Despite the fact that Ticos have been playing Christmas music and putting up decorations since before Halloween, the holiday season came and went in a flash. Despite all the Christmas activities I helped with in my community, without the snow, the familiar Christmas music and my parents cozy house in the wintertime, it didn’t really feel like Christmas at all here (which perhaps made it easier to be away from home for the holidays).
I tried to make the best of my first Christmas in 24 years away from home by taking partt in every Tico tradition I came across. The week leading up to Christmas I joined the Posada, where children dress up as Mary and Joseph and go house to house singing and asking for a place to stay. Each night, one house hosts and lets the children come in. There is a small reflection on the meaning of the season and then we have…what any Costa Rica activity would be incomplete without…cafecito! I also helped make tamales, set up the nativity scene (they are enormous here!), decorate the Christmas tree and of course took part in a very old and sacred Tico Christmas tradition of playing soccer at the family Christmas party 😉
Then I shared a my own Christmas traditions with the family. Every Christmas my family makes Nana Ginny’s cut out sugar cookies and then we have a decorating contest. I wasn’t going to give up that tradition (or my winning streak) just because I was gone. My parents mailed me the cookie cutters and with my half working oven and improvising skills, I was able to make cookies that somewhat resembled Nana Ginny’s. Then I took them to my host grandma’s house and all 17 cousins decorated them in what was definitely the most chaotic cookie decorating activity ever. They absolutely loved it though which is all the matters. This whole experience is all about letting go of expectations and just going with the flow, if icing ends up on the ceiling it can always be cleaned off 🙂
Christmas eve was warm and was spent grilling out and shooting off fireworks next door at my other grandma’s house. It reminded me more of the 4th of July than Christmas but I guess that makes sense since it is summer here. Santa Claus doesn’t come to Costa Rica (it must be too tropical and warm for him) but at midnight El Niño (Baby Jesus), brought me a cardigan, slippers and chocolate.
The best present I could have asked for was my family, who arrived in Costa Rica on Christmas day. I can’t explain after (almost!) six months how excited and happy I was to see them. The time together flew by but I enjoyed every second of it. I’d say they got a pretty good taste of Costa Rica in the whirlwind trip. Seven beaches, five waterfalls, one volcano, hikes in the rainforest, hikes in the cloud forest, hundreds of monkeys, learning how to pick coffee and seeing where I live and meeting my host family. They definitely saw the beauty of this country, but better than that, they truly did experience the beauty of the people here. Time and time again the Ticos showed my family kindness and a beautiful part of the human soul that is so rarely seen and shared in the US. Although I hope they enjoyed the 7 beaches, 5 waterfalls, one volcano, hikes in the rainforest, hikes in the cloud forest, hundreds of monkeys, learning how to pick coffee and seeing my community, I hope what they enjoyed most were the people here because it was truly what the PURA VIDA is all about.
After tears and difficult goodbyes, I headed south to the indigenous village of Boruca where I rang in the 2014 at the Borucan Tribe’s Dance of the Devils Festival. The festival celebrates the Boruca people who fought off the Spanish not long after Columbus came to Costa Rica. They carve with gorgeous intricacy masks that represent devils which they then use in “dances” to fight off a bull. It will definitely go down as the most unique New Year’s ever and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. On New Year’s day, we spent the day hiking to 4 waterfalls and spent the day swimming under them…not a bad start to 2014.
I hope 2014 is full of more adventures, more visits from friends and family and truly enjoying my time in the beautiful country with its beautiful people. Happy New Year and be kind to one another!