ORGULLO LATINOReading time: 4 minutes
It's a holiday celebration of sand, beach and sun that rivals all notions of Hollywood festivities.
We've all heard of a white Christmas: the crisp morning, snow flakes falling, the almost unbearable cold, curling up in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate.
In short, everything the movies tell us that Christmas should be.
But little has been said about celebrating the festive season on a beach in the Tropics – a place that is warm in more ways than one, with its sun beating down and its people ready to welcome visitors with open arms.
Spending my childhood by the coast and, more recently, in Puntarenas, I have had the opportunity to experience Christmases like these in Costa Rica. And I will never forget those warm, sunny Christmas days spent on the beach.
The first thing you should know about celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica is that, while it will be merry and bright, it certainly won't be white. Central America is not famed for its snowfall.
But the temperature does fall by about 14°F, which is quite a bit cooler than usual. (Temperatures are normally around 86°F but in December it dips to anywhere between 71 and 77°F, due to the action of the vientos alisios). A pleasant temperature by anyone's standards.
During December, the wind blows more intensely, which means that the sun doesn't beat down, it caresses.
Sounding good? We've only just begun.
Benefits of Christmas on the Beach
Waking up to nicer weather automatically makes your whole day better. We used to take advantage of the cool wind to go for walks along the beach.
Speaking of sunsets, those that can be viewed from the Pacific coast at this time of year are really the best. Nothing compares to pink, orange, and yellow skies with faint glimpses of clear blue night.
I would trade any amount of snowfall for a sunset on a Central American beach.
Of course, food is the protagonist during this time. We always looked forward to the preparation of the Christmas tamales: for us, small corn masses stuffed with pork or chicken, rice, carrots, peppers and other vegetables, lovingly wrapped in banana leaves before being cooked.
But perhaps the most important tradition around these dates is to get together as a family to prepare them: I remember well that we used to meet at my grandmother's house, who lived 20 minutes from the coast, early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. One by one, the aunts and cousins arrived and each one looked for their space at the table.
In front of everyone was a pile of banana leaves, and while some of us cleaned the leaves, others prepared the seasoning for the dough (each family has its secret way of seasoning it, which they will hardly share with you) while others made the different fillings.
Oh man, how I miss those times! Then, once the tamales were all nicely wrapped up, they would cook for many hours while we would play soccer or hide-and-seek on Grandma's patio, while the adults took care of some carne asada for dinner. Those were the best times.
Christmas Traditions on the Beach
In addition to tamales, in December we prepared eggnog, Christmas cake (with guaro and dried fruit) and different varieties of red meat, pork, and chicken (turkey isn't popular in Central America as a Christmas dish).
Having grown up in a small coastal town located in the north of Costa Rica (almost reaching Nicaragua), we also prepared grilled snapper and even tuna. We always grilled the fish wrapped in banana leaves, and I can assure you that nothing tastes better than that.
But despite everything, perhaps the best component of Christmas on the coast is the people. The joy that Christmas brings is felt in the air, and as we are far from big cities and malls here, what we do here is go out, walk, and share.
People sit on their porches with a cup of coffee or the day's newspaper, or simply with their hearts open and their lips full of stories.
I love going for a walk along the beach, with small restaurants lit by candles and moonlight, listening to the waves break on the coast, and walking to the bar in the center of town.
Then on the night before Christmas, we would meet at our grandparents' house to share the meal of the day (remember the tamales) and watch the childrens' smiling faces as midnight creeps closer and they get to open their presents under the tree.
For many years my Christmas tree was more of a Christmas palm tree!
And then, we would end the festivities with a walk on the beach and listen to the sea sing until dawn.
You can then understand why it is a mystery to me that movies insist on pushing the cold Christmas over one filled with sun, beaches, and walks by the sea.