Costa Rica may be known for its lush rainforests and pristine beaches, but the country also has a rich and unique holiday culture. Christmas traditions in Costa Rica are a festive blend of Spanish colonialism, Catholicism, and indigenous influences. Ticos (Costa Ricans) celebrate the holiday season with fervor, sharing joy and creating cherished memories with friends and family.

From vibrant parades to traditional foods, there are many customs that make celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica a one-of-a-kind experience. In this article, we’ll explore the various aspects of the Tico holiday season and delve into the history and significance of these traditions.

Key Takeaways

  • Costa Rican Christmas traditions are a blend of Spanish colonialism, Catholicism, and indigenous influences.
  • Ticos celebrate with festive parades, traditional foods, and lively music and dance.
  • The holiday season brings communities together and creates cherished memories with loved ones.

History of Christmas in Costa Rica

Christmas in Costa Rica has been celebrated for centuries, with traditions deeply rooted in the country’s history and culture. The holiday season officially begins on December 1st and lasts until January 6th, also known as Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day.

The influence of Catholicism and Spanish colonialism can be seen in the traditions and rituals that have been passed down through generations. For example, the nativity scene or “El Portal” is a popular decoration, and many families have their own handcrafted versions. The nativity scene represents the birth of Jesus and is displayed in homes, churches, and public spaces.

Midnight Mass, or “Misa de Gallo,” is another important tradition in Costa Rica. This Catholic mass is held on Christmas Eve and is attended by many Ticos. Following the mass, families gather together to share food and exchange gifts.

Another unique tradition in Costa Rica is the “Posadas,” which are re-enactments of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay before Jesus’ birth. These processions take place throughout the country, with participants carrying candles and singing Christmas carols.

Over time, other Christmas traditions have been added to the mix, such as the horse parade known as “La Tope.” This is a colorful and lively event where hundreds of horses and riders make their way through the streets of San Jose.

Costa Rican Christmas Nativity Scene

In recent years, some Ticos have begun to incorporate more modern traditions into their celebrations, such as Christmas trees and gift exchanges. However, the traditional customs and rituals remain an important part of the holiday season in Costa Rica.

Overall, the history of Christmas in Costa Rica reflects the country’s rich cultural heritage and the enduring influence of religion and tradition. These customs have been passed down through generations and continue to bring joy and meaning to the Tico holiday season.

Traditional Holiday Activities in Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers a range of traditional holiday activities that bring communities together and celebrate the festive season. One such activity is making tamales, which is a staple dish during Christmas in Costa Rica. Families come together to prepare this delicious dish, which is made of corn dough filled with pork or chicken, vegetables, and spices, all wrapped in banana leaves. It is a labor-intensive process, but the end result is worth it.

Another popular holiday activity in Costa Rica is attending midnight Mass. This is a longstanding tradition that dates back to the Spanish colonial era. People dress up in their finest clothes and head to their local church to attend Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve. It is a joyful celebration that brings families and communities together to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Costa Ricans also celebrate La Tope, a horse parade that takes place on December 26th. Riders dress up in colorful costumes and ride their horses through the streets, accompanied by lively music and dancing. It is a fun and festive event that showcases the rich cultural heritage of Costa Rica.

Finally, there is the Fiesta de Los Negritos, also known as the Festival of the Little Black Ones. This is a unique tradition that takes place in the small town of Boruca, where people dance and sing, wearing elaborate masks and costumes to honor the indigenous people who once lived in the area. It is a celebration of diversity and cultural heritage.

Traditional Holiday Activities

Overall, these activities demonstrate the strong sense of community and cultural pride that define the holiday season in Costa Rica. They bring people together to celebrate the joy of Christmas and the unique traditions of their country.

Festive Decorations and Symbols

Christmas decorations in Costa Rica are an essential part of the holiday season, creating an atmosphere of joy and festivity. One of the most popular decorations is the nativity scene, which is called a “portal” in Spanish. These scenes generally include figures of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, as well as the three wise men and various farm animals. Some families even create their own nativity scenes using moss, stones, and other natural materials. Nativity scenes are often placed under the family Christmas tree or on a special table, and are kept up until January 6th, which is known as Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day).

Another popular decoration during the holiday season is Christmas lights, which are strung up in cities and towns throughout the country. In San Jose, the capital city, there is a famous Tope Nacional (National Horse Parade) on December 26th, where horses and riders are decorated with colorful lights. Costa Ricans also enjoy decorating their homes with colorful lights and other festive ornaments.

Festive Christmas light decorations in Costa Rica
The colorful lights in Costa Rica make for a magical holiday atmosphere.

Traditional ornaments include brightly colored spheres and other decorations made from natural materials like pinecones, as well as handmade crafts like woven baskets and pottery. Many of these ornaments feature symbols from Costa Rican culture, such as the national flag or traditional dress.

Traditional Christmas Foods

Food is an essential part of the holiday season in Costa Rica, and traditional Christmas dishes are eagerly anticipated by Ticos. One such dish is “arroz con pollo,” a flavorful chicken and rice dish that is often served with vegetables and plantains. Another popular dish is “tamales,” a savory mixture of meat and cornmeal dough, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Tamales are a staple of the Christmas season and are often made in large quantities to share with family and friends.

Roast pork is another traditional dish that is enjoyed during the holiday season. The pork is seasoned with a blend of spices and slow-roasted until tender and juicy. “Rompope,” a traditional eggnog made with eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and rum, is a popular holiday drink that is often served alongside these festive meals.

It is also customary to exchange “cajetas,” a type of candy made with sweetened condensed milk and nuts, as gifts during the Christmas season. These sweet treats are often shaped into festive holiday shapes like stars, trees, and reindeer.

traditional Costa Rican Christmas Foods

For dessert, Ticos enjoy “tres leches cake,” a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of three types of milk and topped with whipped cream. It is a light and creamy dessert that is perfect for rounding out a satisfying holiday meal.

Overall, the traditional Christmas foods in Costa Rica are a reflection of the country’s rich cultural heritage and the importance of family and community during the holiday season.

Music and Dance in the Costa Rican Holiday Season

The Costa Rican holiday season is full of lively music and festive dances that add to the celebratory atmosphere. One of the most popular musical genres during Christmas in Costa Rica is cumbia, a style that originated in Colombia and has since spread throughout Latin America. Cumbia is characterized by its lively rhythm and strong beat, making it a favorite for dancing and celebrating.

Another popular musical style during the Tico holiday season is salsa, a genre that originated in Cuba and has since been embraced by countries throughout the region. Salsa is known for its energetic beat and fast-paced rhythms, making it a favorite for dancing and celebrating.

In addition to these traditional musical styles, Costa Ricans also enjoy participating in traditional dances during the holiday season. One of the most popular of these dances is the “zapateado,” a lively dance characterized by quick footwork and energetic movements. The dance is typically accompanied by live music, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Another traditional dance during the Tico holiday season is the “parrandita,” a lively and fun dance that involves a group of people dancing in a circle. The dance is typically accompanied by traditional music, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Overall, music and dance are an essential part of the Costa Rican holiday season, adding to the celebratory atmosphere and bringing communities together in joyous celebration.

Music and Dance in the Costa Rican Holiday Season


In conclusion, celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica is a unique and joyful experience, filled with cultural traditions that have been passed down for generations. From the traditional holiday activities such as making tamales and attending midnight Mass, to the festive decorations and symbols, and the delicious traditional foods, the Costa Rican holiday season is a time of togetherness, celebration, and cultural pride.

Music and dance also play a significant role in the Tico Christmas celebrations, adding to the energy and excitement of this special time of year. Whether enjoying the lively rhythms of cumbia and salsa, or participating in traditional dances during Christmas festivities, the spirit of the season is truly felt through music and dance.

Overall, celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica allows visitors and locals alike to experience the unique culture and traditions of this vibrant country. The warmth and welcoming nature of the Tico people make the holiday season even more special, creating a memorable experience that will be cherished for years to come.

-Article by Glenn Tellier (Founder of CRIE and Grupo Gap).

[email protected]



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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some unique Christmas traditions in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has several unique Christmas traditions, such as the celebration of “Festival de la Luz” (Festival of Lights), where the streets come alive with illuminated floats and parades. Another tradition is the “Jolgorio Navideño,” a lively Christmas party filled with music, dance, and traditional food.

How do Costa Ricans celebrate Christmas?

Costa Ricans celebrate Christmas with a mix of religious and cultural traditions. They attend midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, spend time with family and friends, and indulge in traditional holiday foods like tamales and rompope. Costa Ricans also decorate their homes with nativity scenes and Christmas lights.

What are some popular Christmas activities in Costa Rica?

Some popular Christmas activities in Costa Rica include making tamales as a family, attending La Tope (a horse parade), and participating in the “Pasada” (a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter). These activities bring communities together and create a festive atmosphere.

What are the traditional Christmas foods in Costa Rica?

Traditional Christmas foods in Costa Rica include rice and beans, roast pork, and rompope (a traditional eggnog). These dishes are often enjoyed during family gatherings and add to the festive spirit of the holiday season.

What role does music and dance play in the Costa Rican holiday season?

Music and dance are an integral part of the Costa Rican holiday season. The lively rhythms of cumbia and salsa fill the air, and traditional dances are performed during Christmas festivities. Music and dance add joy and energy to the celebrations, creating a vibrant atmosphere.



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