Tamales and coffee

I spent some time talking with local residents of Monteverde, asking about the history and traditions associated with their Christmas holiday celebrations. Everyone got so excited that they started talking over one another, but I had a translator, so I think we captured everything they wanted to share with me. Here is some unique insight on Costa Rican traditions, and more specifically, traditions of Monteverde.

Festival de la Luz is a holiday festival held in San Jose every year. The people of Monteverde view the big city as a bit intimidating, especially with young children, so seven years ago, they adapted their own version of Festival de la Luz, naming it Monteverde Brilla, translated as “Monteverde Shines”. On the ¬†first Thursday of December, the community celebrates culture, art, and healthy recreation for the whole family, with a parade made up of bands, floats, and performing groups. They hope every year to teach their children the history of Costa Rica, and form healthy traditions among children, families, and the local community. I heard school bands practicing everywhere I walked last month, as they prepared to play during this festival, and it is something Monte Verde is very proud of.

Costa Ricans have adopted a lot of American traditions, such as giving gifts to children from “Santa Claus,” and singing Christmas carols. But because this area is largely influenced by Quakers, who first settled in Monteverde during the Korean War, there are alternative traditions offered as well. The Monteverde Friends School recently built a new meeting hall where they hosted a beautiful holiday presentation by the children who attend the school. This meeting hall doubles as a place of silent worship. Quakers in the community hold a special yearly service where the whole community gathers, shares food, and trades cookies, after singing traditional carols.

Some Quakers and others in the community keep Jesus’ birth at the forefront of the holiday and teach children that Jesus wasn’t given gifts until days later when the Wise Men brought him¬†Frankincense and myrrh. For this reason, some people do not give gifts to children until a week or two after Christmas.

At the beginning of December, families decorate Christmas trees and put out their nativity scenes. They do not place Jesus in the scene until Christmas Eve at midnight.

Families gather on December 22 and 23 to make tamales, which is a long-lasting tradition for them. During Christmas, they include various types and cuts of meat, rice, and vegetables. Tamales are also popular during Holy Week at the end of April, but meat is traditionally not included. In December, families cook and trade tamales, while drinking Rompope (their version of egg nog WITH alcohol).

At midnight on Christmas Eve, when families introduce baby Jesus into the nativity scene, they each eat a grape (I am told that some families eat a total of only 12 grapes, while others don’t have a particular number), and make a wish for the new year and the new season. They hug, and celebrate good things they are expecting in the coming season.

On Christmas Day, families gather with neighbors and friends, share food, drinks, songs, and gifts. I was told to look forward to eating tamales while drinking fresh coffee with them on Christmas Day. Tamales and coffee? I honestly cannot wait.

monteverde Christmas

A Monteverde family’s nativity scene before Jesus arrives


Posted by | Comments (1)  | December 23, 2013
Category: Central America, Food and Drink

One Response to “Tamales and coffee”

  1. Michael Says:

    Sounds wonderful!