Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas traditions in Costa Rica

The first year I came to Costa Rica, I thought it was strange to be walking around wearing skimpy clothes and sweating my bewbs off in boiling hot weather. I remember seeing a huge, blow-up snowman in front of a store in downtown Escazu, and thinking that was the funniest thing ever. Even though we didn't get snow where we lived in California, it was still cold during December. A warm Christmas was just... odd!

These days, though, I'm used to all of it. In fact, I don't even find summers that hot anymore; more like a nice warm. I would never go out of the house in shorts (and you'll rarely see Ticos doing that either), though I still wear tank tops often enough. If the temp falls below 70F, I'm freezing! Break out the sweaters and thermal underwear! So a warm Christmas is normal now, I guess.

As are the other traditions I thought odd when I first moved here. For example, in Costa Rica, traditionally presents are not brought by Santa, but by the baby Jesus. When I first heard this, I was like, what? Ok, that's just something I'd never heard of growing up in the U.S.! If anything, shouldn't we be giving him gifts? When we had our son, and neither esposo nor I being religious people, we wanted to avoid the whole baby Jesus thing, so we went with Santa. Nowadays, most little kids know about Santa, but quite a few families still do the baby Jesus thing. Speaking of baby Jesus, here in Costa Rica, he doesn't actually appear in the manger until Christmas Eve. That's right, if you put up a nativity scene, it's considered wrong to put Jesus in it before Christmas Eve. We don't do the nativity, either. But if you pass a nativity on the street or see one at someone's house before Christmas and wonder where the heck is Jesus, now you know.

There's a big Christmas festival every year in downtown San Jose called Festival de la Luz. I guess it's as close to a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade as we get here, though it's at night (thus the "la luz" part of it). We watch it on t.v.; fighting crowds downtown San Jose at night to see a parade isn't exactly my idea of a great time.

If you are part of a Tico family, it would be really unusual not to have Christmas tamales. Esposo's grandma used to make them with many of his aunts every year (and the woman also made fresh tortillas for her entire family, which consisted of 11 children and all of their children, every single day until she passed away). Now that grandma is gone, esposo's mother makes the tamales with her sisters. In fact, my suegra won 2nd place in a country-wide tamale contest a couple of years ago (and word around town was that she only lost due to political reasons -- ay yai yai, only in Costa Rica!). Now, I am partial to the Mexican-style tamales that are drier and wrapped in corn husks; here in Costa Rica, they are mushier and wrapped in banana leaves. Since esposo and son and I are all vegetarians, they make a special batch just for us without any kind of chicken broth or pork inside. By the time January rolls around, I'm so sick of eating tamales that I'm thrilled not to see them for another year! Oh, and if you aren't lucky enough to have a Tico family, you can buy ready-made tamales all over the place; AutoMercado has them year-round, and I saw that Spoon is also selling them. Just heat them up by boiling in a pot of water for 10-15 minutes, and you're good to go. Esposo has a recipe for tamales using yuca; if you're so inclined, here it is.

On a side note, esposo and I go back and forth on the correct usage of the word "tamale." I insist that the Anglicized version of tamal is tamale, so when you're speaking about them in English, you can say "tamale" without being incorrect. He says that the word is tamal no matter what language you're speaking, and tamale is always wrong. And some people hate the word Gringo, too, but I could care less. And don't even get him started on "American."

1 comment:

  1. Been here 3 years and didn't know the baby jesus thing. Not that I'll be putting up a nativity scene anytime soon. Found your blog, really enjoy it. I'm michael alan and I live in la Fortuna. On a side note, if you happen to have video or slide show presentations about 'anything' Costa Rica, would love to see it on our site: costaricatravelchannel.com Check it out I'm sure you'll see we're on too something. Anyways, enjoy you perspective.
    michael alan