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Costa Rica, as with many other countries around the world, has it's own unique and special way to celebrate Christmas. As the last days of November past by, the weather start to change, it becomes colder, clearer and windy.

As the wind starts to blow harder and the days start to get colder, the people begin the decoration of their houses.
The Capital celebration led by the City of San Jose has just had the Festival de la Luz to officially start the holiday season. All the trees can be decorated but Ticos preferred the cypress trees in their decorations. The cypress scent, the lights, the balls and other decoration hanging in the tree is almost found in every place you go. The most important Christmas tree in Costa Rica is the tree of the Children's National Hospital. The tree represents hope for the coming year and thankfulness for all we receive. This tree has been at the Hospital for decades and it gives a light of hope to all those kids inside.

Portal with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the tree wise men
The Portal is made of mosses and grass and figurines representing the birth of Jesus in the manger. Costa Ricans commonly add extra embellishments like dolls, little farm animals, tiny toys, fruits and berries, and lights.

Besides the tree, another important decoration is the Portal. The Portal is the representation of the birth of Jesus, with the figures of Mary, Joseph, Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar (the three wise men), the ox and the mule. The most important figure is the Baby Jesus; this is set on the manger the 25th. The day that the Christmas presents are opened.

In Costa Rica Santa Claus doesn't bring the Christmas gifts to the kids, those are brought by Baby Jesus the night before Christmas called la "Noche Buena" while they were sleeping. At the same as the Baby Jesus appears at the portal the gift appears under the tree the 25th in the morning. That day all the people that live in the same house get together around the tree and pray, thanking Baby Jesus for the good year that has passed, followed by the opening of the gifts. You can find all over the country different kind of Portals that goes from Spatial Portals, Crystal Portals, Painted Portals, Light Portal and the traditional portal. There are two important Portals in San Jose. The first one is the one at the National Theater that is made on real scale, full of detailed and made by Costarican artist. The second one is a lights portal that is hanged in the Costa Rica National Bank building, this can be viewed from a number of locations in San Jose.

Another important date to remember is the 24th evening dinner, when all the families get together and make a special dinner.

Tamale preparation proccess
The secret of the "tamal" is the Salsa Lizano. This famous spici sauce is also the secret of the popular Gallo Pinto

The menu usually is based on pork leg and "tamales". The "tamal" base is corn, corn have been cultivated in America by the Indians before the arrival of the Spaniards. The tamal is made of corn flour dough stuffed with potatoes, vegetables and pork or chicken, all covered by plantain leaves and then boiled. Making "tamales" is also a tradition that involves the participation of all family members. This is a slow and laborious process taught by Grandmothers and mothers to granddaughters and daughters.

Also the 25th in the night, the religious families in Costa Rica go to the midnight mass called "La Misa del Gallo.

The local municipality of San Jose also organizes a lot of activities for the holiday season. Some of them are the "Tope" that have been celebrated since colonial times. There's a lot of "Topes" but the "Tope" of San Jose is the most famous in the country.

Rider at the "Tope"

Riders from across the country come to the city to show off their best animals and costumes. It's a very friendly competition. Some people train their horses during the year only for this special occasion. Recently there have been introduced another elements such as horse-drawn carriages and the famous hand-painted oxcarts. This parade takes place at the Paseo Colon and The Second Avenue.

Attached to the "Tope" there's a lot more of activities like the Carnival and the "Festival de La Luz". The carnival joins dancing and musical groups from all the country. Groups are prized for the best costumes, the best dancers and the best orchestra. The "Festival de la Luz" is a Light Festival, and takes place in the same streets but at night. Floats with colorful lights and decorative design run all over the two main streets at San Jose. At the end the fireworks light the sky of the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose.

Finally the most popular activity of the holiday season is "Zapote" that is a town in San Jose. In "Zapote" there's a special area designated to make an improvised amusement park with amusement games and a lot of "chinamos" that are improvised stands that sell all kind of food. To this fair come people from all across the country and all kind of social status.

"Toros a la Tica"

But definitely the most anticipated activity is the "Zapote Bullfights" or "Toros a la Tica" synonymous with the season's festivities in Costa Rica. The Costarican Bullfight is very different because the bulls are never harmed, or killed. The most famous cattle ranches provide the bulls free. Also the bullfighters are normal people that get into the arena without any professional preparation. It's amazing that only a few actually get hurt by the bulls. This activity is a headache for the red cross that voluntarily offers it's service in the arena.

The bulls are never harmed in the Tico version of the bullfights. The most popular phase of the Tico bullfight is the run when dozens of young men race into the ring en masse with the intention of frightening the bull and provoking it to attack. Although the bull is never harmed, occasionally one of the men is gored. The whole thing is a performance designed to release adrenaline, relieving the frustrations of the past year.

The Holiday Season ends in January sixth, the day the three wise men arrived and see Jesus for the first time. That day all the neighbors get together and make a special prayer for the Baby Jesus. This pray is based on the rosary and the Christmas carols. Of course after the prayer, there's coffee with "Tamales", "Rompope", "Aguadulce" and all kind of typical pastries and drinks.

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For more information on visiting Costa Rica to view this spectacular event please visit Costa Rica’s TravelWEB @, or by calling our toll free number at 1-800-788-7857 or 1-866-822-2269.

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