomes a magical Christmas land.

Festival de la Luz
For the Lights Festival, the participants prepare a special costume and carrozas. Jessica Phelps/The Tico Times

3. Chow down on Christmas dinner.

The traditional Costa Rican Christmas dinner varies from family to family, but often consists of a delicious pork leg alongside rice and vegetables. The meal often ends with traditional Christmas cake with fruits and cinnamon.

2. Watch the tope.

The day after Christmas, the tope, or national horse parade, takes place along Second Avenue and Paseo Colón. This parade gathers horses and riders from all over the country to show off their best riding styles, saddles and outfits. While the horses and riders stroll through the streets, thousands of spectators come to watch them pass by. Here you’ll enjoy a photographic gallery of tope in San José.

The tope in San José gathers the best horses and riders from all over the country. Andrés Madrigal/The Tico Times

1. Check out the Fiestas de Zapote.

This mega-fest in the eastern San José district of Zapote offers a little bit of everything. Find all types of food, the famed Tico-style bullfights in the Zapote ring, dozens of rides, temporary tattoos, parades, live music, giant bars, and many more activities.

The End-of-Year Celebrations take place Dec. 25 – Jan. 6. More info here

The festivities in Zapote offer different activities such as games and the corridas de toros. Alberto Font/The Tico Times

We hope you enjoy a lovely Christmas with your family and friends.

This article was originally published in 2016.

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