“I’m dreaming of a White Christmas. Just like the ones I used to know.” ~Bing Crosby, White Christmas.
Bing Crosby must not have been to Costa Rica during Christmas because the only way you would see white is on the beaches but in Costa Rica during Christmas, you will see green, orange, red, purple, yellow, and golden (sunsets), and blue waters.
But besides the weather and the colors, there is so much happening during the end-of-year celebrations in Costa Rica. So if you are considering spending this Christmas in Costa Rica, hopefully, after reading this post, you will be entirely convinced.
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When does Costa Rica celebrate Christmas?
Costa Ricans have a solid Catholic culture, so they celebrate Christmas on December 25th. But this is not the only day that will be celebrated in Costa Rica.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are essential times to spend with family in Costa Rica. Some traditions that the families will attend too, such as a midnight mass, putting up their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, and children receiving their presents from Jesus and not Santa Claus.
Families may take the rest of the week and head to a beach to enjoy more family time, away from the hustle and bustle.
How does Costa Rica celebrate Christmas?
There are many traditions on how Costa Ricans celebrate Christmas. And while it does depend on where you are in Costa Rica, you will see the Ticos celebrate throughout December.
For example, in San Jose, you will see a parade celebration called, Festival de la Luz in San Jose, a beautiful parade filled with costumes, music, and people filling the streets of San Jose. Check out their Instagram page HERE, as you will see other parades they will put on.
In a robust Catholic culture, families wear suits, ties, and dress and head to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. And after the mass, there is usually an enormous feast, including tamales, pork, rice, and beans, to add to the mix.
On December 26th, also in San Jose, you will see another parade called Tope Nacional de Caballos, filled with cowboys and horses showcasing the horses and their costumes.
And December 27th, the Carnival takes over San José, with bands and dancers from all over the country filling the capital with Latin music and bright colors.
Fiestas de Zapote
The county of Zapote is located east of downtown San José. Every year, starting December 25th and finishing the first weekend of January, they celebrate their town festivals. This is a place for everybody in the family that includes, like in any other festival in Costa Rica, carnival rides, dance tracks, lots of food stands and temporary bars.
If you want to attend the festival, you must go to the bullfight ring, where improvised bullfighters put their lives in danger by disturbing angry bulls in the ring. It is a crazy thing to watch. There are also competitions for experienced bull riders.
What is Christmas like in Costa Rica?
It is beautiful and vibrant, and you feel alive down here. Oh, wait, that is every day in Costa Rica, but December and Christmas time is even more special.
December marks the end of the rainy season that has left behind lush-green vegetation, and now with dry afternoons, the days seem longer. Everybody wants to be outside enjoying the golden sun, the blue sky, and the stunning sunsets that paint the horizon with incredible shades of orange, red, purple, and yellow.
Christmas in Costa Rica is also the season for Ticos to dress up warm. The cold that starts taking over the northern hemisphere sends cool breezes southward, forcing the Ticos to (willingly) get out their scarfs, warm sweaters, and some years even their gloves. These will feel like comfortable spring days for those who come from northern and southern parts of the world.
The weather is gorgeous, and the people are abundant. If you have been to Costa Rica before, you may notice the difference between high season and low season. You may have to make reservations about places to eat, but with enough planning, you will be fine.
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What are Christmas traditions in Costa Rica?
Many of the Christmas traditions in Costa Rica have to do with the three “F’s.” Fiesta, family, and food. If you come down with your family, you will not be disappointed because you will see how the Costa Rican celebrate and be at the heart of learning about their culture.
What does Costa Rica eat on Christmas?
Tamales are the main dishes at every Costa Rican house for Christmas. Making tamales is a labor of love that involves the entire family. They are basically–and simplifying it a lot–corn dough with pork and vegetables on top, wrapped in cured banana leaves and boiled to perfection. Every family has its own unique and secret recipe. Making and eating them at any point during the day, and sharing them with others, is one of the things that makes it feel like Christmas.
For the Christmas and New Year dinner, most families slow-cook a pork leg, which is then served, sliced on a tortilla. And to accompany all of these dishes, there is usually eggnog and Costa Rican-style pickled vegetables called Escabeche.
What is Christmas called in Costa Rica?
Christmas Eve is called Noche Buena. But the Spanish term for Christmas is Navidad, which you surely have heard in the Christmas song, “Feliz Navidad.”
Why does Costa Rica celebrate Christmas?
Being a very focused Catholic group, Christmas is one of the most important holidays in Costa Rica, along with Semana Santa (Holy Week, also known as Easter).
What to do in Costa Rica for Christmas?
Decorations – The Nativity Scene
The Nativity Scene, called “pasito” in Costa Rica, is a tradition that involves much more than placing figurines on a table. It is a place for families to come together as they design these elaborate sets, which most of the time include more than the holy figures. It should have chickens, pigs, tropical plants, colorful Christmas lights, and whatever they can find. Then, on January 6th or later, families will have a rosary experience with friends and family that involves Christmas carols and food, marking the end of the Christmas season.
The Christmas tree is also part of the decoration, but in Costa Rica, we use cypress trees trimmed to look like pine trees.
“Baby Good” (not Santa Claus)
Even though it is – sadly – changing, in Costa Rica, people will ask you, “What did El Niño Dios get you for Christmas?” instead of what Santa brought.
The Santa Claus tradition has been slowly but strongly introduced into the Ticos’ culture, but deep down, it is still Baby Good who brings joy on Christmas morning. Not because he flew around the world in one night going down chimneys, but because he blessed the homes with wealth that allowed the presents to make it to the bottom of the tree.
Where To Spend Christmas In Costa Rica?
This time of the year is known as the “peak season” in Costa Rica. With the flexible school and work schedules in North America, many families, couples, and small groups choose the Christmas holiday as a good one to take a vacation. Also, many Costa Ricans like to spend the week between Christmas and New Year away from home, especially at the beach, since most everybody will have that time off work and schools have been on break since early December.
In the travel market, supply is minimal, and prices are at an absolute premium. In many cases, space at hotels is exceptionally scarce, and hotel prices can be up to two times as expensive as normal season prices for these two weeks. This is normal for this time of year in Costa Rica.
Where are some of the places that you should come to in Costa Rica? How much time do you have? Here are some of our most popular places that you may want to look at
This is the most popular time of year in Costa Rica, but it doesn’t mean that your family vacation or group trip can’t be an exclusive and unique travel experience in Costa Rica. The key to the success of your trip at this time of year is flexibility and your willingness to work with a Costa Rica travel specialist.
What to Avoid during a Costa Rica Christmas vacation?
There are certain places in Costa Rica that you will want to avoid during the holidays. Famous party beaches like Coco, Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, and Mal País in the Guanacaste Area, Jacó and Quepos in the Central Pacific, and Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo in the south Caribbean will be crowded with Ticos and foreigners.
At crowded destinations, you will have a hard time finding reasonably-priced accommodations, and you will find yourself surrounded everywhere by people, camping tents, improvised BBQs, and loud music. But then again, if you’re into that, the destinations listed above serve those interests.
You are probably looking forward to the beach, ocean, and sun for your Costa Rica trip. But, do not despair; Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is 631 miles (1016 Km) long, and the Caribbean coast is 132 miles (212 Km) long, so you have lots to choose from in Costa Rica!
Planning Your Costa Rica Christmas Vacation
Look for Costa Rica trips that are exclusive and private to you and your fellow travelers. It is best to talk to an experienced Costa Rica travel planner on the phone so that they can ask meaningful and relevant questions about your desires for your trip. You don’t want someone to just tell you what they think is best before you speak your own thoughts and desires. Great travel planners understand that each traveler has their travel style and will want to understand your travel wishes before making assumptions about the type of trip to design for your Costa Rica Christmas vacation.
Avoid the cookie-cutter style of vacation and being forced down a path without choices. Avoid a company that is just trying to sell you. In many cases, large travel organizations who offer Costa Rica holiday packages will block a clump of rooms and be instructed to sell these rooms to their clients, which is bad practice and how one ends up with a run-of-the-mill trip to Costa Rica. Your trip to Costa Rica needs to be special, especially over Christmas.
For the Christmas season in Costa Rica, look into locations where you won’t be overcome by crowds. Work with a travel planner who will include undiscovered areas before their time, where visitors can see, do and see similar things that they would do in other, more discovered areas of the country but with fewer crowds. For example, consider destinations like the Osa Peninsula, Tenorio/Celeste, Central Caribbean, and Drake’s Bay (to name a few).
Explore locations like these in these suggested Costa Rica itineraries, and contact us below to help further explore your options to spend Christmas in Costa Rica!
Jen Rulon is an avid traveler and writer for Costa Rica Escapes. She is also a triathlon coach and author. You can find her knowledge as an author and speaker ranging from Triathlete Magazine, Runners World, on the TEDx Stage, the Health and Wellness Expo in San Antonio, TX, Men’s Journal Online New York Times.
As she has retired from the triathlon space, Jen’s love of Costa Rica began. She realized that she loves the beaches, and the coffee of Costa Rica and now wants to share through the eyes of what she sees with Costa Rica Escapes. Read Jen’s stories and advice for travelers who wish to see the authentic side of Costa Rica on their vacation.