Costa Rica is in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Nicaragua and Panama.

Bright, tropical flowers highlight decorations for the Christmas season in Costa Rica. Special trips are made to gather the wild orchids that bloom in the tropical jungle areas.

The nativity scene known as pasito or portal is decorated with these brilliant flowers along with colorful fresh fruit. Some of these scenes are family projects that take weeks to set up and can fill up an entire room in the house. They are a tribute to creativity: not only does one see the figures of the Holy Family; people add small houses, all types of animals, shepherds, the Magi, and just about anything that will make their pasito unique.

Christmas wreaths of cypress trimmed with red coffee berries and ribbons are very popular. Most homes throughout the country, as well as stores and public buildings, are decorated with strings of multi-colored lights.

On Christmas Eve, everyone gets out their finest clothes and prepares for "Misa de Gallo" or Midnight Mass. Following the Mass the supper will include chicken and pork tamales that have been wrapped for cooking in plantain leaves, and accompanied by egg nog and rum punch.

Children used to leave their shoes out for Niño Dios, the Baby Jesus, to fill although he is gradually being displaced by the more commercial Santa Claus (called San Nicolás or Colacho)imported from North America.

The Christmas season continues through the rest of December and into January with fiestas, parades, rodeos, choral and dance festivals, street fairs, and bull runs. The highlights of these fiestas include a horseback parade, known as the tope, on December 26, and another parade featuring dance ensembles and floats along the main streets on December 27. It all comes to an end on Candlemas, February 2, when there are processions to honor the Virgin.

Music: Joy to the World

© 2002 by W. C. Egan

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