Christmas Traditions in Costa Rica

A boat in a Christmas boat parade in Costa Rica.
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Costa Rica is a primarily Catholic nation, and Costa Rican citizens observe Christmas with exuberance. Christmas in Costa Rica is a vibrant time: a celebration of the season, of lights and music, and of course, of family togetherness.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees are a huge part of Christmas in Costa Rica. Costa Rica citizens often decorate fragrant cypress trees with ornaments and lights. Sometimes the dried branches of coffee shrubs are used instead, or an evergreen branch if available. According to, the Christmas tree in front of the Children’s Hospital in San Jose is the most important and symbolic Christmas tree in Costa Rica.

Holiday Traditions

As with many Catholic nations, nativity scenes with figurines of Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the animals of the manger are a standard Costa Rica Christmas decoration, called “Portals”. Offerings such as fruits and little toys are placed in front of the nativity scene. The baby Jesus figurine is placed in the nativity the night before Christmas, when he brings presents to the children of the household in lieu of Santa Claus.

The Costa Rica Christmas season doesn’t end until the sixth of January, when the three wise men are said to have greeted baby Jesus.

Christmas Events

Christmas in Costa Rica commences with Festival de la Luz, when the capital city of San Jose is transformed into a garland of lights. Bullfights are another traditional event during the Costa Rica holiday season.

Christmas Dinner

A Costa Rica Christmas dinner is just as elaborate as an American one. Tamales are a staple of the Costa Rican Christmas dinner, as well as pastries and other Costa Rica desserts like Tres Leches Cake.
Read more about Costa Rica food and drink.