Christmas in Costa Rica traditions you should celebrate

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Christmas in Costa Rica traditions you should celebrate

Christmas in Costa Rica is a time of vibrant traditions and spirited celebrations that beckon you to experience the holiday season like never before. While the United States and other countries may conjure images of snowy landscapes and cozy firesides, Costa Ricans have unique ways of ushering in the festive spirit under the warm, tropical sun.

Costa Ricans know how to infuse their cultural flair into the Christmas season, from Nativity scenes adorned with banana leaves to the lively parades on Avenida Segunda. This article will explore the rich tapestry of Christmas in Costa Rica traditions.

Midnight Mass (Misa del Gallo)

Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass, known as “Misa de Gallo” in Costa Rica, is a cherished Christmas Eve tradition. Families gather nationwide in downtown San Jose and other towns to attend this solemn and spiritual service. The mass typically begins just before midnight and lasts until Christmas Day, with worshippers commemorating the birth of Baby Jesus. Churches are adorned with Christmas trees and elaborate Nativity scenes depicting the Holy Family.

Festival de la Luz (Festival of Lights)

Festival of lights

The “Festival de la Luz” is a spectacular event in San José during the holiday season. It marks the official start of Christmas time and includes a massive parade featuring brightly lit floats, dancers, live music, and elaborate Christmas decorations. Thousands of Costa Ricans and tourists gather along Paseo Colón to witness this breathtaking display of lights and colors.

National Horse Parade (Tope Nacional de Caballos)

parade of horses

The “Tope Nacional de Caballos” is an annual horse parade in San José. It’s a beloved tradition where horse enthusiasts from all over the country showcase their prized horses dressed in colorful costumes and accessories. The parade is a vibrant display of Costa Rican culture and a unique way to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.

Niño Dios (Baby Jesus)

baby jesus

The Baby Jesus (Niño Dios) representation is central to Costa Rican Nativity scenes. Families carefully place figurines of the Holy Family, including Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus, in their Nativity displays, symbolizing the birth of Christ on Christmas Day. Baby Jesus is also the one delivering gifts at Christmas, not Santa.

Costa Rican Tamales

costa rican tamales

Costa Rican tamales are a staple during the Christmas season. These delicious parcels are made from corn dough and filled with a flavorful mixture of pork, rice, vegetables, and spices. Wrapped in plantain or banana leaves, they are then steamed to perfection. Tamales are a must-have for the Christmas dinner table; many families spend hours preparing them together.

Queque Navideño (Christmas Cake)

Christmas Cake

Queque Navideño is a traditional Costa Rican Christmas cake that is rich and dense, often containing fruits, nuts, and a splash of rum. Families bake these cakes in advance, which are enjoyed throughout the holiday season, especially on Christmas Day.

Christmas Trees and Decorations

Christmas tree and decorations

While Christmas trees may not be native to Costa Rica, they have become a famous symbol of the holiday season. Many Costa Rican families decorate Christmas trees with lights, ornaments, and tinsel, creating a festive atmosphere in their homes. It’s common to see beautifully decorated trees in homes, public spaces, and even in some stores.

Noche Buena (Good Night)

Christmas eve

Noche Buena, or “Good Night,” refers to Christmas Eve in Costa Rica. This is one of the most significant nights of the holiday season when families come together for a grand celebration. It typically involves a lavish dinner that features traditional dishes like tamales, roast pork, and other festive foods. After dinner, families exchange gifts, and children eagerly await the arrival of Santa Claus, or “Santa” as he is known in Costa Rica.

Rum Punch and Other Beverages

Rum Punch

During the holiday season, it’s common for Costa Ricans to enjoy festive beverages like rum punch. This alcoholic punch is made with a blend of rum, fruit juices, and spices, making it a delightful and warming drink to share with family and friends.

Bull Runs (Corridas de Toros)

Bull run

Bull runs are a unique Christmas tradition in some Costa Rican towns. These events feature brave individuals who participate in running alongside or in front of charging bulls. While it can be dangerous, it’s also seen as a thrilling and adrenaline-pumping activity that adds excitement to the festive season.

These traditions, from Midnight Mass to the Festival of Lights, showcase Costa Ricans’ unique and heartwarming ways to celebrate Christmas. It’s a time of family gatherings, festive meals, and joyous celebrations that capture the true essence of the holiday spirit in this tropical paradise.

Dance Festivals

Dance festivals

Costa Rica’s vibrant culture comes alive during Christmas with dance festivals and street parties. You can witness traditional folk dances, lively music, and colorful costumes as locals celebrate in the streets. These festivals testify to the Costa Rican spirit and their holiday enthusiasm.

Costa Rican Cuisine

Costa rican food

Christmas dinner in Costa Rica is a feast for the senses. In addition to tamales and roast pork, traditional dishes like “carne asada” (grilled meat) and various sweets and desserts are prepared with love and care. Costa Rican families take pride in sharing these delicious meals during the festive season.


In the heart of Costa Rica, the Christmas season is a magical time that unfolds with a unique blend of traditions, all bathed in the warm glow of Christmas lights and the joyous melodies of “Feliz Navidad.” From the meticulously crafted Nativity scenes to the spirited celebrations on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, this tropical paradise embraces the holiday spirit with open arms.

As the calendar turns to the beginning of December, the country comes alive with the spirit of “La Tica” and the enchanting strains of Christmas carols filling the air. From the exhilarating El Tope horse parade, the delectable aroma of pork tamales, and the heartwarming charity efforts at children’s hospitals, the Costa Rican tradition shines bright during the second week of December.

Christmas in Costa Rica traditions you should celebrate

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