December marks the beginning of the Christmas traditions and holiday season in Costa Rica with its crispier air, cool winds blowing during sunny cool days, clear and starry nights and the subtle cypress scent from street vendors.
During the holiday season almost all Costa Ricans:
- crave for tamales with coffee or agua dulce, baked pork legs, and refreshing eggnog
- get their deserved Christmas bonus to buy presents and Christmas decorations
- bring their children to a Christmas tree lighting ceremony
- go downtown San Jose to the Central Avenue boulevard for the “Avenidazo”
- set a Christmas tree and a manger in their living room
- share a big Christmas Eve dinner with friends and family then head to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass
- tuck baby Jesus in the Manger and place gifts under the Christmas tree at midnight on Christmas Eve
- look forward to the traditional holiday festivals: El Tope, Festival de la Luz and Fiestas de Zapote
- Make end meet means to pay the annual vehicle registration renewal fees before the New Year.
Traveling in Costa Rica during December is a culture rich experience indulged with the most popular holiday traditions & Festivals:
Black Friday: The last Friday of November
Started in 2011
Black Friday – adopted from the U.S. – is now part of the Holiday season in Costa Rica. Retailers discount their merchandise up to 70%. Malls host raffles for cars, cash, vacation trips and other prices, and banks reward consumers when making purchases with credit cards to kick off the holiday shopping season. Shoppers lure the stores in an attempt to get the best deal on a product before supplies run out.
Christmas Bonus Pay Day: No later than December 5th.
A $1.1 billion dollar Christmas bonus was paid to the 1.5 million employees in the country to boost up the 2012 holiday season. The bonus is equal to a person’s one month salary and generally it is used to pay debts, save for the next year, and shop for manger scenes and decorations, toys for children, presents, imported apples and green or black grapes – a special Christmas treat for many - at street vendors.
Children Museum Façade Lighting Ceremony: First Wednesday of December
Started in 2000
This 90-minute event inspires children to have faith in their dreams and one day their rainbow will come smiling through with live musical and theater performances, building lighting effects, and 7,200 fireworks from 7 different points. More than 10,000 Costa Ricans attend to watch the performances and how the 4,000 bulbs decorating the museum façade are lit.
Children Hospital Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony: First Thursday of December
Started in 1964
The Children Hospital Christmas tree lighting ceremony is a countrywide symbol of the holidays in Costa Rica and a meaningful moment for its more than 200 hospitalized children. The tree is decorated with more than 25,000 – 2,000 LED compliant – Christmas lights from 8 different colors and topped with a star. It makes San Jose brim with the Christmas spirit. Parents bring their children to see the clowns, live theatrical and musical performance, and listen to the Children Orchestra sing Christmas carols.
Most families have a late night dinner of pork leg and tamales on with eggnog, heavy with rum, while people visit friends and family to give presents before midnight. Then, people head to the midnight mass. It’s a long service, and many are often too tired to stay through the two hour mass. With the local traditions of food, family and fun, Christmas is definitely the happiest time of the year in Costa Rica.
Christmas Day is a special day for children who receive and play with presents that they have been longing for. Children in Costa RIca believe that baby Jesus is the one who brings Christmas presents to children. Some children write letters to Baby Jesus “Cartas al Nino” a few weeks before Christmas Day, asking for a gift that they desire most.
Many people have the day off work and spend time with their families, friends, and loved ones. They also bring their children to take rides and eat at Fiestas de Zapote in the morning. At night they gather with friends and share drinks enjoying the night.
Many churches have special Christmas Day services, some of which include choirs, joyous singing, and meet-and-greet opportunities after the church services.
New Year’s Eve (December 31st)
New Year’s Eve is a day of celebration. It is marked by fireworks and fire crackers. Some people invite friends and families to share food and dance to the music until a few minutes before midnight. Some end the party an hour before midnight and attend a public celebration at a beach, park, bar or disco.
Many people start counting down to New Year’s Day in the last minute before the last night of the year ends and the New Year begins. Some people tune into watching televised or listening to radio broadcast countdowns. As the clock strikes midnight into New Year’s Day, people celebrate hugging, kissing, zipping from a bottle of Champaign and wishing each other a "Happy New Year".
New Years Day
New Year Day is an official holiday so many people who stayed up on New Year’s Eve to welcome the New Year have a day off work and get a chance to sleep in and spend the remainder of the day either visiting friends or relatives, or returning home from the beach. Others watch the Pasadena California New Year’s broadcasted on local T.V. stations.
Costa Ricans do not mark New Year’s Day as the first day to start a New Year’s resolution for the year.
Street Fairs & Parades
Avenidazos: Second Week of December
The Central Avenue Blvd. appeals to Costa Rican for its stress-free walking in a traditional, festive environment. The building and street decorations light up the night as locals stream down Central Avenue boulevard people watching, window shopping, and enjoying free live concerts and Christmas ceremonies.
Festival de La Luz : Saturday of the Second Week of December
Started in 1996
Festival of Lights encourages everyone to join in the spirit of the holiday season and enjoy a host of festive experiences along the Paseo Colon, Avenida Segunda and Plaza de la Democracia. Hundred of thousands of spectators line the parade route each year to see more than 11 lighted floats built by volunteers and sponsoring communities, 14 marching bands, balloons, fireworks and performing artists under twinkling lights along Paseo Colon and Avenida Segunda. The parade is free and open to the public. The event is broadcast on multiple television networks in Costa Rica.
Horse Parade : El Tope Nacional – December 26th
More than 3,000 horses trot down the Second Avenue year after year on December 26th to celebrate the long-standing tradition of the horse parade. Cowboys and horse breeder showcase their bond with their horses inviting people from the public to ride with them or simply smiling and people watching.
People lined up their chairs early or simply sit on the city sidewalks to make sure they got a premium viewing spot for the best breed horses in the country. The parade is free and open to the public. The event is broadcast on multiple television networks in Costa Rica.
Fiestas de Zapote: From Christmas Day to the First Sunday of the New Year
Fiestas de Zapote marks the end of the holiday season and the beginning of the New Year. Set in Zapote Farmer’s market grounds, the Fiestas hosts food stands cotton candy, churros, loi main –chop suey- , portable bars, carnival Thrill and kiddieland rides and game, live musical performances, and the bloodless and dart free bullfights better known as Toros a la Tica.
More than 100,000 Costa Ricans go to the Fiestas. Families take children during the day to the rides and bullfights.