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Christmas in Costa Rica: A Tropical Holiday Celebration

Experience the Rich Culture and Unique Traditions of a Costa Rican Christmas

Costa Rica, a small Central American country known for its stunning natural beauty and biodiversity, offers a warm and inviting atmosphere for Christmas celebrations. With a strong influence from Catholic traditions, the Christmas season in Costa Rica is filled with vibrant festivities and unique customs that reflect the country’s rich cultural heritage.


The Costa Rican Christmas Season

Preparations for Christmas

Decoration of Homes and Streets

As Christmas approaches, Costa Ricans transform their homes and streets into colorful displays of holiday cheer. Lights, ornaments, and nativity scenes, called “portales” or “pasitos,” are prominently featured in homes and public spaces. The cypress tree, a local favorite, is often used as a Christmas tree and decorated with bright lights and ornaments.


Christmas Shopping and Gift-Giving

Shopping centers and markets bustle with activity as people search for the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Traditional crafts, toys, and clothing are popular choices for presents. Gift-giving is an important part of Costa Rican Christmas celebrations, with families and friends exchanging presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.


Christmas Eve Customs

La Misa de Gallo: Midnight Mass

For many Costa Ricans, attending midnight mass, known as La Misa de Gallo, is an essential part of their Christmas Eve celebrations. Churches are filled with families and individuals who come together to worship and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.


Nochebuena: Family Gatherings and Meals

Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, is a time for family gatherings, with loved ones coming together to share a festive meal. Traditional Costa Rican dishes, such as tamales, roast pork, and rice with chicken, grace the table, accompanied by seasonal fruits and desserts like queque navideño, a Christmas fruitcake. The evening is filled with laughter, conversation, and togetherness, creating lasting memories for all who participate.


Costa Rican Christmas Traditions

El Niño: Baby Jesus as a Gift-Giver

In Costa Rica, the figure of El Niño, or Baby Jesus, plays a central role in the gift-giving tradition. On Christmas Eve, children write letters to El Niño, asking for their desired gifts. These letters are then placed under the Christmas tree or nativity scene, and the children believe that El Niño will bring their presents on Christmas Day.


Festivals and Parades

During the Christmas season, Costa Rica comes alive with vibrant festivals and parades. One of the most famous events is the Festival de la Luz, a spectacular parade held in the capital city of San José. Featuring illuminated floats, marching bands, and performances, the festival attracts thousands of spectators, who come together to celebrate the joy of the season.

Another popular event is the “Tope Nacional,” a traditional horse parade that takes place on December 26th. Horse enthusiasts and riders from across the country gather to showcase their equestrian skills and enjoy a festive day with friends and family.

Christmas Foods

Tamales: A Costa Rican Staple

Tamales, a traditional Christmas dish in Costa Rica, consist of a corn dough filled with seasoned meat, vegetables, and sometimes rice, wrapped in a banana or plantain leaf and steamed. Families often prepare large batches of tamales in the days leading up to Christmas, making it a labor of love and a time for bonding.


Rompope: A Festive Drink

Rompope, a creamy and sweet alcoholic beverage, is a popular Christmas drink in Costa Rica. Similar to eggnog, rompope is made with milk, sugar, eggs, and rum, flavored with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.


Christmas Activities and Entertainment

Beach Escapes and Outdoor Adventures

With its warm tropical climate, Christmas in Costa Rica is the perfect time to hit the beach or embark on an outdoor adventure. Many families and tourists take advantage of the sunny weather to explore the country’s stunning national parks, relax on pristine beaches, or participate in thrilling activities like zip-lining and whitewater rafting.


Cultural Experiences

The Christmas season also offers ample opportunities to immerse oneself in Costa Rican culture. Visitors can attend traditional dance performances, art exhibitions, and concerts featuring local musicians. These events provide a unique glimpse into the vibrant culture and traditions that make Costa Rica such a special place to celebrate Christmas.



Christmas in Costa Rica is a lively and memorable experience, marked by warm weather, vibrant festivities, and unique traditions. With its rich Catholic heritage and welcoming atmosphere, Costa Rica offers a one-of-a-kind holiday celebration that is sure to delight travelers and locals alike.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the main religion in Costa Rica?

    The predominant religion in Costa Rica is Roman Catholicism, which plays a significant role in the country’s Christmas celebrations.

  2. When is Christmas celebrated in Costa Rica?

    Christmas is celebrated on December 25th in Costa Rica, with many festivities and events taking place throughout the entire month of December.

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