Christmas is a very special celebration for Ticos. Traditional food, gatherings with friends and family, presents, and decorations make this a fantastic season in the country.
“El portal” or “el pasito” (The Nativity Scene) is very significant in Costa Rican households. This tradition has become very important throughout the years, especially for Catholics who celebrate Christmas fervently.
The decoration of The Nativity Scene is a family activity where creativity, devotion, and tradition are characteristic. Many families even start with the preparation in their homes in November. Catholic families set it up on December 8, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
“Pasitos” have five central figures: Baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the mule, and the ox. Usually, they also feature the Three Wise Men, sheep and their shepherd, and angels. Many also include the Star of Bethlehem.
The assembly of the Nativity Scene is accompanied by moss, sawdust, plants, trunks, rocks, cypress branches, and Baby Jesus, Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph are placed in a barn or cave structure.
As part of the tradition, once “el Portal” is done, families invite neighbors, relatives, and friends to see it. In recent years has regained its strength and even represents an ideal occasion to share a drink or traditional food, such as the famous tamales.
Dismantling “El Pasito” is also an extremely symbolic moment. It’s often done after el “Rezo del Niño.” Once again, family, friends, and neighbors gather to pray and thank Jesus for all the blessings. The prayers are also accompanied by music.
As in any Costa Rican traditional gathering, food is always present. Coffee, Aguadulce, bizcochos, tamal asado, rompope, and other foods typical of Costa Rican cuisine are offered once the prayers are completed. Many of the recipes for the meals prepared are passed down from grandfathers and grandmothers and are expected to continue throughout the generations.
These traditions are very dear to Ticos, who appreciate quality time with family and loved ones, the opportunity to give thanks, activities promoting union, and enjoying meals with those they love the most.