In Costa Rica, the holidays are one of the most joyous times of the year. Beyond the standard festivities, Christmas in Costa Rica means that the weather has finally turned – it’s sunny! all day! and we’re feeling great! – and the kids are out of school. It’s a wonderful, tropical, light-filled time of year, and it’s clearly one of our country’s absolute favorites.

That said, if you’re wondering specifically about Christmas in Costa Rica (and then, New Year’s, close on its heels!), know that Christmas officially/unofficially begins on November 1 (but don’t be surprised to see decorations and décor crop up before then).

The most festive Christmas celebrations are held on December 24, while December 25 is reserved for church/Catholic mass and quieter celebrations, most often spent with your immediate family. But December 24 – well, that’s a time for big meals (traditionally, pork shoulder with all the fixings), presents, and lots of laughter. ‘Tis the season! Let’s dive in:

Christmas Traditions in Costa Rica

As in most of the world, the holiday season in Costa Rica is filled with joy, celebration, and many traditions. Among the most beloved:

Unwrap a Piña de Tamales

Costa Rica Tamales

One of our tastiest holiday traditions, there’s no Christmas in Costa Rica without tamales. Wrapped in banana leaves (not corn husks, like their Mexican cousins), these treats symbolize a present and are best enjoyed in the afternoon over a hot drink (make it coffee, if you want to really embrace Costa Rican tradition!).

The most traditional tamales are crafted from corn flour, shortening or lard, a bunch of veggies, and pulled pork, but today’s versions expand out into many different iterations: chicken tamales, bean tamales, cheese tamales, and even vegan tamales, which often combine garbanzos or beans with other plant-based ingredients.

Tip: Always ask around for the best tamales in town: “¿dónde se encuentra el mejor tamal?” (where can I find the best tamal?)!

Snack on Fruit Cake and Eggnog

Eggnog rompope

If tamales are a must, then queque navideño (Christmas fruit cake) and rompope (eggnog) are the icing on top of the flavor traditions.

They’re both a bit like what you’re used to – and a bit not like what you’re used to. Traditional fruit cake is made with rum-soaked dried fruit (often soaked up to a month before baking!), lots of butter, and flour, while Costa Rican rompope is a rich, rum-spiked drink that blends whole milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and cinnamon. )The store version is light (or void) of eggs, so it’s not as thick as it’s northern counterparts.

Watch the Teletón

Teleton Costa Rica

Everyone loves the Teletón, or telethon: an annual fundraiser that takes place in early December and raises much-needed funds for the Children’s Hospital. Though the event has already passed for this year (it was held November 11-12, 2022), you can still make a donation via their website. It’s not quite Christmas in Costa Rica until the Teletón plays!

Enjoy the Mascaradas

Mascaradas Costa Rica

Wander into any downtown (including Tamarindo) on a December weekend – or even a weekday, if you’re lucky – and you may just catch one of the most festive (and, to an outsider, strangest) Christmas traditions in Costa Rica: mascaradas, giant papier-mâché masks of political figures, the devil, sugar skulls, pop culture icons, and other figures, who dance down the streets to the tune of marching bands.

While the masked characters used to scare small children, they’re a little more lighthearted nowadays. So smile and embrace the tradition – it’s fun! 

Watch for the Pesebre or Portal (Nativity Scene)

Nativity Scene portal Costa Rica

Most families display a nativity scene in their homes, often of the elaborate variety: a background mural, real straw/moss, a handmade barn, and detailed characters. Fun fact: In Costa Rica, it’s considered good luck (and tradition) to gift newlyweds the nativity characters they’ll display throughout their marriage.

If you’re lucky, you can also happen upon some of Costa Rica’s more elaborate nativity scenes, which aren’t life-sized but are more along the lines of fancy Christmas villages so popular in the north. These portales are often on display in public places and, sometimes, private homes, and can easily measure 10 feet/3 meters wide.

Get a Gift from the Niño Jesús

holiday gift

As in much of the world, in Costa Rica, Christmas is a season for both gifts and charitable giving. Many families exchange gifts; el Niño Jesús (the Baby Jesus) traditionally brings children a gift, although Santa has also slid under the tree in recent decades.

Throughout November and December, you’ll often encounter calls for seasonal charity, not just from the Teletón, but also through various organizations (the Children’s Hospital, schools, orphanages, travel agencies, etc.) that organize gift-giving for children in need.

Buy a Lotto Ticket

Costa Rica Gordo Navideño Lotto

One of Costa Rica’s more surprising holiday traditions, el Gordo is the annual Christmas lottery whose jackpot is drawn just before Christmas (this year: December 18, 2022).

Even if you’re not much for the lottery, know that it is tradition: Costa Ricans love to say that buying a Gordo ticket will herald good luck (if not the big jackpot) for the next year. If you need an extra kick in the right direction, know that Costa Rica’s lottery system fund social programs throughout the year. It’s a win-win, don’t you think? Go find your lucky numbers!

Watch the World Cup

World Cup 2022

The 2022 World Cup is held from November 20 to December 18, making it a beloved “holiday” tradition this year. Be sure the check the match schedule and root for your favorite team. Don’t be alarmed if you hear loud, copious, and high-energy screaming at random points throughout the season; someone has simply scored a goal!

(Unfortunately, Costa Rica is already out of the running. But Costa Ricans typically cheer for their Latino counterparts, and Argentina is still in! Buckle up for a fun ride.)

Participate in Festivals & Celebrations

Festival de la Luz Costa Rica

Christmas in Costa Rica really gets going in early December with the Festival de la Luz, or the Festival of Lights. (In 2022, it’ll be held on December 17.) This weeklong celebration welcomes intricate lighting displays throughout San Jose, as well as concerts and nightly fireworks in the downtown area.

Though all of Costa Rica gets in on the fun, San Jose’s two-week-long Fiestas de Zapote are the most popular, offering a combination of tradition and revelry. During daytime hours, carnival rides, bullfights (known as Toros a la Tica, which have become more and more controversial) and street food vendors take center stage, but after the sun goes down, massive “megabars,” or portable dance halls, turn on their neon lights and pump up the volume for one of the country’s most raucous annual celebrations.

On December 26, Costa Ricans line San Jose’s streets for the Tope Nacional, the National Horse Parade, which is perhaps the most beloved and boisterous of all Christmas traditions. This is the country’s largest equestrian parade, and riders from around the country attend to show off the skills of their most prized horses. Per tradition, Costa Rican riders teach their mounts not to jump or race, but to prance through the streets in a series of elaborate steps, as if they were dancing for the audience. For serious horse trainers, the Tope is the celebration of a year’s hard work – many champion horses are bred and trained to excel at the event.

December 27 typically heralds Carnaval, an enormous street parade through San Jose that features complex floats, bands, clowns, giant balloons, folkloric dance troupes, and ornately costumed performers. Thousands of attendees dance in the streets, sing their favorite songs, and dine on tamales, pupusas, and other traditional Christmas street foods. This is the last official Christmas celebration before the nation’s capital packs up its decorations until the following year.

New Year’s Traditions in Costa Rica

New Years in Costa Rica

Traditionally, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have been family holidays in Costa Rica. That said, traditions – well, they are a-changin’.

Traditionally, large parties at clubs, festive countdowns, and other flashy traditions were not common. Instead, families often headed to the beach and spend NYE together, hosting a New Year’s Eve dinner, often late into the night. Many purchased their own fireworks to set off at midnight. And, while many things have changed over the years, these traditions are still observed by many, if not most.

Depending on the celebrant (and family), a few quirky traditions – eat 12 grapes for good luck in each coming month; wear red underwear to attract love in the new year; throw water over your shoulder to say goodbye to the bad – are also observed. However, these are much less common today.

Inversely, commercial parties are more common than they once were. Here in Nosara, many restaurants will host a festive New Year’s Eve (or New Year’s Day) party. There will be fireworks on the beach!

In San José, clubs host huge extravaganzas. Around the country, friends get together for parties, drinking and fireworks. If you’re going out, search for a locale in the mountains – somewhere you’ll have an incredible view of your area’s fireworks.

Happy holidays! We hope you enjoy the season!

Celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica?

Christmas in Costa Rica

When you live in the tropics, Christmas in Costa Rica can be an adjustment. No snowy landscapes. No crackling fireplaces. No Santas outside of stores. But you’ll quickly learn that warm, sunny holidays have their own joyful and wonderful traditions!

At Blue Water Properties, we love the holidays – and helping you transition into your first holiday season in Costa Rica! So if you’re thinking about making our country home, we can talk about locations and costs of living, schools and, yes, our favorite spots to enjoy the holidays. We can refer you to residency attorneys or other sources of information, and share our own experiences and lessons learned.

As a company and as people, we thrive on relationships and promise the fastest communication and best services in the industry. And that begins with lots of information. We are happy to answer your questions and point you in the right direction, even if you’re only in the beginning phases of planning your future move.

We’re proud to offer some of the best Costa Rica real estate, from condos and homes to land and businesses for sale. So, go ahead – try us. Give us a chance to show off our expertise – and wow you with the possibilities! We look forward to it.