It is a dream of ours to spend Christmas with family in Costa Rica one day, but for now, I must content myself with living vicariously through relatives and stories I hear from my husband.
The vast majority of Costa Ricans are Catholic, so Christmas is a joyous festival there. As in many countries, the focus is on family and especially children. They have a huge celebration at the Children’s Museum (Museo de los Niño), which we visited last year, and a big tree lighting ceremony at the Hospital de Niños (Children’s Hospital).
While there are many lovely traditions, I would like to focus on tamales and toros, since they are ones that I have experienced.
As a newlywed, I made the mistake one Christmas of suggesting to my Costa Rican husband that we get some tamales from our favorite Mexican restaurant so he wouldn’t feel so homesick. Yikes! As any tico could tell you, there is a big difference between Mexican and Costa Rican tamales! The main one, of course, is how they are prepared. While Mexican tamales are wrapped in corn husks, Costa Rican tamales are wrapped in plantain leaves before being steamed.
As for exactly what is mixed into the masa (cornmeal dough), each family has its own particular, top secret recipe. That is what makes it so fun at Christmas time as a family works together assembly line style to make large quantities of tamales, many of which are traded with friends who have made up batches of their own special family tamales.
So while I can’t give you an exact recipe, I will tell you that typical ingredients include carrots, potatoes, and often pork or chicken.
I found this really fun game on the website for La Nación, the major newspaper in Costa Rica. The game leads you through the ingredients to add for different styles of tamales, which you then get to “cook.” When 25,000 of these virtual tamales are made, they will donate 5,000 real ones to charitable organizations, so have fun playing!
Each year, the district of Zapote, located in the capitol of San José, puts on a rodeo of sorts, as part of a festival that lasts from just before Christmas through the beginning of January. There are carnival rides and entertainment, but it is perhaps best known for the bulls, or toros. Each day spectators arrive to watch – and perhaps participate in – the show.
As you can see above, participants are in the ring with the bull, and the object is to try to stay as long as possible without getting hurt! Spectators are endlessly amused by watching these foolhardy people run away from the bull, but they are especially gratified when someone gets tossed by one!
My son hasn’t really watched much of this show, which is available online through one of the local Costa Rican stations. So I thought I could help him get into the spirit by playing something I came up with – “Toro Tag”! Let me emphasize that no one in Costa Rica does this, we were just having some fun the other day.
Basically I had him act like a bull by doing his fingers as horns and stamping his foot, then trying to catch me. It soon devolved into just having fun running around acting like toros. (Monkey thinks this is a really funny word, since it sounds like “turtles”!)
Hopefully one day we’ll get to visit Costa Rica during this season and celebrate by spending time family and eating tamales while watching the toros on TV. Until then, there’s always toro tag!
This post is part of the series Christmas in Different Lands on Multicultural Kid Blogs. Each day leading up to Christmas a different blogger will share traditions from a different part of the globe. Follow along on the series main page or on our Christmas Around the World Pinterest board!
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