Christmas in Costa Rica: Pura Vida Holiday Traditions

With the holiday season approaching, many travelers are seeking unique and enchanting destinations to celebrate Christmas. Costa Rica, known for its breathtaking landscapes and warm hospitality, offers a distinctive experience during this festive time. Here is a look at some of the customs and events that make Christmas in Costa Rica special, providing a glimpse into the Pura Vida way of celebrating the holidays. If you are considering renting a vacation home in Costa Rica, the Christmas holiday season is a great time to visit!

Pura Vida Christmas Spirit

Costa Rica’s signature phrase, “Pura Vida,” meaning “pure life” in Spanish, perfectly encapsulates the country’s approach to life and the holiday season. Christmas in Costa Rica is not just a celebration – it’s a reflection of the country’s laid-back and joyful lifestyle. The emphasis is on spending quality time with loved ones, appreciating nature, and embracing the simple pleasures of life. What more could you ask for on your Christmas family vacation?

Pura Vida Christmas Décor

As a traditional Roman Catholic country, Costa Ricans love to decorate for Christmas! You will see all the typical holiday décor including Christmas trees, strings of lights, snowmen, and reindeer, and all the usual Christmassy scenes – except for the snow!

One of the most cherished Christmas traditions in Costa Rica is the creation of intricate nativity scenes, known as pasitos or portals. Families and communities come together to craft these scenes, which feature miniature representations of the Holy Family, angels, and shepherds. The scenes are displayed in homes, churches, and even public spaces, adding a touch of magic to the festive atmosphere.

Pura Vida Special Dates

While in some countries Christmas Day is the big day to celebrate, in Latin America it is Christmas Eve that is the star of the show. This is when families get together to go to church and share a big meal. Christmas Day is often a day to recover from the late night of celebrations and this day is typically spent at the beach.

The other shining star of the season is New Year’s Eve. If families can’t get together for Christmas Eve they will usually make up for it on New Year’s Eve. This gateway to the new year is often spent sharing food, drinks, music, laughter, and fireworks.

Pura Vida Holiday Traditions

A significant aspect of Costa Rican Christmas traditions is attending the midnight Mass, known as “La Misa de Gallo” or the Rooster’s Mass, on Christmas Eve. Families gather at churches across the country to participate in this deeply religious and festive occasion. The air is filled with the sweet melodies of Christmas carols, and after the Mass, it’s common for families to share a meal together, often featuring traditional Costa Rican dishes.

Costa Ricans love to celebrate with enthusiasm, and Christmas is no exception. Fireworks light up the night sky during the holiday season, creating a dazzling display that often lasts from before Christmas Eve until after New Year’s Eve.

Pura Vida Holiday Markets, Celebrations, and Festivals

Some of Costa Rica’s favorite festivals are held during the holiday season. One such event is the Tope, which is a horse parade of specially trained equine doing their signature trot. The nation’s capital, San Jose, hosts the big event on December 26, featuring 3,000 horses marching through the downtown. This is also the time of year when fiestas take place in cities and towns across the country. The fiestas feature el toros (the bulls) and are much like a combined rodeo and fair.

Exploring Christmas markets is a great way to experience the holiday spirit in Costa Rica. Local artisans showcase their talents, offering handmade crafts, ornaments, and traditional treats. Street festivals featuring live music, dance performances, and delicious food are common throughout the country. From San Jose to the coastal towns, the markets and festivals are a fun way to experience the vibrant cultural tapestry that defines Costa Rican Christmas celebrations.

If you plan to spend the holidays in an oceanfront vacation home in Costa Rica, you will see the beachside celebrations firsthand. For most Ticos (Costa Ricans), the Christmas holiday season is their chance to take a vacation, with many going to the beach. This is because children get their largest school break of the year and parents get their largest bonus of the year in December. Because of this, many beach towns host special events, including beach parties, bonfires, and even parades with the sound of ocean waves as the backdrop. It’s a unique blend of tropical paradise and festive joy that only Costa Rica can offer.

Pura Vida Traditional Cuisine

Christmas in Costa Rica is a feast for the senses, and the traditional cuisine plays a central role in the celebrations. Tamales, a dish made from corn masa, meat, and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves, are a Christmas staple. Families often come together to prepare this labor-intensive dish, creating an assembly line to fill, fold, and tie 100 or more tamales.

Pierna de cerdo, or roast pork, is traditionally served at a large family gathering on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. The preparation of the meal starts a few days prior with the marinating of the large pork roast. Other traditional treats include fruit cake and Rompope, which is a Costa Rican version of eggnog with rum.

Christmastime in Costa Rica is a celebration of faith, family, and the Pura Vida way of life. Whether you’re in a beachfront vacation home surrounded by lush landscapes or strolling through vibrant city streets, the warmth of the season and the genuine hospitality of the Costa Rican people create an unforgettable holiday experience. Embrace the traditions, savor the flavors, and let the magic of a Costa Rican Christmas fill your heart with joy and gratitude. Pura Vida!

Are you itching to experience the sights and sounds of a warm winter vacation this Christmas season? Find the best vacation home in Costa Rica for your Christmas holidays! Rich Coast Vacations offers affordable condos and luxurious oceanfront villas in Costa Rica with add-ons such as car rentals, tours, in-house services, and vacation specialists to give you the trip of your dreams. Contact us today at

Written by Jennifer LaCharite – Costa Consultants, International