Festive celebrations begin early in Costa Rica, with the start of ‘Las Posadas’ (the ‘inns’) nine days before Christmas and three dramatic parades taking place around the country. ‘El Carnival’, where dancers and musicians compete for prestigious titles and prizes; ‘El Destile de Luces’, a torchlit night parade and ‘El Tope’ an annual horseback parade, with lavishly dressed horses and hand-painted ox-carts, typically held the day after Christmas.
In San Jose, the Festival de la Luz, or Festival of Lights, kicks off the holiday season on the second Saturday of December, as the city’s renowned Christmas lights are unveiled. The event draws in over a million people with colorful floats and street dancers taking part in a spectacular street parade, live bands and traditional entertainment.
Christmas itself, is celebrated on Christmas Eve, or ‘Nocha Buena’ as it’s known in Spanish, and is traditionally a family affair, with a huge spread of tamales (corn-dough dumplings filled with meat or vegetables), stuffed tortillas and empañadas (meat or cheese filled pastries). The only one not invited is Santa – it’s baby Jesus that brings the gifts here, and children will often leave a shoe out, to be filled with treats.
After Christmas, the holiday celebrations keep going, with a series of parties, parades, dance festivals and rodeos springing up all over the country, many running up until the New Year. In fact, the Christmas period doesn’t officially end in Costa Rica until the final ‘Feast of the Epiphany’ on January 6th (historically, when the Three Kings met Jesus), so make sure you pace yourself!