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Expat Exchange - Christmas in Costa Rica
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Puntarenas, Costa Rica


Christmas in Costa Rica

By Betsy Burlingame

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Summary: Explore the festive traditions of Christmas and New Year in Costa Rica, where the celebrations are marked by special foods, church ceremonies, the exchange of gifts, and an array of cultural customs.

The holiday season in Costa Rica is a vibrant affair, blending local traditions with the festive spirit that expats and digital nomads might be accustomed to. For those spending their first Christmas and New Year's in this lush country, the experience is both exotic and heartwarmingly familiar.

Christmas and New Year's in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, Christmas is a time of vibrant celebration, family gatherings, and a plethora of local customs. The festive atmosphere is palpable, with homes, streets, and businesses adorned with colorful lights and tropical decorations. Christmas trees are common, often decorated with tropical flowers and bright ornaments, while nativity scenes, known as 'portals', are a central part of the decor, showcasing the religious significance of the holiday.

Celebrating the Holidays

Costa Ricans, known as Ticos, are known for their warm hospitality and love of celebration. Christmas parties and gatherings are common, with families and friends coming together to share in the joy of the season. Fireworks light up the sky, especially as New Year's Eve approaches, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Events Leading Up to the Holidays

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, towns and cities across Costa Rica host a variety of events, including parades, festivals, and live music performances. One of the most anticipated events is the Festival de la Luz in San José, a spectacular parade of floats, dancers, and marching bands illuminated by thousands of lights. This event typically takes place in mid-December and is a must-see for anyone in the capital during the holiday season.

The Costa Rican Santa Claus

While Santa Claus is a recognized figure in Costa Rica, the local gift-bringer is 'Colacho' or 'Niño Dios' (Baby Jesus), who is believed to bring presents to children on Christmas Eve. The exchange of gifts is a cherished part of the holiday, with a focus on giving to children and spending time with loved ones.

Traditional Gifts and Foods

Gift-giving is a common practice, with presents often being practical items or handcrafted goods. As for holiday feasts, traditional foods include 'tamales', a staple at Christmas, made of corn dough stuffed with meats, rice, and vegetables, all wrapped in banana leaves. Sweet treats like 'queque navideño', a fruitcake, and 'rompope', a Costa Rican eggnog, are also enjoyed during the festivities.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Christmas Eve, known as 'Noche Buena', is the heart of the holiday. Families gather for a late-night feast, which leads into Midnight Mass, 'La Misa de Gallo'. Attending church is a significant part of the celebration for many, with services often featuring carols and live nativity scenes. Christmas Day is usually a quieter affair, spent relaxing with family and enjoying the company of loved ones.

Festive Hotspots

For those looking to immerse themselves in the holiday spirit, certain towns and neighborhoods stand out. San José's Zapote district becomes a hub of activity with its famous bullfights and carnival rides. The town of Ciudad Quesada in Alajuela is renowned for its elaborate light displays and festive atmosphere. Meanwhile, the artisan market in the Central Market of San José is a great place to find unique gifts and decorations.

Experiencing Christmas and New Year's in Costa Rica offers a delightful mix of tradition, community, and tropical festivity. Whether you're joining in the local celebrations, attending a church service, or simply enjoying the holiday atmosphere, this time of year in Costa Rica is sure to create lasting memories for expats and digital nomads alike.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


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Puntarenas, Costa Rica

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SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
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SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
Learn More

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